Archive for the ‘Colombia’ Category

In 1963 Roberto Rossellini claimed that cinema was dead. That same year in Cali, Colombia, 14-year-old Luis Ospina got hold of his first camera and began to devote himself to film-making.

Todo Comenzó por el Fin is the story of Ospina’s 45-year-old relationship with cinema. But it is also, and most importantly, the portrait of a generation of movie-lovers and their struggle to fill their youth and city with films.

Jumping back and forth from exclusive footage of their early works, never-ending parties and scenes from a 2010s reunion, Ospina documents his relationship with the beautiful and damned Cali-based cinefiles who fathered Colombia’s 1980s cinematic renaissance: Caliwood.

Ospina is, to date, one of the few surviving icons of that golden era. Together with the late writers-directors-actors Andrés Caicedo and Carlos Mayolo, he revolutionised Colombia’s cinema and became a key figure for future generations of film-makers. He contributed to the birth of tropical gothic, a genre that combined the European gothic tradition with the gruesome heritage of Colombia’s colonial past. He edited (and starred in) two of Mayolo’s goth classics: Carne de tu Carne (1983) and La Mansión de Araucaima (1986), and as a documentarist, he coined (and successfully debunked) porno-miseria, the all-encompassing discourse of poverty and violence through which Colombia had been historically framed by fellow directors of the time (for a full exposure of such narratives, see his seminal Agarrando el Pueblo).

Todo Comenzó por el Fin traces a genealogy of Colombian cinema seen from the eyes of those who took part in the sea-changes of the 1980s. We see clips from Mayolo’s behind-the-scenes techniques, we watch Caicedo, Ospina and the rest of the Cali group setting up a cinefile-only commune and the city’s film-club, and we witness the evolution of Colombia’s cinema amidst the drugs-fuelled violence that plagued the country.

Ospina’s latest work is a nostalgic testament of the moveable cinematic feast that swept through 1980s Cali. But it is also a sad memoire of the relationship between its leading characters and death. Caicedo committed suicide at 25, Mayolo succumbed to a life of excesses aged 61, and some thirty years after Caliwood’s belle époque Ospina too had a near death encounter with cancer, which the film documents until its happy ending.

Seen from this angle, Todo Comenzó por el Fin is a survivor’s tribute to the ways cinema can offer a possible way out of death. It is, after all, through films that bed-ridden Ospina mocks his passing away, juxtaposing footage of his hospital life with old black-and-white American movies, and through film-making that he does justice to his friends’ memories and his city’s past.

In the words of Caliwood-member and theatre director Sandro Romero Rey, theirs was a band of cinema-lovers and cinema-makers who helped each other to stay alive. After watching Todo Comenzó por el Fin, one realises that staying alive is, for Ospina, inextricably bound with the need to preserve the past intact – a task which only cinema seems able to fulfil.

Premiered at Toronto’s 40th Film Festival in 2015 and winner of FICCI56’s Colombian Cinema Best Director award, Todo Comenzó por el Fin is a cinefile’s touching portrait of an extinct era that will speak to Ospina’s fans as much as non-Colombian cinema-lovers.

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In a plethora of works more or less directly related with the armed conflict, a suffocating as much as fertile leitmotiv of Colombia’s cinema, Siembra is a breath of fresh and much-needed air. Co-directed by Ángela Osorio and Santiago Lozano, it touches upon a particularly delicate aspect of the country’s internal warfare – and does it with a humane and original touch that makes it stand out as a memorable work of its kind.

Osorio and Lozano set their film in a slum in the outskirts of a Colombian big city. We do not know the city’s name, because it’s the sort of story that needs no specific place to be credible, and which Colombia knows all too well. Turco is a farmer from Colombia’s Pacific coast who has been forced to leave home because of the war, but dreams of returning, until his son’s death will force him to abandon his hopes and roam a city trying to give him a proper burial. He is one of the 6.4 million Colombians the armed conflict has forced to abandon their dwelling: all he’s ever asked for is to be buried under a bread tree, and for his family to be buried next to him when the time will come.

Siembra could have easily turned into a petty fetishization of Colombia’s internally displaced people. But it does not. El Turco’s universe is treated with a compassionate touch which pays justice to the plight of a farmer who only wishes to cultivate his land. But the land is miles and miles away, and as his neighbours warn him, “the owners of your world already took it away from you, your land is someone else’s now”. As time goes by and the drama unfolds it is the hope to have his plot back that fills the void a son’s death has left behind. The earth, in some fundamental sense, becomes a daughter whose memory can only be evoked through the traditional chants of the Colombian Pacific.

Osorio and Lozano handpicked non professional actors with years of experience as musicians. And Siembra is a profoundly musical film. It is music (and dance) which offer Turco’s son the chance to gain the respect of his peers, and it is music (and litanies) which are used to accompany his journey to the otherworld. It is not just Turco’s plight which is respected, but his culture and the cultural heritage of his homeland.

Premiered at Locarno’s 2015 Film Festival, where it won the Independent Critics Boccalino Award for best direction, Siembra won the Jury’s Special Award at Cartagena’s 56th International Film Festival. A much-deserved recognition for a film that touches upon one of Colombia’s greatest tragedies without turning it into a spectacle, but into an opportunity to reflect on the magnitude of a never-ending war.

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The jubilant “¡que viva Chile!” producer Patricio Escala shouted as he and director Gabriele Osorio received the Oscar for best animated short film was probably one of this year’s ceremony’s most memorable moments. The two had more than one reason to celebrate: Historia de un Oso (Bear Story) was Chile’s first ever Oscar. Yet Escala and Osorio’s was not the only Latin American country to leave a trace on last Sunday’s ceremony. Colombia made her first appearance before the Academy with Ciro Guerra’s El Abrazo de la Serpiente as best foreign language film nominee, and Mexico won big with the duo Iñárritu-Lubezki, the first now celebrating his second consecutive best director award, the latter his third as best cinematographer.

In some important ways the Oscars seem to have consolidated the spot Latin America cinema has gained over the past few years. The region’s cinema is blossoming, and the world is enjoying and rewarding its growth. A look at the most recent Academy’s decisions is telling: if Emmanuel Lubezki has become one of the Academy’s most successful habitués (and now holds a record as the only cinematographer to have won three times in a row), Mexico has also fathered the best directors of the past three editions: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, 2014) and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, 2015 and The Revenant, 2016). But Latin America’s successes extend outside the United States too. In 2015 alone the region left an indelible mark across Europe’s most prestigious festivals. Venezuela’s Lorenzo Vigas’s Desde Allá won the Golden Lion at Venice’s 72nd International Film Festival, where Argentinian Pablo Trapero received the Silver Lion for best director for El Clan. At Cannes’s 68th Film Festival, Colombia’s César Acevedo’s was awarded the Caméra d’Or for his La Tierra y la Sombra, and Mexico’s Michel Franco’s Chronic won best screenplay.

While Latin America exports its gems abroad, Colombia is home to a festival which has historically helped developing the region’s cinematic potential. Held yearly in the Caribbean walled-city of Cartagena de Indias, the International Film Festival of Cartagena (FICCI) is Latin America’s oldest. Founded in 1960, it seeks to promote Ibero-American cinema, hosting the works of directors from Latin America, Portugal and Spain for a five-day movie feast set in Colombia’s coast. An entirely public event (entrance to all movies is free of charge), this year it will be home to some 120,000 viewers and will be screening 154 films, all of them more or less directly touching upon the region’s relationship with its often violent past.

For cinema, in the words of FICCI’s Artistic Director Diana Bustamante, turns into a mechanism that can help deconstruct a people’s history and heal collective traumas. Arguably never in the history of Latin America, and of Colombia in particular (close as it now is to sign a peace treaty and put an end to over 50 years of internal conflict with the leftist FARC guerrilla) has this calling been so urgent. The ten Ibero-American movies that will be screened in this year’s official competition look closely into the region’s past and the suffering caused by the multiple conflicts which have plagued it. From the armed conflict which Colombian Felipe Guerrero talks about in Oscuro Animal to the conflicts of gender and performativity which Gabriel Mascaro and Julio Hernández Cordón deal with in Boi Neon and Te Prometo Anarquía respectively, FICCI 56 aims to show the extent to which cinema can turn a history of violence into an opportunity to reimagine and shape an altogether different future.

From the 2nd until the 7th of March Cartagena’s Film Festival will offer a snapshot of the most recent transformations of Ibero-American cinema. FICCI, for the European as well as Latin American public, will be a unique opportunity to make sense of the renaissance which has brought the region back at the center of world cinema.

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