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Our Movie: A Powerful Documentary Reflecting Colombia's History of Violence | Director Diana Bustamante

By Sandra M Ríos U
Twitter: @sandritamrios

I was on the verge of finishing fifth grade when the assassination of Carlos Pizarro took place. In Cali, it was common to follow the B calendar, which means the school year ended in June. The moment has remained intact in my memory for over 30 years. April 26, 1990. Suddenly, the nuns at school ordered us to finish classes and sent us home immediately. I studied a few blocks away from where my grandmother lived. I walked there. As I was leaving, I was struck by the image of a man running by, shouting, "They killed Pizarro! They killed Pizarro!"

As I walked, the tension in the streets was palpable. It wasn't even eleven in the morning, and I was surprised to see neighbors starting to lock themselves indoors. The streets seemed paralyzed. My grandmother decided it was best for me to go home and sent me on a bus to the southern part of the city. Along the way, of course, it was the topic of conversation. The bus driver had the radio on, and that's how I found out that the assassination had taken place on a plane.

The event occurred eight months after another image that our generation will never forget, because it was covered by the media exhaustively: the assassination of Luis Carlos Galán, and also 34 days later after the murder of the Union Patriótica presidential candidate Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa. I was going through adolescence with my parents' separation after 19 years of marriage, a diagnosis of temporary epilepsy that led me to a long five-year treatment with a neurologist, the wave of violence and the war between the Cali and Medellín cartels. The deaths of Galán and Pizarro are unforgettable for a generation because of their spectacular nature. Both happened in front of ordinary people. Any one of us could have been, with our parents, in the central square of Soacha, where Galán was about to give his speech, or on the commercial plane, in mid-flight, where Pizarro was shot.

Producer Diana Bustamante (known for films such as "Memoria," "La tierra y la sombra," "Los viajes del viento," "El vuelco del cangrejo," and many others in her career) directs her first feature film, "Our Movie," an essay that speaks about our images, like the ones I carry in my memory, which tainted part of my childhood and adolescence with blood and death, starting in 1988 and with the national anthem sung by a group of children on the stairs of the Palace of Justice, which served as the opening and closing of daily television programming. That anthem looms omnipresent throughout the film, while, in a meticulous exercise of searching and treating archival footage, we are shown, literally, the horror film we have experienced, whether we wanted to or not, because at that time there were only two channels, and almost everyone in the family consumed the same content, including the news and even the forbidden soap operas.

Diana's documentary essay is a saturation of grotesque, harrowing, shocking, and infuriating images that depict kidnappings, threats, displacements, massacres, and once again, a lot of blood and death. For the director, these images represented a different way of giving meaning to those bright red stains on the pavement, of understanding this country.

The film languidly unfolds in a selection of images that show how the news reported on this bloody period of the country, where lifeless bodies of both acquaintances and strangers were the protagonists, as well as rivers of people. And that torrent of images loses its meaning on purpose because they repeat themselves, because they are the same, in different places, with different faces. It's the same violence, the same death, the same country. Then comes the feeling of not wanting to see them anymore, and that's when, if one allows it, it leads to reflections that involve the state, society, and the media. It raises questions about how we have disseminated these images, about the lack of true context, and about the little care that has been taken with children, who sometimes seem to not exist.

So the film could have been called "Disquiet" or "Apathy" because, while it shows us Colombia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, everything shown there, or even worse, is still part of our everyday life. The generations after those decades now live with the overload of information, with distortions of the concept of privacy, and the negative influence of social media in an extremely complex country, where different forms of violence continue to dominate the news and are displayed with cruelty, not only by the media but by anyone with a cellphone in hand. The volume of these images is so overwhelming that no one can fully process them.

With this film, Diana makes us realize that as children, we have grown up normalizing the concepts of war, violence, and death, and we have processed them in our own way. Since they are part of our daily reality, they are not deeply discussed at the family table, beyond the media impact they generate at the time. This film is challenging, but it has enough strange power to allow us to observe and meditate on it. Part of that effect comes from the excellent editing work and the tone that, although it may not seem so, moves away from pure political denunciation. It's not that it's not a political film, but it leans more towards reflection, towards a review of actions that we are obliged to undertake continually. And if one doesn't believe in the necessity of this for our country and society, just remember the horrifying headline from this week confirming that a "7-year-old child was sexually abused by peers of the same age in a school bathroom." Just imagine the environment these children are in, what they are exposed to, the distortions they have in their world and minds at such a young age that lead them to commit such aberrant acts. Colombia is a country of constant errors and horrors.

The title of "Our Movie" has a backstory that connects with Luis Ospina's documentary from the 1990s, which Diana shared with me in a dialogue for CineVista a couple of days ago. But undoubtedly, it also refers to her profession of creating and manipulating images and the proposed dialogue she intends to open with them in the midst of a highly polarized and dangerous country.

They collected and rescued over 600 hours of material with their research team, and the film, made entirely from archival footage, took a year and a half of editing. In the coming days, we will publish the conversation.

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