La Jaula de Oro and the 54th Festival de Cine

the outdoor film screening  area for "Gems"

the outdoor film screening area for “Gems”

Festival de Cine – The 54th Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena de Indias (FICCI)

It’s almost impossible to imagine more favorable conditions for a film festival or cultural event.  While the first showing I attended was in the air-conditioned theater inside the convention center, the second film was presented outside the convention center – and the setting was perfect!  (It was almost too good – it was so lovely, and so pleasant that it distracted from the movie.)

While Cartagena is steamy hot during the day, late afternoons and evenings are wonderfully refreshing with cool ocean breezes.

Outside the streets are lit with colorful lights, showing Cartagena in all it’s splendor.  Even the stars and the moon attend the event.

Accessible, and for the public

Actually, the festival offers films at multiple venues across Cartagena so residents can see films near their homes – but I prefer the chance to enjoy the city since the convention center is just outside the Historic quarter in the Gestamani area.

The view from the venue
The view from the venue

The showings are free and open to the public, the venues are comfortable, spacious and while well-attended – much less crowded than I anticipated.  All the hoopla, elitism and excesses of Hollywood are a million miles away.  Instead of overpaid movie stars in ten-thousand-dollar designer dresses, segregated behind velvet ropes, the filmmakers themselves appear to speak directly to the audience as they introduce films.  They encourage feedback and answer questions.

Colombian filmmaker, German Piffano talks about his film,"Infierno o Paraiso"

Colombian filmmaker, German Piffano talks about his film,”Infierno o Paraiso”

Infierno o Paraiso

The first film I saw was a documentary by a Colombian filmmaker named German Piffano.  I kind of stumbled into the convention center as I was out enjoying the evening breeze, taking pictures.

the convention center

the convention center

This documentary took fourteen years as the director follows the life of an addict.  When we first encounter Jose, he is living in the alleys of El Cartucho and is addicted to crack.  The film follows Jose Iglesia, a Spaniard, among the backdrop of the evictions and destruction of barrio El Cartucho (Santa Inez), as well as the course of his life over several years.  We see the evolution of a charming, if filthy-appearing addict as he attempts recovery.

It was certainly an interesting movie, particularly since it shows the underside of a life most of us only know of – not about.  The undertones of the movie are rather sweet as Jose develops a bond with the filmmaker over the years but it’s not a “happy ending” kind of story (Colombian movies don’t often have Disney endings, I’ve found.)  There is one heart wrenching scene as a twelve-year-old boy talks about how he came to live in El Cartucho after being introduced to crack.

While the movie was probably about 30 minutes too long for my taste, overall, it was pretty good.  While some of the camera shows are definitely artistic in nature (à la “in-your-face”) the documentary changes as Jose changes.  There were points where I laughed at his antics (along with crowd) and other parts when I though, “Gee, what a shyster.. Is the director buying this?”  Mainly, it was touching to see all the people who reached out to Jose to help him.  We always hear how harsh and cruel the world is – but this movie (along with the second film) also showed how generous people can be even in the most dismal circumstances.

The story of El Cartucho is pretty interesting in itself, and has been the basis of several Colombian documentaries.  A clip of one of them can be seen here at YouTube.

Recommended reading:  Dreams of El Cartucho: Violence, Fear and Trust in a Bogota slum.  Master’s thesis by Michael Soto.

The second film was the film I came specifically to see.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I was lucky enough to sit next to the director of this film on my flight to Cartagena.  He told me a little about the film and that was enough to wet my appetite.  I went because I was curious – it sounded good.. But it turned out it was wonderful in that way that leaves you empty.

the most beautiful 'theater' I've ever been too..

Set outside, the stars and historic buildings make a lovely backdrop..

La Jaula de Oro

I found this movie hard to watch at times.  It wasn’t due to violence, gore or the other reasons we usually think it.  At times, I had to cover my eyes because it hurt to see the hardship and suffering of the characters in the film.  Despite that – I loved it.

I admit I cried – but not because it was one of those tear-jerking tales that manipulates the viewer ala Steven Spielberg and the girl in the red coat in Schindler’s List.  I cried because it wasn’t.

In a lot of ways, this movie reminded me a “The Killing Fields”, a film I loved, but find hard to watch.  Unlike Schindler’s List and films on that genre, the director and the actors didn’t try to manipulate the watchers into false sentiments.  There were no overly dramatic scenes – just brutal reality of the everyday occurrences for Central Americans immigrating across vast distances to try to obtain “the American Dream.”  That doesn’t mean the film was entirely without symbolism, but I found the symbolism and imagery added to the characters and their lives rather that serving as just a visual distraction or “deeper meaning.”

Not too much artsy crap

But then – I am a philistine and tend to hate that sort of stuff.  I don’t like when artists try to tell me how to feel, how to interpret and what to think.. and this film did none of this.

Instead, it did what a good film should: it told a story.   And like the majority of stories based on reality, there aren’t any dramatic rescues or miracles in the last five minutes of the film.  There is also a scene where I felt shame – (a scene at the end when the characters have crossed into the United States).  I felt shame because I think of the militias and the so-called “Minutemen” border patrols, and I know that some Americans would shoot / even kill illegal immigrants – and think of them as less than human.

More significantly, I think it is a film more Americans should watch.  I am lucky enough to travel, and to see different places in the world – and that has changed me.  It’s impossible to live and study in Mexicali – next to the border fence and not change your perspectives; about immigration, and about humanity, compassion and seeing things (literally) from both sides of the fence.

But too many people don’t have that opportunity and will never get to see the lives of many of the people they condemn for crossing the border to come to the United States.

Film Festival, part II

Enough of such serious subjects!  Tonight I am heading back to the festival for another round of films – and more photos of Cartagena for my readers.

cartagena 014

Jewel of the caribe

I’m back in Colombia and here in Cartagena just in time for the annual film festival, FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE CINE

Just because it’s not Cannes or Colorado (Sundance) doesn’t mean that the Cartagena Film Festival is anything less than a world-class event..

First, there’s the venue – Cartagena

gate at the entrance to the historic el centro district

sunset in Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena de indias is often referred to as the jewel of the Caribbean, and it deserves the title.  Bolivar’s star city is rich with history and ambiance.  Couples flock to the romantic and colorful streets historic quarter to celebrate their nuptials with family and friends.  Bridal parties are a common site on any given day, especially around the ever popular (and elegant) Sofitel Santa Clara.   The former convent is in high demand year-round for its luxurious accommodations and extensive wine list.

In the midst of this charming setting is the hustle and bustle of a busy, active city with motorcycles, bicycles, taxis and buses circling the streets around the historic quarter.   The city is a crazy mix of nationalities, ethnicities and other groups that all call Cartagena home.  Add an assortment of lively Chivas buses and an array of business visitors, eco-tourists, backpackers, and sun -seeking tourists and readers can begin imagine what a lovely, vibrant, living city Cartagena is.

The people: Costenos

It’s not a Spanish you’ve ever heard before – but then, the coast of Colombia is unlike any other place you’ve ever been.  The impact of the early Spaniards is unmistakable but Cartagena is no “Nueva Espana” (New Spain).

“The New World” as it was described in innumerable American grade school texts is (in this case) a wholly accurate and appropriate description.

This salsa of multiculturalism is the mainstay of Cartagena’s local culture and is reflected in every aspect of its art, music, dance and food.  The Afro- Caribbean influences combine with the traditions of the indigenous peoples and Spanish explorers to make a distinct dialect, fashion, and way of living that is specific to Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta.

The Film Festival

Filmmakers from around the world (especially Latin America) flock to this festival every year to display their talents.

This year, of the 13  featured ‘Gems’, there is a particular film that I am hankering to see, called, “La Jaula de Oro” or The Golden Cage.  This film, which won an award at the Cannes film festival is by Spanish born, Mexican filmmaker named Diego Quemada-Díez.   The film is a detailed portrait of the lives and journeys of some of the people who travel illegally to the United States from Latin America.  In light of all of the negative depictions, stereotypes and anti-latino sentiment in much of the United States, this film is a desperately needed reality check for Americans..

I was fortunate enough to sit next to the young, and eloquent filmmaker on our way to Cartagena.  The soft-spoken, bilingual young man reminded me a bit of one of my favorite Colombian filmmakers, Andre Barrientos but that was probably due to both his humble nature and neatly trimmed beard.  I would have liked to have interviewed him at length but a crowded airplane doesn’t seem like a fair venue.  (Nothing like a captive interviewee at 35,000 feet).

He’s up against some stiff competition but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for him.

The first showing isn’t until the weekend but hopefully I’ll have some more pictures soon.  If you are in Cartagena and are interested in attending – don’t worry, friends – all films are subtitled in English.