Colombia Cinematography (2003)

By | December 15, 2021

1905, the year in which the French operator Félix Mesguish was commissioned by the President of the Republic R. Reyes to resume some public ceremonies, marks the official birth of cinema in Colombia In 1912 the first cinemas opened, and from 1915 the production began to develop, thanks to two filmmakers of Italian origin, the brothers Vincenzo and Francesco Di Doménico, importers of films from abroad, but also founders of the first production company, the SICLA (Sociedad Industrial Cinematográfica Latinoamericana). During the 1920s there was an increase in the quantity and quality of the titles made: it is worth remembering María (1922) by the Spanish Alfredo del Diestro and Máximo Calvo Olmedo, Aura o las violetas (1924) by Pedro Moreno Garzón and Vincenzo Di Doménico, The tragedy of silencio (1924) and Bajo el cielo antioqueño (1925) by Arturo Acevedo Vallarino. The latter, a talented documentary maker, recorded the country’s major historical events from 1924 to 1948 with his newsreels. The advent of sound put Colombian cinema in crisis: throughout the Thirties only documentaries were shot. The great economic and civil progress of that decade (industrialization, political and social reforms), however, allowed, starting from 1941, the resumption of the making of feature films per subject (on average three per year), characterized in any case by a substantial mediocrity (they were usually musical comedies of Mexican inspiration). This development was interrupted by the assassination of the liberal leader JE Gaitán (1948), which marked the the beginning of a ten-year civil war between liberals and conservatives that cost over 300,000 deaths, and also led to the collapse of film production: in the period 1948-1960 only four feature films were made, including El milagro de la sal (1958) by Mexican Luis Moya Sarmiento, on the life of miners, and Esta fue mi vereda (1959) by Gonzalo Canal Ramírez, on the strike following the assassination of Gaitán. The return to relative civil peace allowed the cinema to resume producing consistently (three films a year from 1961 to 1979). The political commitment of many filmmakers also gave impetus to the rebirth, who saw in the medium of cinema an instrument for the dissemination of the ideas of freedom and democracy. The Spaniard José María Arzuaga (Raíces de piedra, 1961, but screened only in 1964) stand out among them; Pasado el meridiano, 1967), Diego León Giraldo (Camilo Torres, 1968), Carlos Álvarez (Asalto, 1968; ¿Qué es la democracia ?, 1971). For Colombia 1999, please check estatelearning.com.

However, it was above all in the Seventies that cinema was imbued with a political radicalism that greatly influenced its language, giving many works a particular imprint that places them halfway between ethnographic and militant films; in Álvarez, Arzuaga and Giraldo were joined by Ciro Durán, Marta Rodríguez, Jorge Silva, Jorge Alí Triana. That decade also saw the first state interventions in the sector. A 1971 law obliged exhibitors to accompany the screenings of foreign films with a Colombian short film, and this led to a strong increase in documentary activity. In 1978 the Focine (Compañía de Fomento Cinematográfico) was then created, public body with the task of controlling the level of receipts in cinemas (previously falsified by exhibitors), of encouraging the production and distribution of films, of supporting and organizing festivals and retrospectives: this resulted in a significant increase in the production of feature films with a subject (eight per year in the period 1980-1988). The second half of the 1980s was marked not only by acute political tensions (with the strengthening of the guerrilla movements, active since the 1960s), but also by the birth of the drug cartel, whose violence reached its peak in 1989, when the Liberal presidential candidate LC Galán was killed because he declared war on the drug lords. In that climate of terror, the industry suffered a real collapse, which also involved cinema. In 1989 the Focine had to cease almost all its activities, and in 1992 it was dissolved.

Between 1989 and 1995, amidst great difficulty, only two films a year were made. Particularly worthy of mention: Rodrigo D. – No future (1989) by Víctor Manuel Gaviria, a docu-fiction about a group of unwitting children victims of the cartel, forced to sell drugs to feed themselves and their families (six of the nine children used as actors, all taken from the street, they were subsequently killed; the director again tackled the theme of drug dealers in the harsh and poetic La vendedora de rosas, 1997); and the grotesque comedies (Italian co-production) La estrategia del caracol (1993; The snail strategy) and Águilas no cazan moscas (1994; Eagles do not chase flies), both by Sergio Cabrera, who in 1996 filmed Ilona llega con la lluvia (Ilona Comes in the Rain) from the novel by A. Mutis. per year. The filmmakers have responded to this impulse by returning to making works that in some cases have managed to establish themselves even abroad. Despite the dangers posed by the drug cartel, which the government has never fully managed to overcome, even foreign filmmakers are now risking to shoot in Colombia Proof of this is La virgen de los sicarios (2000; The virgin of the assassins) by Barbet Schroeder, a Franco-Colombian co-production inspired by the novel by F. Vallejo, on the dramatic existence of young people consumed between prostitution, violence and drugs.

Colombia Cinematography