On Colombian Cinema

Graphic commemorating FOCINE

By Patrick James, LACC Public Services Assistant

The term “Colombian cinema” refers not to an internationally recognized “film industry” but rather a collection of individual films and movements, often critical of the politics of their times. For this reason, Colombian cinema has more to offer than its value as entertainment.

Poster for Julio Luzardo's  "El Rio de las Tumbas" (1964)

The Colombian conflict endured through the 20th and into the 21st century. While most films about difficult historical moments are made well after the events they depict, much of Colombian cinema was produced in the shadow of the political violence it addresses. Through its history, Colombian films have explored topics such as life in the midst of armed conflict, struggles for political power, and the growing divide between city and countryside as a result of urbanization.  These films articulate histories of violence both explicitly in their content and implicitly, as traces of the historical forces that animated their production. Colombian cinema forms an archive of the country’s complex political and socio-cultural history.

While many films of this era take place in their respective presents, a number are set during or immediately following a landmark event in the history of Colombia’s armed conflict. La Violencia (1948-1958) was a period of political violence between the Liberal and Conservative parties that began with the assassination of liberal presidential candidate and mayor of Bogotá,

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, on April 9th, 1948. Films such as El Rio de las Tumbas (1964) directed by Julio Luzardo and En la Tormenta (1982) directed by Fernando Vallejo represent the diverse consequences of La Violencia in rural locations.

Arguably the most important moment in the history of Colombian cinema was the formation of the Compañía de Fomento Cinematográfico (FOCINE) in 1978.  This organization administered government funds allocated for the development of Colombian cinema, and supported the production of twenty-nine films before it was shut down in 1993. This productive period, often thought of as the height of Colombian filmmaking, aligned with the most tumultuous years of Colombia’s armed conflict and the U.S.-supported “war on drugs.” The FOCINE archive offers a glimpse into this historical juncture through visual representation and reference, yet on a register beyond signification, FOCINE films might be thought of as a series of historical documents that were themselves produced under the pressures of the violence they address. FOCINE films become complex when viewers are attuned to their means of production.

The poster for Luis Ospina's tropical gothic film "Pura Sangre" (1983)

Films that compose the tropical gothic genre explore conflict and politics from mid-century through the late 1980s. In these productions, monsters such as vampires and zombies express the terror of civil war along with the cultural and existential dislocation wrought by the encroachment of global capitalism.

A few tropical gothic films include Carlos Mayolo’s Carne de tu Carne (1983) and Luis Ospina’s Pura Sangre (1982).

Ten years after the collapse of FOCINE, there would be another “boom” in Columbian film production. The products of this new generation of Colombian films garnered international attention, especially through success in film festivals and competitions. Two recent critically acclaimed films include El Abrazo de la Serpiente (2015) directed by Ciro Guerra and La Tierra y La Sombra (2015) directed by César Augusto Acevedo. The University of Florida’s Latin American and Caribbean Collection holds a number of FOCINE supported films along with a rich selection from the 2000s forward.

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