top of page

Industry Insights: INTERVIEW WITH BIRDS OF PASSAGE DIRECTOR CRISTINA GALLEGO

Q1:         When you first started to develop this project, what was it that drew you to the story of the Wayuu?

CG:        Well I knew the stories that weren’t so rooted in Wayuu culture (as I thought), but in the lower Guajira area, I didn’t know that Revenge was part of the heritage of the indigenous culture and tradition. However, Ciro wanted to take it further and, as we got closer, we discovered a cultural coarseness that gradually disclosed all its cultural, spiritual, dual, conflictive, capitalist, macho and matriarchal, humanity. It was the perfect universe in which to say what we wanted to say.

Q2:      The film really captivates the viewer with the inherent beauty of Wayuu culture – its rituals, rites and clothing – can you talk a little about how you went about incorporating these elements into the film, visually and narratively?

CG:        There is a conflict and transformation between tradition and modernity, the idea of season, of abundance and of nothingness. Visually it passes from a strong and intense summer to torrential rain, it goes from red, yellow, orange to bluish tones. Every costume of every character, every location, the props, the elements highlight this – a conflict of savage capitalism, a big luxurious house that is more prison, full of things they do not need, and are out of place. For us, the traditions and rituals were an important way to establish the moral code of the story, of the family. They mark the beginning of almost every chapter.

Q3:      You have built a successful career as a producer – what was it about BoP that made you decide you wanted to assume the role of co-director?

CG:        I never saw myself as director, but finishing the Abrazo process, I realized I’d undertaken roles closer to directing, particularly in script development and montage (trans. editing?), which changed the film a lot, not only in a formal sense but from the point of view of the idea that Ciro originally had. So that gave me the confidence to think that implementing my ideas wasn’t so crazy.

CG:        In the first version of the Birds script, I realized that we were doingBoPfrom the normal, male perspective, that from the moment we heard the stories, we were going to make a film that we had already seen. So I proposed to Ciro that we give the film a female perspective, telling it from that world, and obviously that perspective could only be given by me. Ciro is very male, as is clear from his previous films. So I had to leap irrevocably, full of uncertainty, with no experience, in that direction, and with not much confidence in assuming the role of co-director.

Q4:      Around 30% of the crew working on BoPwere from Colombia’s indigenous Wayuu community – what was the extent of their influence upon the story and how their culture and community are represented in the film?

CG:        The story followed the script closely, relying on a specialist expert in the culture – Wielder Guerra. However, working with the community was key in the staging of all rituals, spaces, environments and locations. It was done with traditional materials, using elements and animals, negotiating and learning from the Wayuu way of life. They were the ones who knew. We, let’s put it this way, paid attention to those aspects. The Wayuu team, in production, direction, art, and the actors helped us build a bridge with the community to tell the story together.

Q5:      Can you talk about some of the challenges of sensitively and authentically portraying an underrepresented community within the parameters of genre filmmaking?

CG:        Well, we approached Wayuu society from a gender perspective, using its codes, but like any film, we were using the techniques of cinema and universal drama to create characters, history, morality (the universe which the characters inhabit) to connect and generate empathy with the viewer; and seeking to get away as far as possible from any ethnography or exoticism. What we’re trying to do is to portray the human soul, its stories and its conflicts. In terms of protecting the community, what interested us most was that it wasn’t seen as The Story of the Wayuu, but the story of the rise and fall of a Wayuu family, expelled from its own community.

Q6:      Strict fidelity to the historical record rarely makes for good cinema: how did you reconcile the art of good filmmaking and storytelling with historical accuracy?

CG:        The good and bad thing in Colombia is that it has a great debt to its history. And I just think that this debt touches a nerve. For example, for many years I have been shocked by the taboo on the issue of drug trafficking and the fact that this story is only told by gringos. Also, the tiny and poor representation of women in cinema, and that is where the idea of ​​this story comes from. That neither has great literary or historical sources (because there aren’t many), but have more to do with the oral tradition. So we went there … However, this story is not like the ones we heard, because all those stories were by men who had got into business, internal fights, families with murdered men, large sums of money, excesses, women, famous concerts in the middle of nowhere … But that’s not our story. Our story is told from another place. And there I am in tune with psychoanalysis, with Carl Jung and his theories of the collective unconscious, of the archetype, the stories, their relationship with myths and with society. So to talk about them, and with historical rigour, we also count on ourselves, we assume positions, roles, points of view, precisely from those sensitivities that touch us most personally. And it turns out that when talking about us, we are also talking about them, that they have as much of us from another perspective, in another language, in another culture.

Q7:      How have the Wayuu and the Colombians in general received the film?

CG:        The Wayuu appropriated the film, the images in their own iconography. They make backpacks and other things with images of the film. Even the mayor from a city that historically has been the cradle of smuggling, – Maicao – has used the image of the film to promote his town, obviously without permission. It has been the third placed Colombian film in terms of admissions and 10% of viewings were given in Wayuu territory. It premiered in August 2018 and has been showing uninterruptedly.  Today in May it’s still showing in cinemas.

Q8:        Latin America – the birthplace of magical realism – has such rich tradition of film and literature that interweaves fantastical or surreal elements with reality. What is about the indigenous stories in your films (Embrace of the Serpent and BoP) that lend themselves so well to this model?

CG:        I think that precisely that tradition, of magical realism, so alive in our Latin American cultures, is very connected to the feminine world, Intuitive, magical, spiritual. It’s contrasted with the more rational, academic, masculine world that has ruled our society. Women, just as the indigenous people, have minimal representation in the cinema and in society and that generates a lot of mixed feelings and conflict. And this I feel is a theme that we have worked on both in The Embrace of the Serpent and Birds of Passage, that is, the difference, the conflict, the meeting and discord of the two worlds.

Translated to and from Spanish by Brian García

Kommentare


bottom of page