El Bola

Latin America has never been very strong at organizing film festivals. The biggest problem this creates is a lack of attention towards Latin American cinema itself, which is currently slowly emerging and desperately needs a space of its own. Just as Eastern European cinema has a prominent spot on the circuit at Karlovy Vary or Asian cinema has recently been an obligatory presence in all festivals, cinema from our area needs attention and focus, especially now with the increase in interesting films. Evidence of the quality I speak of include the Academy Award nominee for best foreign film Amores perros (Love’s a Bitch, Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000) from Mexico and the success at important festivals this year of films like the Uruguayan 25 watts (Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll, 2000), the Argentinian Bolivia (Adrián Caetano, 2001), and the Mexican Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother Too, Alfonso Cuarón, 2001) – in Rotterdam, Cannes, and Venice respectively.

Traditionally, the Cartagena International Film Festival in Colombia has been the most important in the region and there was a time (in the 1970’s) when stars like François Truffaut attended as guests and competitors. Since this Festival’s demise , however, not many have replaced it: Havana has become important for the region but hardly for the rest of the world as its competitive section is only open to films from Latin American countries and Spain; Acapulco is an important showcase for the best recent cinema from France but it is not a competitive event; and Mar del Plata, which is probably the most important today, still has room to improve. The Bogota International Film Festival is quickly growing in size and importance and, if it overcomes problems such as those evident at this year’s Festival, it may become the biggest and most important in the continent. To date, however, the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema remains the most significant Latin American festival since it is both very international and cinephilic.


The 18th edition of the Bogota International Film Festival, held from October 9 to 17, was a controversial one. Since 1999, the Festival has grown bigger and better, the quality of the films both in the competition and parallel sections has improved and the number of international guests has increased. In 1996, the Festival decided to honor Mexico on the centenary of its first film; and the following year Venezuela on the centenary of the arrival of cinema there and in Colombia. In 1998, the Festival decided to choose a guest country each year, from which the majority of the films would come, and on that year Italy was chosen, with France and Spain being guests the following years. This year Argentina was the special guest of the event.

Despite the evidence that suggests it is only a matter of time before the Bogota International Film Festival establishes itself as the most important in Latin America, this year’s edition was catastrophic in terms of management, organization, and the scheduling of films in inappropriately sized theatres.

The inaugural ceremony was a spectacular event. Inaugural speeches were short and to the point, and all of the speakers were cheerful and spontaneous. After the preliminaries came the magnificent concert by special guest Osvaldo Montes, Argentinian composer. Alongside musicians Walter Ríos and Fernando Barrientos, Montes played excerpts from seven scores he has composed over the years. Images from El lado oscuro del corazón (The Dark Side of the Heart), Tango feroz (Wild Tango), Una sombra ya pronto serás (A Shadow You Will Soon Be), Amigomío (Friend of Mine), Cenizas del paraíso (Ashes from Paradise), Plata quemada (Burnt Money), and the upcoming Colombian film Yo soy Bolívar (I Am Bolívar) accompanied the fantastic concert. Afterwards, the Festival opened with the world premiere of the Colombian film Los niños invisibles (The Invisible Children, 2001), whose director Lisandro Duque Naranjo was visibly touched and grateful of the wonderful reception it received.

Problems started on the second day of the Festival, during the presentation of El lado oscuro del corazón 2 (The Dark Side of the Heart 2, 2001) by Eliseo Subiela, President of the Jury. The sound was extremely bad and interfered with the exhibiton of the film, a condition that lasted for around twenty minutes until the director himself went up to the stage and furiously requested that the projection stop. A great amount of films started up to an hour late, the programme was full of mistakes, films were identified with the incorrect country, the presentations in community centres (public exhibitions in poorer sections of the city) were cancelled. The Festival’s director, Henry Laguado, only excused himself and never offered any reasons for the inconveniences and mistakes his committee were responsable for. But the worst mistake of all came on closing night. It was the perfect opportunity to quiet down any criticism and the organizing committe blew it; it was the most atrocious, unrespectful and improvised ceremony I have ever seen. The two hosts said nothing but nonsense. Lights were out of control and international guests were asked to go up to the stage only to remain standing there like fools. Neither of the hosts got any of the names of the competitors right, but it was the Festival director himself who finished off the night with his own enormous mistake. When citing the Festival’s grand winner he awarded the main prize to the film El Bola (Pellet, 2000) and awarded it to the wrong director, Marc Recha, rather than Achero Mañas. Marc Recha, another Spanish director, was competing with his own film Pau i el seu germà (2001). I can’t even imagine what would have happened if Mañas had of been there.

Despite the problems that arose throughout the event, the Festival itself was quite good. The films selected for all sections were excellent and current . In total more than 70 films from 19 countries (including firsts from Uruguay, Iceland, Bhutan, and the Philippines) were shown to mass audiences that attended the eight participating theatres.

Competition Section

The Bogota Film Festival was born in 1984 as a national event and over the following years has grown in size and focus until gaining international status in 1992. In the previous years it has focused in turn on Andean, Afroamerican and Pacific cinema for example. However, in order for the International Film Festival Association to give the Festival international status, it had to be specialized in some way. The two options were science fiction or cinema from new directors, and the Festival chose the latter. So, in the Festival’s competition section only directors with three or fewer films can participate. This may seem a constraint but the truth is that festivals of this type are great to see the emergence of new talent, evident for example in last year’s winner,Amores perros, which went on to achieve international acclaim. Other past winners include Julio Medem’s La ardilla roja (The Red Squirrel, 1993), Wilma Labate’s La mia generazione (My Generation, 1996), and Claude Mouriéras’s Dis-moi que je rêve (Tell Me I’m Dreaming, 1998). The Festival’s main award is the Golden Precolumbian Circle. The jury also awards a Silver and a Bronze Precolumbian Circle and Special Mentions to the runners-up, as well as an award to the best director. Since 2000, there is also an audience award.

19 films competed this year for the main award. The jury comprised Marie-Pierre Macia from France, director of the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs at Cannes, actor Jorge Sanz from Spain, director Julio Luzardo from Colombia, and Pedro Zurita from Chile, and was presided over by veteran Argentinian director Eliseo Subiela. The Golden Precolumbian Circle was deservedly awarded to the Spanish film El Bola (Pellet, 2000) by Achero Mañas, one of the Festival’s most popular and acclaimed films. This film, hugely successful in Spain (Goya to the best film), tells the story of Pablo, nicknamed Bola, a twelve-year-old boy beaten up by his father. The Silver Precolumbian Circle was awarded to Sólo por hoy (Just for Today, 2000) by Ariel Rotter of Argentina. This film, whose screenplay was a semifinalist at the Sundance Film Institute – NHK Filmmakers Award, was also very popular partly due to the fact that the original score was composed by one of the leading rock stars from Argentina, singer Gustavo Cerati (former leader of Soda Stereo), and old idol in Colombia. Director Ariel Rotter came to Bogota for the event and was probably one of the most accessible and friendly guests. The Bronze Precolumbian Circle winner was the Mexican film De ida y vuelta (To and Fro, 2000) by Salvador Aguirre, who was also present. This is a good film, however not one of the best in my opinion, that tells the story of a man, of Indian origin, who has been absent from his country for three years (where he had been working in the U.S.) and returns to his town in the countryside of Michoacán only to find it devastated. De ida y vuelta was made at the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica (CCC), one of the Mexican cinema schools, using students as cast and crew members. Aguirre, the director, is a teacher there. I found the cinematography by Gerónimo Denti spectacular.

25 watts

Two films obtained special mentions from the jury: the Uruguayan 25 watts (2000) by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll, and the Belgian Pleure pas Germaine (Don’t Cry Germaine, 2000) by Alain de Halleux. The former is in black and white, and shows us a day in the life of three youngsters from the city of Montevideo and the conflicts that arise between them. It was awarded a special mention for its fresh look at problems concerning our youth. This was in my opinion one of the best films shown and is one of the most successful films from Latin America this year, including the Tiger Award (exaequo) at the Rotterdam Film Festival. Pleure pas Germaine is a very emotive tale of a devastated family about to make a very tough voyage from their home in Brussels to the French Pyrenees, wanting to start all over after their older daughter has been murdered. It was awarded a special mention for its human content. Finally, the Golden Precolumbian Circle to the best director was awarded to the Argentinian Fabián Bielinsky for his film Nueve reinas (Nine Queens, 2000), also winner of the CityTV and El Tiempo Audience Award. One of the best films at the Festival this year, it tells the story of two small time crooks who are suddenly involved in a huge scam that doesn’t allow any hesitation.

Argentina had a third film in competition, La fe del volcán (The Volcano’s Faith, 2001) by Ana Poliak, who was also present in Bogota. This was a complex film, very nostalgic and melancholic but beautiful, about the friendship between Danilo and Anna in the midst of chaotic Buenos Aires. Their encounters are wonderful little moments, in which occassionally Danilo reflects harshly on life, labor and politics. Also in competition was Capitães de abril (Captains of April, 2000) by the Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros, the story of the last of the romantic revolutions of the world (known as the Revolution of Carnations), which in 1974 overturned the dictatorial regime of Marcelo Caetano. I found this to be one of those potentially good films lacking just a little something, but I must recognize the film is emotionally very strong and I couldn’t help myself from shedding tears during it (something that also happened during El Bola and Pleure pas Germaine). Före stormen (Before the Storm, 2000) by Reza Parsa of Sweden tells the story of a taxi driver born in the Middle East who lives happily in Sweden with his wife and daughters, but whose life is suddenly shaken by shadows of his past that revive events left behind. The Spanish film Nómadas (Nomads, 2001) by Gonzalo López-Gallego narrates the stories of four young and disoriented persons. Quite a complicated film that demands further reflection after it’s over. One of its protagonists, Diana Lázaro, was also present. 101 Reykjavík (2000) by Baltasar Kormákur of Iceland and featuring Spanish diva Victoria Abril was another crowd attracting film, although opinions at the end were quite opposite. Other competing films include the Spanish Pau i el seu germà (Pau and His Brother, 2001) by Marc Recha; the Venezuelan 3 noches (Three Nights, 2001) by Fernando Venturini, who was present; Pila-balde (Fetch a Pail of Water, 2000) by Jeffrey Jeturian of the Philippines; Flandersui gae (Barking Dogs Never Bite, 2000) by Bong Joon-Ho of South Korea; the Russian Dnevnik ryzhego (The Red One: Triumph, 2000) by Vladimir Alenikov and Oleg Pogodin; and the Swiss Orgienhaus (House of Orgies, 2000) by Mathieu Seiler, Vanessa Augustin and Gustavo Salami.

The competition closed with three Colombian films: Diástole y sístole: los movimientos del corazón (Diastole and Systole: The Heart’s Movements, 2000) by Harold Trompetero, a nice comedy about relationships and the typical and cliché situations that happen; Kalibre 35 (Kaliber 35, 2001) by Raúl García, a good film dealing with a bank robbery; and the risky futuristic bet of Bogotá 2016 (Bogota 2016, 2001) by Pablo Mora, Ricardo Guerra, Jaime Sánchez, and Alessandro Basile. These three also were in competition for the Golden Precolumbian Circle to the best Colombian film, but it was the inaugural film Los niños invisibles that won. Bogotá 2016 won the special mention of the jury for its search of new paths for Colombian cinema.

Contemporary Cinema

This year, the Bogota Film Festival ran seven parallel sections to the official competition one: sections dedicated to contemporary cinema from Colombia, Cuba, Argentina, and Spain; retrospectives on Argentinian cinema and the work of Colombian horror director Jairo Pinilla; and a World Cinema section, which was probably (along with Argentina and Spain’s) the most interesting of all.

The film that probably drew the largest crowd was Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000), which was projected in theatres that weren’t so large, partly because no one expected this film to be such a success. I don’t know if the fact that it will open very soon in commercial theatres has anything to do with it. I wasn’t able to see it but I was told all the seats in the theatre were taken and general reviews for the film were excellent. One of the very nice surprises was the little gem from Bhutan, Phörpa (The Cup, 1999), by Khyentse Norbu. This beautiful tale, reminiscent of the best films from Iran or China, tells the story of a group of Buddhist monks from Tibet living in the exile in India who love soccer and flee from the monastery at night in order to watch the World Cup of France ’98. There was general applause for this film, which was curiously announced in the programme as an American film (one of the many mistakes in the program). The Mexican film Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother Too, 2001) by Alfonso Cuarón was another of the Festival’s huge successes, proof of which lies in the fact that it opened in theatres during the Festival and has done quite well. Another of the audience’s favorites was the French Une affaire de goût (A Matter of Taste, 2000) by Bernard Rapp, a very delicate and exquisite thriller, mixing suspense and fine cuisine, and one of my personal favorites. Le goût des autres (The Taste of Others, 2000) by Agnès Jaoui screened only once during the Night of French Cinema and in front of a packed crowd, and another film that is due to be released in commerical theatres.

Another well-liked film was Et rigtigt menneske (Dogme 18: Truly human, 2001) by Ake Sandgren of Denmark. On the other hand, two films from Venezuela did very bad: Manuela Sáenz (2000) by Diego Rísquez and Sangrador (Bleeder, 1999) by Leonardo Henríquez. The first tells the story of Manuela Sáenz, sentimental companion to the liberator of Colombia, Simón Bolívar. I wasn’t able to see it but was dissuaded into trying by the comments of those who did. The second one was a recreation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in the mountains of Venezuela. I went to see this one having read a couple of great reviews, but found it to be a complete disaster. To make things worse, the lead actress of the film, Karina Gómez (who is Colombian), hosted the closing ceremony. Both of these had a large amount of early abandons. Other films included Serge Meynard’s Voyous voyelles (The Little Grifters, 1999), Benoît Jacquot’s La fausse suivante (False Servant, 2000), Coralie Trinh Thi and Virginie Despentes’ Baise-moi (Rape Me, 2000) from France; Rafael Montero’s Corazones rotos (Broken Hearts, 2001) from Mexico; and Stefan Schwietert’s documentary El acordeón del diablo (The Devil’s Accordeon, 2001) from Switzerland and filmed in Colombia.

Cinema from Spain did very well at the Festival despite the fact it was only scheduled at one theatre, which by the way was the most expensive one. José Luis Garci’s You’re the one (2000) and Alex de la Iglesia’s La comunidad (The Commonwealth, 2000) were by far the most acclaimed. The others shown were Lena (2001) by Gonzalo Tapia, Nosotras (Women, 2000) by Judith Colell, Amor, curiosidad, prozac y dudas (Love, Curiosity, Prozac and Doubt, 2001) by Miguel Santesmases, Celos (Jealousy, 1999) by Vicente Aranda, Fugitivas (Fugitives, 2001) by Miguel Hermoso, Extranjeros de sí mismos (Strangers to Themselves, 2001) by José Luis López-Linares and Javier Rioyo, and Gitano by Manuel Palacio. Fernando Trueba’s Belle époque (1992) screened as tribute to jury member Jorge Sanz.

Plata quemada

Argentina’s films were also big winners at the Festival. One of the favorite’s of the entire event was Marcelo Piñeyro’s Plata quemada (Burnt Money, 2000), which was shown in crowded and enthusiastic theatres. La fuga (The Escape, 2001) by Eduardo Mignogna was another of the Festival’s highlights despite the fact it was shown at the worst possible times and days (for example, its main presentation was at the same time as the closing ceremony). Two films I saw and liked very much, but that weren’t especially liked in general, were Rodrigo Grande’s Rosarigasinos (2001), with the two superb performances by Ulises Dumont and Federico Luppi, and Héctor Olivera’s Antigua vida mía (Ancient Life of Mine, 2001), based on the novel by the Chilean Marcela Serrano and including two very strong performances by Cecilia Roth and diva Ana Belén. On the other hand, Eliseo Subiela’s two latest films, Las aventuras de Dios (The Adventures of God, 2000) and El lado oscuro del corazón 2 (The Dark Side of the Heart 2, 2001), were coldly received. Also shown were Mercedes García Guevara’s Río escondido (Hidden River, 1999), Lucho Bender’s Felicidades (Merry Christmas, 2000), guest Sergio Bizzio’s Animalada (Animal, 2001), and José Glusman’s Cien años de perdón (One Hundred Years of Forgiveness, 2000). All of the films in the retrospective of Argentinian cinema were big among attendants: Eliseo Subiela’s highly popular El lado oscuro del corazón (The Dark Side of the Heart, 1992), Adrián Caetano and Bruno Stagnaro’s Pizza, birra, faso (Pizza, Beer, and Cigarettes, 1997), Daniel Burman’s Un crisantemo estalla en Cincoesquinas (A Crysanthemum Bursts in Cincoesquinas, 1997), Héctor Olivera’s Una sombra ya pronto serás (A Shadow You Will Soon Be, 1994), and Gustavo Mosquera’s Moebius (1996).

Cuba brought four films to the Festival, including the extraordinary La vida es silbar (Life Is to Whistle, 1998) by Fernando Pérez Valdés and the also quite acclaimed documentary on salsa music Yo soy, del son a la salsa (From Son to Salsa, 1997) by Rigoberto López. Las profecías de Amanda (Amanda’s prophecies, 1999) by Pastor Vega and Un paraíso bajo las estrellas (Paradise Under the Stars, 1999) by Gerardo Chijona were also shown. Worth mentioning was the presence of the very charismatic Caridad Cumaná, functionary of the ICAIC.

Finally there was the section dedicated to Colombian cinema, which showed the most important films produced in the past year, that curiously enough have all opened in theatres already with the exception of the inaugural film, Los niños invisibles. On the night of the 12th, the Night of Colombian Cinema was held with the presentation of the restored version of Alma provinciana (Provincial Soul) by Félix Joaquín Rodríguez, made in 1926. Also premiered was the acclaimed short film Cuando vuelvas de tus muertes (When You Come Back from Your Deaths, 2001) by Carlos Mario Urrea. The presentation was accompanied by a piano concert by composer Oscar Acevedo. Jorge Echeverry’s soccer saga Pena máxima (Maximum Penalty, 2001) and Ciro Durán’s La toma de la embajada (The Taking of the Embassy, 2000) were the other films shown. Finally, there was the retrospective on horror film director Jairo Pinilla, with five of his films being shown. That decision I can’t understand; his films are really terrible.

Towards The Future

An objective view of the Festival must center rather on the quality of the films themselves than the management of the Festival. Looking at the entire affair from that point of view, we can say the Bogota Film Festival is growing bigger and better each year. The presence of so many interesting films (to the point it becomes frustrating that you cannot watch them all) makes the event worthwhile. However the many problems that occurred this year have to be solved and quickly. Recognition of one’s errors is one of the most important lessons in life and that is something the Festival’s director has to learn; we are all conscious of the monstrous task that organizing a Festival must be and honesty and sincerity would have helped his highly criticized labour. But, even if it leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, I am optimistic next year’s Festival (which has already invited Chile as special guest) will be a complete success.

About The Author

Andrés Bermúdez is an 18 year-old film enthusiast, currently completely his first year in Literature at Los Andes University in Bogota, Colombia. He plans to study cinema in Spain, France or Italy, perhaps as soon as next fall.

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