Nicole Karsin’s beautifully crafted docu “We Women Warriors” highlights the activism of three strong, extraordinarily likable women from three different regions and indigenous cultures of Colombia. Caught in the murderous crossfire from guerrillas, the paramilitary and government forces, they struggle to escape the cycle of violence that has taken loved ones and threatens the extinction of a third of the country’s 102 native populations. Using weaving as a symbol of female solidarity, with a vibrant soundtrack of traditional tribal songs, Karsin sounds a rare note of hope; her dynamite trio could find favor with auds worldwide.
Working within the newly declared tribal rights wrested from the government, the women seek to establish weaving collectives, promote unity and protect the integrity of indigenous lands. In Colombia’s three-way war, unarmed villagers and farmers are invariably among the victims — accused by the military of aiding the rebels, accused by the rebels of aiding the military. More than 5 million people, forced to flee and abandoning homes and possessions, have been uprooted by the ongoing war, as high-angle shots track a long line of displaced villagers wending their way through the jungle.
The first woman profiled, Doris Puchana, a governor of the Awa people, assumes responsibility for one such displaced village. Puchana’s organizational skills so impress visiting United Nations personnel that she is invited to speak at a press conference in Bogota. There she learns via a TV bulletin that, in her absence, five villagers were summarily executed. She would have been the sixth.
Ludis Rodriguez, a member of the Kankuamo tribe, saw her innocent husband assassinated, leaving her with three kids to support. She gets a job cooking for the police, but when guerrillas kill 15 policemen, the government tries to save face and arrests 15 innocent Kankuamo, including Rodriguez, as recorded by Karsin’s camera. The helmer also includes several news reports detailing other probably faked captures of such “guerrillas.” Rodriguez counts herself lucky she wasn’t shot and costumed in a rebel outfit; she is released after a year and starts a collective of 23 weavers, mostly widows, all victims of the war.
Flor Ilva Triochez is the first femme leader of the Nasa people in 300 years. Far more actively political than other tribes visited, the Nasa have a strong tradition of struggle, as attested to by black-and-white archival footage of them wielding hoes and trying to reclaim their barbed wire-enclosed land. So when 25 police barracks are erected and ensuing gun battles claim the life of an 11-year-old, the Nasa, under Triochez, first demand the demolition of the barracks, then see to it themselves.
In capturing the organic beauty of the countryside and concentrating on the women’s interactions with children at meals or at play, Karsin underscores the unnaturalness of intruding bullets, uniforms and bombs. Unlike the Liberian ‘Iron Ladies’ celebrated in “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” the female activists here fail to fully halt the chaos; they do, however, offer concrete alternatives.