10 Directors to Watch: Ciro Guerra Explores Amazon in ‘Embrace of the Serpent’

Black-and-white Amazon venture 'Embrace of the Serpent' is Colombian director Ciro Guerra's third film to be submitted to the Oscars — and the first to be shortlisted.

10 Directors to Watch
Portrait: Courtesy of Ciro Guerra

Simultaneously stark and visually beautiful, “Embrace of the Serpent” marks the third feature — and third official Colombian Oscar entry — from Bogota-based writer-director Ciro Guerra.

According to the helmer, whose short-listed film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, the project was a true labor of love. “I spent two years, on and off, living in the Amazon, researching the story,” he says. The story details the terrible cost to indigenous cultures from the gradual invasion of western civilization, based on the real-life adventures of separate European and American explorers and a local shaman.

“We were the first fiction film to shoot there in 30 years, and it was very tough,” says Guerra, who spent seven weeks filming in the remote jungle. Rather than embracing the hallucinatory DayGlo colors of the jungle, as one might expect, he opted to tell his cautionary tale in austere black and white.

“I was inspired by all the black-and-white photos of the local tribes taken by the explorers, which were devoid of the cliched exoticism and exuberance people have come to expect,” he says. “Black and white gives it this dreamlike quality, where man and nature become the same.”

As for the film’s parallel narratives and periods (it’s set largely in the early 1900s and occasionally flashes forward to the 1940s), Guerra says, “I wanted to give audiences a window into a different concept of time. The local people don’t think of time the way the western world does, and cinema is a medium of time, after all.”

The filmmaker, who at 22 wrote and directed the festival hit “The Wandering Shadows,” followed by the critically acclaimed “The Wind Journeys,” is working on his next project, “a crime thriller called ‘Birds of Passage,’ which I’ll shoot in the Colombian desert. One day I’ll go back to the Amazon, but right now I need a big change.”

Age: 34
Influences: Latin American directors Glauber Rocha, Tomas Gutierrez Alea
Agency: Paradigm
Lawyer: MARKS Law Group