Locarno: ‘Siembra,’ a New Take on Urban Immigration in Colombia

Feature film debut from Angela Osorio Rojas and Santiago Lozano Alvarez plays Locarno’s Filmmakers of the Present

LOCARNO: Welcome to one face of new Latin America cinema. The latest film from Colombia’s Contravia Films- an arthouse powerhouse credits include Oscar Ruiz Navia’s “Crab Trab” and “Los Hongos” and William Vega’s “La Sirga,” and co-produced by the directors’ label Barbara Films and Germany’s Autentika Films, (post Mortem,” “Workers”),

Siembra” is an immersive drama, shot in black-and-white. It turns on “Turco,” a 60-year-old fisherman – – tall, graven, gaunt – who comes to the big city to live with his son, Yosser, aged 19, a hot head. One night, Yosser is shot dead. Turco organizes the vigil, buries his son, and discovers he now has a reason to stay in the city. A fiction feature, is also multi-toned, part the tale of a man’s farewell to his rural origins, part near documentary, enriched with a fascination for the rich Afro-Colombian heritage of country-folk, now living in big cities, part kinetic performance art, often nearly  a musical. Thesongs sung by Turco and his neighbors are of stark stunning beauty. That structure suggests something of the many facets of big city immigration.

Variety talked to directors Angela Osorio Rojas and Santiago Lozano Alvarez and Oscar Ruiz Navia , who produced with Gerylee Polanco Uribe, just before “Siembra” placed at Locarno in Filmmakers of the Present:

The film is about urban immigration, a key movement shaping modern Latin America. Your take is, however, very interesting is that it points to a “ruralization” of big cities. Turco and his neighbors bring ancient traditions – social, cultural, mental – to the big city that they do not necessarily abandon…Could you talk about this?

Migration in Colombia is closely linked to the armed conflict. Driving people out of their lands brings memories to people, makes them want to revive their rural traditions in the city. It’s more than just nostalgia for an idyllic past. It’s a form of resistance. For us, it’s very interesting to observe the way in which any realm of space is transformed, through the way people choose to live in that space. It’s also very interesting to observe how customs, tastes, culture in general leave their indelible mark on space.

In “Siembra,” we decided to talk about loss of roots without necessarily focusing on place of origin or the past. That’s why, in the film, the past is constructed from glimpses of little things, little traces in the characters, through their traditions, in their dialogues, the way in which they reconnoitre the city, in which they deal with people socially, in short, in their customs.

Displaced by armed conflict, Turco spends much of the film trying to regain is land on the Pacific Coast. In his end, he buys land in the city, to bury his son. There’s a sense, with the elegiac final song, and the act of appropriating the land, that Turco is saying goodbye to his dreams of returning to the countryside. It is a goodbye to his son, and to his past… Again, could you elaborate?

In “Siembra,” Turco lives through a kind of suspended mourning because he is driven out of his land. Mourning the loss of a son, through ritual, is a process that helps him to bear both wounds: the death of a son, and knowing that he can’t go back to his land. Crop harvest time represents the end of his mourning, and it becomes a symbol of appropriation – sewing new seeds – to carry on living in the city, which for him had, until then, been an alienating experience.

You’ve made a string of documentary shorts together. Why, with your feature bow, did you direct a fiction film?

Each project we undertake has its own path of expression, from the manner in which prior research is done to the aesthetic, as well as the narrative forms adopted. In this sense, from the very beginning of the development of this project, “Siembra” was conceived as a fiction film, because it allowed us to develop a character, as well as the dramatic development that afforded us the scope to deal with themes such as death and the loss of roots. Fiction also allowed us, through its characters, to adequately deal with nuances of research which come alive via actions and acting.

And why shoot in black-and-white?

For two reasons: the “rational” reason, has to do with our intention of going beyond pure realism, and enter a realm of poetic narrative naturally generated by the film. We were striving for a film that invited reflection on life itself, much more than a given, factual event, rooted in “veracity”.

Then the “passionate” reason, our tastes: we have a special liking for black and white. When we started working together, we did so with black and white photographs, in an analogue photo lab, which allowed us to appreciate the aesthetic and expressive value of shades of grey.

I believe Turco, his son and the shanty suburb community are non-pros? How did you go about directing them?

For the casting, we were keen to find people who had experience in the performing arts, not only in theatre but also in music and dance. Diego Balanta (Turco) and Ines Granja (Celina) are two maestros of traditional music of the Pacific Region of Colombia. Yosner (José Luis Preciado) is a seasoned urban dance performer as well. Lizeth (Carol Hurtado) is an actress and member of the music group, Haga que Pase, as is Jota (J. Ramos). For us it was important to have a cast that was well aware of what an audience, a performance area meant, as well as the importance of being able to concentrate and focus, to properly prepare their characters and get used to the dynamics of a shoot.

The most important factor, though, was that their face should convey the look, the full aura of the character, because we did, with them, the type of preparation that drew a great deal from elements of their own lives, for the characters described in the script.

The film varies in tone, energetically, from near documentary, to performance art, to love scenes between two young neighbors. Rather than creating discordance, it seems to me that this tonal change is one of the film’s sources of entertainment. Was it consciously strived for, or a result of research and your story line?

From the outset, we sought to elaborate a narrative that departed more from atmosphere, to throw into sharp contrast the notion of mourning and the need for day to-day life to continue. Turco wanders the city like a pained soul, in mourning, while the city is engulfed in Christmas festivities. The lives of its inhabitants continue, with all their normal ups-and-downs, in the midst of the sad death of a young person.

With “Fait Vivir,” “Siembra” is the latest film from Colombia’s Contravia Films, one of Colombia’s top art pic production houses. Do you see similarities to other films it has produced such as “Crab Trap,” “La Sirga” or “Los Hongos”?

Perhaps a common element in both films is the exploration of generational, political and economic conflicts, the relationship between the rural and the urban setting. But we think that the element they most have in common is the development of a project with the greatest creative freedom possible. Contravía is not afraid of tackling risky projects, and it’s also very keen to explore cinematographic language without any kind of stylistic or thematic dogmatism.

What are you working on now?

We are finishing a documentary called “Oro Pacífico,” about bonanza cycles, which can mean great fortune or absolute ruin, like two sides of a coin. Santiago is developing a new script about disenchantment after a much longed for father/son reunion after twenty years. Angela is working on another project, “Marionetas en la Pantalla,” which is part of her doctorial thesis, which looks into the virtual impossibility of recognizing someone else on screen. We’ve also started the development of another project, about a conscientious objector, a retired soldier who remembers an anecdote from 40 years earlier, during one of the most heated moments of the armed conflict of Colombia.

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