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IDFA: Colombia’s Carmen Torres’ Talks IDFA Doc ‘Dawn’

First-time feature director Carmen Torres follows up the domestic premiere of her autobiographical documentary “Dawn” at this year’s Cartagena Intl. Film Festival in Colombia (FICCI) with a European premiere at the 2018 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).

Addressing head on the question of nature versus nature, Torres tracks down her biological mother to ask why she gave her up for adoption, and reflects on the relationship she had with her adoptive mother before her untimely death when Torres was only 13 years old. Across oceans and continents, Torres looks to answer deeply personal questions that turn out to be entirely universal: Questions of family, history and identity.

The film is a co-production between Señal Colombia and Spain’s Playtime Audiovisuales, and was selected as this year’s best Colombian film at Cartagena.

Torres talked with Variety ahead of IDFA about sharing her story, meeting her biological mother and confronting the truth that was hidden from her most of her life.

At what point in your search did you decide to start filming?

I’ve been filming what’s happening to me for years. It’s like I take notes of what catches my attention, trying to keep it with me. When I first decided to go and look for Jacinta, I took some photos and filmed moments that seemed important to me at that moment. The next time I went I brought a video camera, but the filming was really an excuse to be there. Then, I needed a year before seeing what I had filmed, because that second meeting with Jacinta provoked mixed feelings. It was in that viewing that I realized I wanted to make the film relating the encounter to the images I collected over the ten years prior.

With the benefit of hindsight, what does this film mean to you now?

I went to look for my biological mother, Jacinta, believing that she would offer the origin of my identity. But, what happened was that I reunited with my mother Teresa, and learned that my origin had always been there. Through the process, my memories of Teresa dominated the mother role. It’s a strange thing, but when she gave me up for adoption Jacinta gave me a mother, which I lost too soon. Then when I met Jacinta again 40 years later she gave that to me a second time. I think the film shows something that is in the end very simple: a mother is the one who was there, not the one who gave birth.

Do you think that knowing your biological mother changed how you self-identify?

When I started the search I thought I was going to discover my origin. But when I met Jacinta I understood that my origin is not in my blood or the place where I was born, but where I started to be who I am. The beautiful thing is that this discovery is not only mental, but emotional. Thanks to the movie, my mother Teresa is present in my life again, and I understand how to live with the absence a bit.

Did it bother you that your adoptive mother never told you the truth about your real mother?

It never bothered me. At times, when she told me the different stories, she diverted my attention and I wondered why she did it. But now I feel a deep tenderness. It moves me to know that she hid this out of her fear of losing me.

Did you have any fear or concern about telling such a private story with your first film?

To a point I felt ashamed, thinking: “Who could be interested in my story?” But as I proceeded I felt the need to share not just my story, but that of those who have lived something similar. One thing I will never forget was at the end of a screening a foster mother approached me and said: “I have always been afraid my daughter wants to look for her biological mother, but after seeing ‘Dawn’ that fear is gone.”

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