Nearly a year after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse were leveled against Ciro Guerra, the Colombian director behind Oscar-nominated “Embrace of the Serpent,” a Bogota court overseeing a defamation case filed by the filmmaker has ruled in his favor, and asked for more evidence from the outlet that ran the claims.
The court has ordered the editors of Volcanicas, a Latin American feminist journal, to rectify their June 24 article because it did “not comply with the requirements of veracity and impartiality,” as it lacked detail and evidence.
Volcanicas in June published allegations from eight anonymous women who described incidents of harassment and abuse spanning the period between 2013 and 2019 in Colombia, Mexico, New York and Berlin. The publication doesn’t name the women but says it conducted direct interviews with each accuser and heard recordings as well as viewed text message exchanges — which it posted — that detail the alleged harassment incidents and one instance of alleged assault. It also included testimonies from witnesses and the transcript of their interview with Guerra.
Pointing out that the allegations from eight women were “not supported with sufficient accuracy to allow verifying the authenticity of the facts” and that the questions asked of the director were generic and provided no context, the court concluded that only evidence-supported allegations could remain and gave them 10 days to make changes to the exposé.
If Ruiz-Navarro and Londoño do not comply with the court order, they could face up to 16 to 54 months in prison and a fine of up to $375,000, per Article 220 of Colombia’s penal code.
“I am glad that the court has examined the facts and found that these accusations are completely unsubstantiated,” Guerra told Variety. “In today’s world, it is all too easy to defame people who have never been charged and to smear them with unfounded allegations,” he continued.
“While it is far from easy to have false claims made about you and then spread around the world by careless (or malicious) reporters, I am pleased that justice has been done and I am excited to move forward,” added Guerra.
In a statement, Volcanicas editors Catalina Ruiz Navarro and Matilde de los Milagros Londoño noted that the ruling orders them to provide more information, which could jeopardize the victims, and pays no heed to “the importance of protected sources, which are the cornerstone of investigative journalism and essential for their contribution to democracy.”
“We are going to comply with the judicial order, but we will always protect the identity of those who trusted us,” they said, adding: “The ruling does not say that the stories are false, nor has it ordered the removal of the article; it only asks us for more information, which we intend to give.”
However, none of the women have been willing to come forward thus far, which could make it difficult for the outlet to advance its claims.
The editors pointed out that Guerra “chose to answer sparingly and without giving reasons or substantive answers” when they first interviewed him. They added that it was vital that he be made to respond with more detail in order to satisfy the court.
The court ruling has become a flash point for issues around press freedom in Latin America.
In a series of tweets, Colombia’s Foundation of Press Freedom (FLIP) asserted that “the Court discredits the voice of the victims by wanting to delve into the veracity of their testimonies, indicating that it should have been contrasted with other sources of information.
“In addition, with his questioning, it also criticizes the forms of expression used during the investigation. All forms of expression are protected by international standards,” added FLIP in its Twitter thread.
The foundation criticized the judge for stating that the names of the victims should have been published, because “giving that information to Ciro Guerra would violate the confidentiality of the source and the rules for the protection of the identity of victims of sexual violence.”
Producer Ana Piñeres, who also presides over the independent producers’ association Asocinde and rights org Egeda Colombia, concurred with the court ruling: “If those acts that the plaintiffs say were committed are true, they should report it to the authorities and prove what was said in the publication with legal evidence.”
She added: “If not, it could tarnish the good name of a person; people have the right to a legitimate defense and if there are facts to question, they should then be investigated.”
Guerra made his first foray into English-language film with 2019’s “Waiting for the Barbarians,” starring Mark Rylance, Robert Pattinson and Johnny Depp. The movie premiered in 2019 at the Venice Film Festival and was released on VOD by the Samuel Goldwyn Co.
Guerra and his producing partner Cristina Gallego, who is his ex-wife, had been working in Mexico until the coronavirus lockdown. The two were to co-direct Amazon Prime and Amblin TV’s four-part epic “Cortes and Moctezuma” series starring Javier Bardem and executive produced by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. The project was canceled as the pandemic rendered it impossible to shoot the sweeping scenes in what would have been Amazon Prime’s most expensive Latin American project.
“It’s hurtful; it’s an incendiary article, and very difficult, but I hope he comes out of this unscathed,” Gallego told Variety at the time.
Guerra has been a regular at Cannes ever since his second film, “The Wind Journeys,” competed in the festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar. His film “Embrace of the Serpent” competed in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight section in 2015 before it clinched a best international feature film Oscar nomination. In 2019, Guerra served as Critics’ Week jury president.
His next film, “Birds of Passage” (which he co-directed with Gallego), premiered in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight before scooping up awards across the festival circuit.
He also co-directed the Netflix limited series “Green Frontier” (Frontera Verde).