March 22, 2016 was the official red-carpet premiere of the fourth annual Colombian Film Festival here in the Big Apple. Press (both modern and traditional) were on hand to cover the coveted event – bringing glitz and glamour of Colombia’s most brightest and accomplished, all together under one roof. The movie festival spans a total of six days at the pristine Village East Cinema theatre. Moviegoers can enjoy 16 featured films – from fiction, to documentaries, and even a handful of shorts. All selected films offer the common thread of visual escape – escape to luscious and sometimes desolate landscapes of a gorgeous country that doesn’t get nearly enough attention as it so rightfully deserves. This festival is futile in its existence by exposing up-and-coming, and often established talent, to the mainstream. Participants featured in this year’s festival will also be awarded a handsome prize/accolade for their work at the end of the festival.
Coordinators were welcoming to the press in granting full access to filmmakers, actors, and all major contributors. The theatre rug emblazoned by the the festival’s logo and brilliant marketing visual truly sealed its mark in our moviegoing experience. The campaign posters and t-shirts feature a photographer of coils of film tightly wound together made to look like one of Colombia’s most treasured accessories: the “Sombrero Vueltiao.” This hat is synonymous with the country’s folkloric traditions and worn by many Colombians – northern Caribbean region to be specific. It was a sight for sore eyes and pulled on the heartstrings of this here writer, let me tell you.
Red-carpet started at 7:00pm sharp; and amongst the invites, was special guest, Michael Hausman. Mr, Hausman has served as producer and Assistant Director for Oscar nominated films such as 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain,” 2002’s “Gangs of New York,” and the revered 80’s classic, “Amadeus.” Also in attendance was Pia Barragan. Pia serves as General Manager of distribution for Cine Colombia and is rep for Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. As I approached her for a quick Q&A, she was very forthcoming with her views on the film industry. When asked about her views on this fabulous festival, here response was the following: “I feel like the Colombian [film] industry is changing when it comes to diversity [cinematically speaking] that we haven’t seen nor encountered in awhile. I think Colombians, and everyone around the world, should see and support Colombian Cinema. For instance, the film “La Tierra y la Sombra” (translating to “Land and Shade“) of which will be screened in this very festival, just recently won four awards at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival for best screenplay and best direction.” With regards to this year’s Oscar-nominated film “Embrace of the Serpent” and how it now holds the possibility for more Colombian films being considered, she answered with “no body should serve as an example for anyone else. The Colombian Cinema is an artistic community that should feel free to create content as they see fit; and not feel obligated to duplicate what has seemingly set the standard. Of course, we should support one another and know the cinematic history of our fellow colleagues in order to produce new ideas; but no one should feel stifled when creating. I feel that, that may be the true challenge for aspiring filmmakers.”
The night’s most talked about guests were both Jacques Toulemonde, director of “ANNA” (the first film to screen for this festival) and his leading lady, Juana Acosta. Jacques was born in Bogota, Colombia and is of French decent. He left his native country in 2001 to initially pursue a career in humanities and literature. He studied at the prestigious La Sorbonne University, where he minored in film. Who would’ve thought that working on a few film projects here and there, would later spawn into a lifetime career in film. He’s best known for his 2007 film “Derive,” 2010’s “Un juego de ninos,” and now his official directorial debut with the film “ANNA.” In our brief red-carpet Q&A he mentions how shooting “ANNA” had been a true labor of love. He shared double duty between working as director for“ANNA,” as he simultaneously worked as screenwriter/cinematographer for the Oscar-nominated film “Embrace of the Serpent.” Working alongside friend and colleague, Ciro Guerra, just made perfect sense since both have known each other since college. He admits to having felt proud attending this year’s Academy Awards; and felt a sense of accomplishment for what it now represents for Colombian Cinema. Our leading lady, Juan Acosta is also a native Colombian. Juana was born in Cali, Colombia and has well over 16 years as an actress under her belt. She’s fluent in Spanish, English and French. When Juana arrived and walked the red carpet, one could get a sense of old Hollywood glamor – very reminiscent of a young Rita Hayworth.
8:00pm, everyone takes their seats. There’s a brief introduction from the EMCs and movie director; and then, they hit the lights. Overview of the film: the movie is a compelling story of a young Colombian woman named Anna living in Paris, struggling with her emotional frailty. Anna has a ten-year-old son named Nathan; but due to a mental illness and often erratic behavior, Philippe, her ex-husband, doesn’t trust her anymore. Philippe reaches a breaking point with Anna and threatens to take full custody of their child. Left with no other choice, she convinces her boyfriend Bruno to help her leave Paris with her son; and the three fly to Colombia. The film turns into a road trip kind of movie that encompasses some of the most stunning and breathtakingly beautiful shots of Colombia. We see instances of city life, refreshing embraces by its tropical beaches; and yet, it’s counterbalanced by its most rural of town settings. It was as if the director had composed a cinematic love-letter to his beloved country. And in between scenic shots, we can’t help but feel enveloped by empathy towards our protagonist as we see her grapple with reality. There were really hard scenes to watch as we can clearly see a person slowly descending into a deep depression and often manic state. I won’t give it all away, but I do recommend you see it for yourselves. Juana Acosta gives the performance of a lifetime.
After-party fue un completo parrandon (a really awesome time for you non-Spanish speakers) at Stage48’s Level 3. The space was intoxicating with tons of music, cocktails, and of course, Colombians. Special guest performer was Grammy-award winner, Andres Cabas. Cabas, known for his eclectic sound mixed with the traditional folkloric, made for a melting pot of sonic bliss. He played a few fan favorites like “La Cadena de Oro” and “Tu Boca;” but when he played “Colombia, Tierra Querida” everyone stood up proud and sang in unison in the most lovingly patriotic way. Let’s just say, it was definitely one of those ‘you had to be there’ kind of moments. Cabas is currently in Bogota finishing up tracks for his impending and first bilingual record, ever. The night went off without a hitch and I felt honored to have been apart of this phenomenal event. #ColFilmFestNYC is screening movies as of now up until Sunday, March 27, 2016 at Village East Cinema. Stay tuned to Snkrbst.com for more exciting events around town; and don’t forget to #ThinkLikeUs.
By Roz Baron
Editor-in-Chief of Snkrbst.com