The Colombian filmmaker was in his youth part of the group of film buffs and artists “Cali Group”, the objective of his 2005 documentary film Todo comenzó por el fin. Luis Ospina, who is also a member of the 18th Las Palmas de Gran Canaria International Film Festival’s Official Jury, will present his work in a special session on Sunday, April 8.
- “I’ve been a documentary maker that portrays the lives of the people I identify with”
- “While we were “setting out in one direction”, the country was collapsing”
Interview by Charlotte Pavard
You are presenting your last documentary film, “Todo comenzó por el fin”, that portrays the powerful “Cali group” of artists you were a part of for two decades between the 70s and 80s. Is it an autobiography?
For over an almost 50-year film career I’ve been a rebuilder of other people’s lives because I believe documentary cinema is the art par excellence of the biographical genre and that every portrair is always and from the get-go the reconstruction of a memory. Film after film I’ve been a portrait painter that tries to put himself in his characters shoes to look at the world with their eyes and speak with their voices. An autobiographer by interposed figure.
Although it sounds like a paradox, is it possible to make an autobiography of a group? Is the autobiography of the Cali Group possible in cinema?
I think so. Film after film I’ve had the secret belief that my work is a permanent work in progress, a perennial film, a film of the experience of an I in transit. I’ve been a documentary maker that portrays the lives of the people I identify with. In this regard, I agree with what Jean-Luc Godard said, “I’m in need of the other so that I’m not afraid of my own image”. On the other hand, I can’t imagine myself setting off an autobiographical project without something inside of me claiming, one way or another, for the making of a duel. That’s how the premise and the title of the film I set off to make appeared: Todo comenzó por el fin. Andrés Caicedo’s definitive figure and his suicide at the age of 25 ended up marking me and my Cali Group friend forever. From that fateful March 4 of 1977 on, our idea about suicide changed. It stopped from being a immature reflection on the uselessness of life and became a physical, tangible, tough proof. It was more than obvious that suicide was not a threat, but a possibility just around the corner. We all were potential suicide victims. I think that mourning his suicide helped me, as well as many others, getting rid of the torture of having to think on autodestruction day after day, night after night. Those of us who were unable of committing suicide decided on killing ourselves in the long term, like Carlos Mayolo, an addict on purpose, who -in between glasses of vodka, cocaine lines and marijuana joints- finally died at the age of 60.
In the 80s drugs and alcohol were everywhere and were used without any problem. In Cali everything tasted like rumba and drug trafficking was the man. Alhough Cali was a city designed for football, salsa and frivolity, we invented, through cinema and cinephilia, a way of being in the city, interpreting it without having to leave it. Everything was a reason for celebration. We celebrated the beginning of a shooting, we celebrated because we were actually shooting, we celebrated because we finished a shooting. While we setting out in this direction, the country was collapsing. The 80s decad was maybe the most tumultuous and violent in Colombian history: the taking of the Palace of Justive, Armero’s tragedy, the murders of three presidential candidates, Unión Patriótica’s extermination, the height of Cali and Medellin’s drug cartels, the narco-terrorism empire and the rise of guerrillas. The world was also going from bad to worse: Reagan’s term began, war was declared to drugs, AIDS appeared, the cold war grew, the nuclear threat become more imminent, wars in Iran, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the Berlin Wall fell and John Lennon was murdered.
For over a decade, the friends that make up the Cali Group were certain we were never going to grow old. We didn’t marry, we didn’t have children. We thought an irresponsibility to get filled with responsibilities. We insisted on being always young, even if our eyes ended up in our backs. The same happen to our cinema, with it apparent immortality, its eternal present and its timeless perennial age. In fact, today I see my surviving friends, with their white hair or bald, and I think they are themselves, but dressed up like old people. And when I think of my dead friends I can’t imagine them alive today. It’s hard for me to get used to the evidence of decline and death. “Cinema shows death working” says Jean Cocteau’s famous quote, which could also apply to the filmmaker. Such would be the paradox of the aubiographical game in cinema: the portrayal of a life that is an unequal fight against death.
The grave illness you suffered when you began to make the film is part of the documentary’s plot, why did you decide to include such a personal aspect?
At the beginning of the project illness was not part of the plot. But I fell gravely ill of a very aggressive cancer on the first day. That gave an unexpected turn to the documentary because it stopped being an expository film of the past to become an autobiographical film, since I decided to add my clinical history to the tale, as well as my battle with the disease. “I am I and my circunstance, and, if I do not save it, I do not save myself”. The film ended up being a survivor’s story.
What influence would you say this generation from Cali had in Colombian cinema?
I’m not the one who should be talking about which has been the legacy of the Cali Group in Colombian cinema. But what’s true is that we were the ones that threw the first stone. In 1971, date in which the group was born, local filmmakers could be count with one hand’s fingers. Besides, there was no state support for cinema. Through Cali’s Cine Cub, founded by Andrés Caicedo, and the magazine we founded with Caicedo, Carlos Mayolo and Ramiro Arbeláez, “Ojo al cine”, we were creating a film buff generation, some of whom later become filmmakers themselves. Such cinematographic learning carried on when I became the first film professor at the Universidad del Valle, nursery of the best local filmmakers, such as Oscar Campo («Yo soy otro»), Óscar Ruiz Navia («El vuelco del cangrejo»), William Vega («La sirga») and César Augusto Acevedo («La tierra y la sombra»), among others.
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