Silent Witnesses, a contemporary story with frames from a century ago


➢ Luis Ospina’s posthumous work, co-directed by Jerónimo Atehortúa Arteaga, premieres in Spain as part of the Official Feature Films Section

➢ The film recovers footage from Colombian silent films to create a new fictional melodrama that also addresses the country’s social situation in the early 20th century. It will be screened this Tuesday, April 18, at 8:30 p.m. at Cinesa El Muelle Screen 9 and on Wednesday 19 at 5:15 p.m. at Cinesa El Muelle Screen 5

➢ The catalog and full schedule are available on the official website

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Tuesday, April 18, 2023.- Frames from historical silent films return to the big screen to tell a new fictional narrative: the impossible romance between Efraín and Alicia. Silent Witnesses (Colombia, 2023, 78 min.), the posthumous work by Luis Ospina co-directed by Jerónimo Atehortúa Arteaga, rescues century-old pictures to tell a contemporary story that premieres in Spain as part of the 22nd Las Palmas de Gran Canaria International Film Festival, where it will be screened today, April 18, at 8:30 p.m. at Cinesa El Muelle Screen 9. It will be shown again, and for the last time, tomorrow, Wednesday 19, at 5:45 p.m. at Cinesa El Muelle Screen 5.

After being screened at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, the feature film arrives to the Official Section of the film event that, paradoxically, was the starting point of the filmmakers’ friendship. As Atehortúa recalled, their relationship grew closer after coinciding in the 2018 edition in which Ospina was a member of the jury and he was participating in MECAS with Pirotecnia. “Almost a year later the idea of making the film came up,” said the director, who will introduce the feature and talk with the audience this afternoon.

The project came from the late filmmaker who, at the time, “felt he didn’t have the strength to make another film” and found in the cinematographic heritage of his native country the opportunity to tell a new story. He did not have time to finish a project that, after he passed away in 2019, was left with only five minutes edited in the hands of his partner.

“Luis had left a script that, rather than a script, was a wish list,” said Atehortúa, who got through the film archives “with a keener detective eye” to continue with the film, which is also his debut feature. The filmmaker, who has a lot of experience directing short films, thus began a “long, beautiful and dialectical process” with hours and hours of viewing the frames that wound up being selected to give life to Silent Witnesses, which has already been released on the Colombian independent circuit to great public acclaim.

“Going to see the preserved copies was wonderful, because we first learned about this footage through DVDs published by the Colombian Film Heritage Foundation, but after a lot of hard work we were able to access the 35 mm exhibition copies and I realized that the films were very different to what’s been published,” explained the filmmaker regarding the discovery of this very special material that has served to create a melodrama that uses “as its backbone” El amor, el deber y el crimen (1926).

The film is made up of frames from around twenty works that were released between 1922 and 1937, such as Aura o las violetas (1924), Como los muertos (1925), María (1926), El trágico final de Gardel, su última despedida (1935) and Los primeros ensayos del cine parlante nacional (1937). They tell the story of the controversial romance between Efraín, Alicia and Uribe, who were brought to life by legendary actors Mara Meba, Roberto Estrada Vergara and Rafael Burgos, respectively, while depicting other social issues such as the living conditions of the peasants.

The fragments selected for the feature “were not restored”, since, as the director noted at the press conference, they wanted to “preserve the wounds of the pictures”. Likewise, Atehortúa pointed out that the creation of the plot went beyond juxtaposing frames and adding texts, “there’s also a dialogue with early-twentieth-century Colombian literature, especially in the third act, which is a mini-adaptation of José Eustasio Rivera’s La vorágine.”

All this has resulted in a feature that manages to be contemporary despite using materials from over a hundred years ago. According to its director, Ospina saw in Silent Witnesses an “imaginary, avant-garde film” that had never been made in his native country before. “For us, the notion of potential history works. What didn’t happen, but could have, in Colombia.” The idea, however, “is not to deceive the audience,” he said. To such end, certain elements are employed in this “reinvention of tradition”, like the use in some parts of the feature of a more contemporary language which serves as “marks for the audience so that they know that, although this film is made with over-a-hundred-year-old footage, it is speaking to them from 2023.”

The Las Palmas de Gran Canaria International Film Festival, organized by the Culture area of the Gran-Canarian capital’s City Council through Promoción de la Ciudad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, has received public assistance by the ICAA [Institute of Cinematography and Audiovisual Arts] and the program for the internationalization of Spanish culture, PICE Visitantes, of Acción Cultural Española (AC/E).

Among the Festival’s collaborators we may find Cinesa El Muelle, El Muelle Shopping Center, Hotel Cristina by Tigotan, the Elder Museum of Science and Technology or Casa África, places which also function as venues or hold activities of the film event; as well as other institutions and companies such as Sagulpa, Hospitales San Roque, Audiovisuales Canarias, Music Library & SFX or the International Bach Festival. Likewise, its market, MECAS, has been possible thanks to the sponsorship of the Gran Canaria Film Commission-Sociedad de Promoción Económica de Gran Canaria and the support of Canary Islands Film and Proexca.

The University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Mid Atlantic University, the the CIFP Felo Monzón Grau-Bassas, the Canary Islands Film Institute, the Audiovisual Cluster of the Canary Islands, Digital 104, CIMA [Association of Women Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media], the Asociación Microclima Cineastas de Canarias [Association of Filmmakers of the Canary Islands ‘Microclima’] and Tusity are also collaborators of the Festival.

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