A movie as a Dove of Peace
The documentary film Colombia in My Arms (2020), that was recently awarded the Best Nordic Documentary at the Gothenburg Film Festival, has an important message. The film, directed by Jenni Kivistö and Jussi Rastas, is about the epoch-making moment in Colombia when a far-left guerrilla movement FARC and government signed a peace deal.
After more than 50 years of civil war, change is expected, but the new situation is also causing problems. The nation, affected by the civil war, is highly polarized, countless people have lost their lives and millions of the poor are living in despair.
The documentary deals with the question of what happens to very fragil peace when doing 'wrong' may be almost the only option for many. Can people stop the cycle of violence that has lasted for decades or even centuries?
The film follows intimately the protagonists' everyday lives and the complicated and explosive situation.
‘We were surprised at how vague the implementation of the peace agreement started”, says Jenni Kivistö, a documentary student at Aalto University.
An experimental movie became a documentary
Kivistö laughs that a documentary can sometimes be more surprising than fiction. She says the directors came across the subject as a sum of many coincidences. There were also strange coincidences happening throughout the film making, which the directors felt right and that were taking the film forward.
‘Originally, our idea was to explore peace in a poetic and experimental film. But instead, we were faced with drama and war. So, reality led us to make a different kind of documentary.’
‘When we first went to meet the FARC guerrillas in their camp, we had all kinds of images of terrorists in our minds. But who we met were people in a difficult situation’, Kivistö explains.
They also met farmers who turned out to be ordinary people, even though they were making the first process of cocaine.
‘They had normal families and they lived in poverty. It was a new perspective because cocaine and poverty traditionally do not seem to fit together. The film began to build gradually on these elements’, says Kivistö.
Focusing on humanity
The jury of the Gothenburg Film Festival, the largest film festival in the Nordic countries, gave credit to the directors in particular for their ability to make observations in a very complex setting between opposing groups.
The protagonists in the documentary include a FARC guerrilla, a passionate right-wing politician opposing the peace treaty and a person who cherishes the legacy of the ancient conquerors of Latin America.
Coca-farmers became also a major factor. A certain circle was visible all the time: the farmers were poor and had few choices. One had to either grow coca plants or join the armed groups.
All film characters felt that they were on the ‘good side’, but they ended up making decisions in a complex situation, thus balancing with morality.
‘It was interesting to see that things are not so black and white. I was wondering, if I was born in some of those rural villages in a conflict zone, would I have done and acted any differently?’
All characters were told that the film was dealing with the post-conflict era and that it would include people with different, opposing mindsets. However, the exceptional openness and trust of the locals took the directors by surprise.
They had to ponder what they, as documentarists, should say and what their ethical responsibility is.
‘We were wondering if openness was due to the fact that we were foreigners and complete outsiders in the conflict, and if we now have a tool in our hands that could offer something to the Colombians as well.’
Directors whish to create discussion – especially in Colombia. So far, there have been some Colombians seeing the film in Finland and Sweden. The documentary seems to have made an impact and people have wanted to stay long time after the screenings, talking about it.
‘I believe the message of our documentary is quite clear. And I believe it would work also elsewhere, not just Colombia. It is all about man, morality, money and power.’
According to Kivistö, the feedback received from the audience has been amazing. Viewers have appreciated that the film is truly versatile, not propagandistic. Some viewers have also praised that it tells the story of coca-farmer families, who rarely have their voice heard.
‘This film can give a window to see humans behind different images and groups. Perhaps, when seeing it, you may be able to understand the situations and circumstances in which people make their choices’, Kivistö ponders.
Perhaps, when seeing the documentary, you may be able to understand the situations and circumstances in which people make their choices."
From fiction maker to documentary director
Jenni Kivistö has lived in Colombia for years, studying fiction at a film school there. But then she got attracted by documentaries.
“Documentary is always in motion or in flux and can be scripted at any time. It might as well be at the very end when you see how pieces fit into place. It's also tremendously interesting to meet people and get to see worlds that you wouldn't otherwise see’, explains Kivistö.
Her first feature documentary, Land Within (2016), is a peaceful and quiet movie, filmed on a desert. It is about indigenous people and about strange connections between peoples beyond national identities. The idea and the need to make a documentary arose in the final stages of her fiction film studies.
‘I got a strong feeling that it just had to be done, because I had a rare connection with the indigenous people – I felt the connection between them and us Finns. It is a film aboutinternational similarity, deserts of sand and snow, and a different way of feeling national identities.’
According to Kivistö, making the film was a huge learning process, and due to that experience she continued with documentaries. Colombia in My Arms, for its part, was a new experience: how to follow personal drama and how to get the multiple character stories to cross one another.
The award gained in Gothenburg Kivistö sees first and foremost as a recognition to the documentary’s societal significance. The prize also means that she will be increasingly aware of her responsibilities in the future – as an artist, director or a catalysator to raise constructive discussion in society.
See the documentary film Colombia in My Arms at:
Sunday 23 Feb at 16:15
Thursday 5 March at 18:30
Wednesday 25 March at 17:30 (meet the directors)
Arthouse Cinema Niagara, Tampere (after Tampere Film Festival)
Wednesday 11 March at 18.00, (91 min + directors' Q&A)
Thursday 12 March at 20.30
The film is in Spanish with English subtitles.