10 Films to Watch Before Visiting Colombia

'Embrace of the Serpent' (2015) | Courtesy of Buffalo Films/Buffalo Producciones
'Embrace of the Serpent' (2015) | Courtesy of Buffalo Films/Buffalo Producciones
Photo of Chris Bell
25 September 2017

Far too often, people travel to Colombia without much idea of the history and culture of the country; many people arrive with visions of Narcos and violence, not helped by certain movies and TV shows. However, there are a wealth of remarkable Colombian films out there showing the true diversity and culture of Colombia, so here are 10 of the best to seek out before you visit.

Embrace of the Serpent (El Abrazo de la Serpiente)

Colombia’s first-ever Oscar-nominated film is also one of the most visually stunning and engaging films on this list: Ciro Guerra’s third film is a lyrical, poetic meditation on the history of the Colombian Amazon, with the oft-forgotten local Indigenous people taking centre stage. Filmed in crisp black and white, and featuring at least nine different languages, Embrace of the Serpent is a window into a side of Colombia that is often overlooked.

Land and Shade (La tierra y la sombra)

A 2015 Colombian drama written and directed by César Augusto Acevedo, Land and Shade won the Caméra d’Or Award at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. An old farmer named Alfonso returns after 17 years to the family farm because his son is extremely ill, and where his abandoned wife still lives. The plot focuses on Alfonso’s attempts to regain the love of his family and care for his son and wife.

The Wind Journeys (Viajes de viento)

Another film by Embrace of the Serpent’s Ciro Guerra, The Wind Journeys was shot in over 80 locations on Colombia’s northern coast, and, as with his other films, features some of Colombia’s lesser-known languages such as Palenquero, Wayuunaiki, and Ikun. The film follows the journey of a vallenato musician looking to return his accordion to his former mentor. It is said that the accordion is cursed after the former owner won it in a duel with the devil (a tale echoing the myths of the genre’s origins). He is accompanied by a young boy who wants to be his apprentice.

The Rose Seller (La vendedora de rosas)

A 1998 Colombian film directed by Víctor Gaviria, The Rose Seller is loosely based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale and focuses on the hard and dangerous lives of street children in Medellin. The 13-year-old Monica – played by Lady Tabares who, in a tragic case of life imitating art, lived on the streets of Medellin and ended up in jail for murder – makes a living selling flowers to couples in local discos and is joined by 10-year-old Andrea, fleeing her abusive parents. It’s a harsh look at the realities of street life, but not without its moments of brevity and humour. Sadly, many of the stars – real street children themselves – have since been killed or imprisoned.

The Colors of the Mountain (Los colores de la montana)

Winner of the Golden Pheasant Award for the Best Film at the 16th International Film Festival of Kerala, The Colors of the Mountain is set in an unnamed mountain village in an Andean region of Colombia and focuses on the adventures of nine-year-old Manuel and his little gang of friends. He has an old football with which he and his friends play daily, but when his father gives him a new ball it is promptly lost in an adjacent minefield. He hatches a plan with his best friends to retrieve it, as the signs of the war ravaging Colombia begin to impinge on the idyllic life of the village. The Colors of the Mountain takes a look at the realities of Colombia’s conflict from a unique perspective.

La Playa D.C.

A 2012 film focusing on the lives of Afro-Colombian people forced to flee the violence on the Pacific coast to poor dwellings in Bogota. Teenager Tomas tries to navigate the difficulty of growing up as a victim of exclusion and racism before his younger brother, Jairo, disappears. He then begins a journey to find Jairo, one which forces him to confront his past and become his own man, as well as discovering a unique side of the city he now calls home. La Playa D.C. shines a light on an overlooked aspect of Colombian history and identity.

The Two Escobars

One of the most famous and critically acclaimed documentaries on ‘the famous criminal’ from Medellin, The Two Escobars takes as its starting point the surnames of Pablo Escobar and footballer Andres Escobar – tragically gunned down in Medellin following an own-goal in the 1994 World Cup – who were not related but whose fates were intertwined. A fascinating look at the intersection of sports, crime, and politics in Colombia, The Two Escobars should replace Narcos as essential viewing for anyone interested in the reality of the drug violence and civil war in Colombia.

The Strategy of the Snail (La estrategia del caracol)

The Strategy of the Snail is a 1993 Colombian comedy-drama film directed and produced by Colombian filmmaker and director Sergio Cabrera, and starring, among others, future music superstar Carlos Vives. Focusing on the hardship endured by poor families in Bogota and the social divisions between rich and poor in the city, the film deals with a group of people evicted from their shared home after many years, and their desperate attempts to remain.

Colombia: Wild Magic (Colombia: magia salvaje)

A film that smashed all box office records upon its release in Colombia, Wild Magic is a stunningly-shot documentary focusing on Colombia’s remarkable biodiversity. With quite breathtaking sequences of hummingbirds in flight, hunting jaguars, and condors soaring over Andean peaks, this film is sure to get you excited about exploring Colombia’s amazing natural diversity. And the unique footage of the ‘Lost World’ that is Chiribiquete National Park is worth the run-time alone.

Rodrigo D: No Future (Rodrigo D: no futuro)

Another film directed by Victor Gaviria, Rodrigo D: No Future was released in 1990 and was entered into the Cannes Film Festival that same year. Focusing on the lives of Rodrigo and his group of friends, bored teenagers living in a poor part of Medellin, Rodrigo wants to start a punk band but they spend most of their time lounging around, occasionally shooting someone or stealing a car. The film eloquently portrays the difficulty of breaking out of a seemingly predetermined life of poverty and crime.

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