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The 2015 release of “Embrace of the Serpent,” a psychedelic exploration of Colombian tribes in the Amazon, went a lot further than the filmmakers expected. Director Ciro Guerra and his wife, producer Cristina Gallego, traveled from Cannes to Sundance with their acclaimed movie, which ultimately landed a foreign-language Oscar submission. The newfound attention and modest commercial success enabled them to make a longtime passion project, “Birds of Passage.” That movie uncovers the roots of Colombia’s drug war in the rise of illegal trading within the remote Wayyu tribes, which were emboldened — and then nearly destroyed — by criminal enterprises across several decades.
The project took years of research, as well as delicate maneuvers to gain the approval of the Wayyu community, members of which comprised 30 percent of the production. Gallego took on co-directing duties with her husband for the first time, juggling long days that required tricky on-location shoots in rugged outdoor environments assaulted by the elements. And in the midst of the production, Guerra and Gallego — partners in art and life for more than 20 years who raised two children together — got divorced.
Struggle - Birds - Passage - Story - History
But the struggle to make “Birds of Passage” is a survival story not unlike the history of Colombia itself. The sprawling, colorful ensemble narrative plays like “The Godfather” by way of Werner Herzog, as it depicts the jarring evolution of criminality in a world dominated by the ancient traditions of the country’s northern region.
Celebrated at Cannes and acquired by The Orchard for $1 million out of the festival, “Birds of Passage” followed Guerra’s previous film as Colombia’s Oscar submission and landed on the foreign-language shortlist. In the canon of Colombian cinema to date, it stands out as a bonafide masterpiece of cultural biography and deserves its place in the awards conversation. The former couple...
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