Every year, TIFF Filmmaker Lab, a Toronto Festival development program, selects 20 directors who will be tutored over four days by industry specialists and veterans. Rubbing shoulders this year with Brazilian, Pakistani and Rwandan cineasts is Colombian-born and Swiss-trained Jorge Cadena, whose “The Jarariju Sisters” caught attention at the Karlovy Vary European Film Promotion Future Frames last year.
This time round, Swiss production company GoldenEgg is producing his new feature project “Tropical Malaise.” In it, Cadena sheds light once again on a northern region of Colombia — an area devastated by open-pit coal mine and the absence of government, where activists and social leaders are frequently murdered, and where a man named Lucas, five years after the murder of his mother, will grapple with his grief joining forces with a group of queer activists and the region’s indigenous communities in a fight for basic human rights.
Variety talked with Cadena about his work and how the new project is shaping:
Your work leans towards the experimental side of filmmaking, in formal and thematic interests, how you portray your characters, how you play with the quality of the image. Could you comment on this creative search?
As soon as I got accepted in school — HEAD, Geneva — I began a process that comes much more from experimental cinema — to free oneself from standard structures, a cinema shot on film, that seeks texture, that has other elements. … I did a lot of documentary work because for me, there was always a need to work as close to reality as possible, to build that idea of a documentary, that I’m not only questioning the image, but the structure of how things get done, films’ production systems. Moving away an industrial narrative by building a narrative that belongs to you, that seeks what you know.
So you’re moving more towards Colombia-based stories?
Some stories are more linked to telling how I grew up in Barranquilla, the conditions in which I grew up, without privileges, in that socio-political chaos of Colombia. At the same time there that freedom of the Caribbean; that infinity that you feel in the sea, that wind and that heat. My cinema comes first from there and then the idea that my films have to be connected to reality, though I want to give myself the opportunity to move towards fantasy as well. Rather than representing humanity or society, cinema builds societies, builds ideas of society.
As a filmmaker, how do you see your relationship with Colombian society?
It’s a very difficult feeling being a migrant and watching from afar. I get depressed, frustrated and miserable. And you want to talk about things that Colombian society is really interested in talking about and needs to do so in order to move forward, they will kill you or threaten you and your life begins to be martyrdom. Or simply they’ll close the doors because in Colombia, even if some topics are talked about, there’s a conscious and unconscious pressure not to discuss certain topics, which we have to shed light on. Otherwise, we won’t be able to move forward and it is a historical mistake to focus solely on Bogota, Cali, Medellín or Barranquilla: Colombia’s much bigger. We have a debt to multiple communities and multiple stories that we haven’t told in Colombia.
It looks as if you pursue this idea in “Tropical Malaise.”
I am homosexual. Some of my works have not been focused on that topic. This film seeks to be transversal. At this moment, when a queer, gay or “fag” [as we sometimes call ourselves] group joins other fights and their collective struggle gains strength, then we are managing to fight against two points, against homophobia and against the socio-political or economic system of the country. And that is the most important point of the film, to find the transversal aspect of the struggle, which is very difficult in the cinema, to find the transversal nature of themes. It’s a film about friendship, about building community, it is above all an Indigenous and queer film.
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