The “Walled City” rolls out the red carpet this month for the 53rd annual Cartagena International Film Festival, a week-long celebration of Colombian and international filmmaking starting on Feb. 21.  The festival will feature more than 140 films from 32 countries to be displayed in a variety of venues and formats, almost all of which are free and open to the public.

Controversial film, “Operation E,” will have its national premiere at the festival this year despite lawsuits attempting to block its uncensored release in Colombia. The film chronicles the true story of Emmanuel, the infant son of Clara Rojas who was born while his mother was in FARC captivity, and comes in the midst of a particularly charged political moment as the Colombian government continues tense negotiations with the guerrilla group.

Rojas sued to prevent the film’s premiere in Colombia citing a “distortion of reality” and the possibility that it could be harmful both to her son and herself. While not clearly referenced in the lawsuit, disagreements over compensation for the use of her life story also apparently factored into the proceedings, according to El Espectador.

While legal processes remain ongoing, the festival’s organizers assure that the film will have its Colombian premiere this month in Cartagena. “The film features artistic and professional merits worthy of appreciation… and the Colombian public deserves to see it and form its own opinion,” said festival director Monika Wagenberg. “Not being allowed to show this film would have been an unjust and unnecessary abuse of power.”

Highlighting another turbulent moment in the nation’s history, this year’s festival opens with the world premiere of “Roa,” a new film from Colombian director Andrés Baiz, whose 2012 thriller “La Cara Oculta” was one of the year’s most successful films both critically and at the box office.

Starring newcomer Mauricio Puentes and Oscar-nominated Catalina Sandino, the film tells the story of Juan Roa Sierra, the presumed assassinator of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a prominent politician whose death sparked the Bogotazo riots which razed a large part of the city’s center in 1948.

Also adding star power to the week-long celebration are French footballer and actor, Éric Cantona, Spanish actor and protagonist of “Operation E,” Luis Tosar, Cuban singer and actress, Cucu Diamantes, Haitian documentarian, Raoul Peck, director of “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” Peter Webber and Paul Schrader, screenwriter for “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” among others.

As in the past, the festival will also host the ambitious “Cine en los Barrios” program, which brings a diverse lineup of films into more than 250 different neighborhoods, towns and villages in and around Cartagena. The program also teaches children in the city’s more impoverished areas about audiovisual communication through different cinematic genres.

With a powerhouse crop of films, almost 300 screenings and a host of influential and interesting guests, the 53rd edition of one of Latin America’s most important celebrations of the seventh art is a definite must-see for those lucky enough to find themselves in the “Pearl of the Caribbean” this February.


Check back in for updates on the Cartagena International Film Festival this week from The City Paper.