The controversy surrounding new film Operación E is overstated. Praise regarding the filmmaking involved is not. Noteworthy for ongoing legal proceedings involving Clara Rojas, the FARC kidnapping victim referenced only tangentially in the breakneck story, the film’s release in Colombian theaters this Friday will leave the public to decide its success.

And successful it will likely be. Lines stretched around the Cartagena Convention Center hours before doors opened for the Colombian premiere of the Spanish-Colombian co-production on Sunday and hundreds of members of the public were turned away from a full auditorium seating 1,400.

Despite what the controversy might suggest, the film barely touches the subject of Rojas or her son Emmanuel, born in FARC captivity and whose rescue mission is referenced in the film’s title. From its opening scene depicting the interrogation of world-weary José Crisanto, masterfully played with defeated determination (and a convincing Colombian accent) by Spanish actor and co-producer Luis Tosar, the focus never waivers from a man protecting his family.

The interrogation cuts to a birth interwoven with the aerial bombardment of a FARC encampment in Colombia’s eastern Guaviare department, and the action never lets up from there, although Crisanto and his wife played by Martina García remain firmly at the center of the whirlwind along with their growing brood of children.

Crisantos and his family, who made a meager living growing coca for the FARC, face forced displacement twice at the hands of the world’s oldest guerrilla group. Later, the Colombian government imprisoned Crisantos for four years for kidnapping the young Rojas, leaving his wife and children destitute in Bogotá. Their plight ultimately makes for a much more compelling narrative than more politically charged elements of the film, and reminds viewers of the reality facing the nation’s internal refugees.

Driving that message home, producer Farruco Castromán introduced the screening with a dedication to Colombia’s displaced and the victims of the armed conflict. But who could better represent those victims than José Crisanto himself, who was brought on stage after the film to a standing ovation.

Operación E was shot almost entirely in the department of Meta in Colombia’s eastern plains, a not-insignificant achievement given ongoing instability in parts of the region, and a major step forward for the nation’s film industry. “We’re living in a special moment being able to film something like this in Colombia, when before it would have been shot in Ecuador or Mexico,” reminded Martina García.

Producer Cristina Zumárraga confirmed that shooting in the middle of the jungle was tough, but noted that the worst challenges were mosquitoes and rain. The cast and crew reportedly experienced no difficulties from the FARC or other armed groups during shooting.

For Crisanto, however, the events depicted in the film remain a daily struggle for him and his family. He claimed to still receive threats against himself and his children, whom he raises alone in what he described as “humble” conditions. Crisanto has not maintained any contact with Emmanuel Rojas since turning him over as an infant to the Colombian Family Welfare Institute.

And ultimately, the story is not about a decidedly unusual childhood or the harrowing kidnapping and highly public liberation of his mother, but rather about the challenges millions of Colombians face just trying to stay alive.

Crisanto said it best himself. “It’s a film. It’s not a documentary. But if nothing else, it is a true testament to the experiences of more than five million victims of displacement,” he reminded.


José Crisanto speaks after the film about his experiences and having his life turned into a movie.