As Colombia’s host to the world, Cartagena once again rolls out the red carpet this month on the film industry with the 59th edition of FICCI – acronym for International Film Festival of Cartagena. But, while this colonial city’s sunlit plazas and historical homes will welcome award-winning producers, directors and slate of internationally recognized actors, the festival is as much about showcasing the country’s cinematic prowess as it is about awarding the best features and documentaries that were released in theatres across the country.
FICCI always takes on a theme, and this year, the focus is on “Migration and Mestizo America” with an intimate look by Latin American filmmakers on race relations, from integration to alienation. Starting on March 6, and lasting six days, the International Film Festival of Cartagena has positioned itself for almost six decades as a festival to watch for its social mission of bringing film to marginalized neighborhoods with Cine en los Barrios, to introducing emerging talent to industry professionals from around the world.
Working closely with Cartagena, and an event that fills theatres, this year’s official poster is based on a painting by Cartagena artist Diana Herrera and that references this Caribbean port’s historical relationship with race. “This image of Cartagena makes us reflect on our Mestizo America,” remarks festival director Felipe Aljure.
The list of films that will be presented at FICCI 59 is extensive, covering every genre, including four features in the Official Colombia Selection; Monos by Alejandro Landes, Los Silencios by Beatriz Seignemartin, Niña Errante by Rubén Mendoza and Los Días de la Ballena by Catalina Arroyave. In the Migration and Mestizo selection are the full-length features and documentaries: Nijole by Lithuanian Sandro Bozzolo; The Fig Tree by Israeli Aalam-warqe Davidian; Belgium’s Marta Bergman with Alone at my Wedding; Eastern Memories by Niklas Kullstrom and Martti Kaartinen (Finland); Oreina by Spain’s Koldo Almandoz; God Never Dies, a short by American Barbara Cigarroa and Colombian short Vendo Pipas by Juan Diego Aguirre.
After evaluating 2,400 films from 62 countries, FICCI will screen 85 titles that celebrate diversity and, above all, the creative freedom of participating filmmakers across Ibero-America, such as the Peruvian drama Mataindios by Oscar Felipe Sánchez and Robert Julca; the portrait of tribal culture in Brazil with The Dead and the Others by Portuguese directors Renée Nader Messora and Joao Salaviza; the languorous portrait of a hippy community in the foothills of the Andes in Too Late to Die Young by Chilean Dominga Sotomayor, and Xavi Sala’s indigenous road movie Guie’dani.
As part of the obligatory international film circuit, FICCI is bringing to the Colombian coast some well-known industry names, among them Antoine Thirion, programmer of the Locarno International Film Festival; director Celia Rico (Spain) of Journey to a Mother’s Room, producer Fernando Epstein, and the Brazilian scriptwriter Emiliano Cunha.
Puerto FICCI is the venue where film projects are discussed over coffee and plenty of networking takes place under the Cartagena sun. A Documentary Film Workshop will also support the finalization of projects in this important genre, and as part of the objective of this festival is to offer of complimentary activities for aspiring talent, a series of masterclasses will be given by the representatives of Hot Docs, Sundance, IDFA and Goodpitch. The workshops will support 10 Latin American projects from Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Brazil.
The tribute at FICCI 59 goes to American writers and co-directors Joel and Ethan Coen, best known for creating some of Hollywood’s finest – yet more sinister works – among them Miller’s Crossing, The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink and No Country for Old Men. Their distinctive style earned them two Oscars for the Midwest film noir Fargo (1999) which, along with No Country for Old Men will be screened at the festival.
As FICCI gears up for a celebration of Colombian film at a moment in its history when homegrown productions have received critical acclaim at Cannes, Toronto Film Festival (Tiff), Berlin, San Sebastián, the sixth feature by Rubén Mendoza, La Niña Errante (Wandering Girl) opens the 59 edition. As one of the most prolific directors to attend FICCI, since he debuted with La Sociedad del semáforo (The Traffic Light Society) in 2011, and more recently with a 2017 documentary about a genderfluid farmer in the mountains of Boyacá, Señorita María, la falda de la montaña (Señorita María, the skirt of the mountain), Mendoza is all about poignant storytelling and in La Niña Errante, this director takes on a Brontesque theme through the eyes of his heroine, 12 year old Angela. This coming-of-age film of four sisters beginning their transition to womanhood has begun making its rounds at international festivals, winning recently a Grand Prix for Best Film in Tallinn.
Cartagena joins other prestigious festivals in presenting works by those who have a narrative to share, often as a discussion among artisan directors, or in venues open to the public and with a purpose of educating a future generation of filmmakers. In an industry dominated by issues of gender and politics, representation of race, Latin America has emerged as a leading voice in the cinematic world, and by taking on the unconventional, the controversial, FICCI 59 will not only get mojitos flowing, but show the world that despite language, there are films from the region that matter, and lots of them.
Follow the event on social media with hashtag #FICCITemueve