Director Andrew MacLean (On the Ice) and associate producer Sofia Santana (Buck) speak with local Colombian students. Photo by Jennifer Prediger.
Jennifer Prediger, Film Forward Field Producer
Arriving in Bogotá late on a Sunday night is perfect timing for easing into Colombia’s largest city, population size around 8 million. The metropolis enjoys a day of rest before Monday morning’s traffic onslaught. Space on roads is at a premium and drivers must alternate days when they drive as designated by license plate numbers. For those without cars or on their driving “day off,” there’s a state of the art, rapid transit bus system called “TransMilenio” that ferries people to and fro in this city that ranks among the largest in Latin America.
Though we didn’t have a chance to ride this subway on the street, the TransMilenio’s ability to connect people and places served as an apt metaphor for the FILM FORWARD experience.
The streets were rather empty as we drove to the hotel at night. The only landmark pointed out along the short drive was the U.S. Embassy, our host on the trip.
Monday morning started with a breakfast that brought the FILM FORWARD team together with Jim Russo, Cultural Affairs Officer, and Maria Catalina Prieto, Cultural Specialist from the U.S. Embassy. On the Ice director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean and Buck associate producer Sofia Santana listened to the itinerary for the seven days we’d be spending in Colombia. As we outlined our upcoming travels in Bogotá, Manizales and Cali, we drank Colombian coffee and ate platefuls of fruits so exotic they almost seemed imaginary.
From that breakfast onward, FILM FORWARD went into fast forward. We had nearly three screenings a day scheduled with students, community groups, and filmmakers. It was a full program and we were constantly on the go, moving from one audience to the next, engaging with large and enthusiastic Colombian audiences.
We traveled to a ranch in Guatavita where a “horse whisperer” much like Buck Brannaman (the subject of Buck) works with horses and children with disabilities, followed by a screening and conversation in Spanish with Colombia native Sofia. On the Ice reached over a hundred at-risk students at the Casa de Cultura in Ciudad Bolivar, a financially impoverished neighborhood in Bogotá. Next we flew to Manizales, where the green hills grow Colombia’s famous coffee bean. Screenings and conversations at Universidad de Caldas brought us in contact with college-aged students. Then we met with high school students at screenings for more at-risk youth at the Casa de Cultura in both San Jorge and San Juan.
At a Coffee Collective in Neira, Caldas, outside of Manizales, future coffee growers greeted us warmly with cups of coffee and pure delight at seeing On The Ice. We were told many in the audience had never seen a projected film, and the experience was quite novel for Andrew as a filmmaker, too. He’d never been asked about his native Alaska: “Why do people have refrigerators?” He answered a giggling crowd by saying, “Sometimes you don’t want to go outside to get something.” The kids in the coffee-growing collective shared a communal groan upon hearing about eating whale meat.
In Cali, the southern part of our journey, rich conversations were held at Cinemateca la Tertulia. The power in these films is they tell a story close to the filmmaker’s heart, inspiring audiences to share their own stories in response.
Like TransMilenio, FILM FORWARD screenings and conversations served as a rapid transport from culture to culture and place to place. Much like a Venn diagram, audiences and filmmakers discovered where they overlap. From Barrow, Alaska, to Caldas, Colombia, there are more similarities than differences. And in some cases, the differences point out the similarities.