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Movies against bullets

Design for a new cinema. Photo (CC BY-SA): Juan David Marulanda, Arquitectura Expandida

Movies against bullets

A community project linking film, architecture and education is emerging in a disreputable district of Bogotá, changing the face of the place.

For many, Ciudad Bolívar is synonymous with poverty, marginalisation, violence, invasion and danger. Several problems converge in this town located in the mountains southwest of the capital of Bogotá caused by Colombia's social inequality and the internal armed conflict that has been going on for over fifty years. Ciudad Bolívar is home to guerrillas, paramilitary forces and drug trafficking; gangs sell drugs while corrupt policemen look the other way. Illegal mining is practiced in the mountains and displaced peasants seek refuge. But in the same town we also find young people striving to leave marginalisation behind and fight stigmas. These youngsters value the mountains in which they live, and also believe that it is possible to build a fruitful life in Ciudad Bolívar.

“I want to be a filmmaker, a director. I want to be like Stefan Kaspar, the creator of community cinema”, says a convinced Joel Chavarro, a boy barely twelve years old. He's been getting up early the last four weekends, ready and excited, not to play but to help construct what he describes as his life: the first cinema in Ciudad Bolívar.

Eyes wide open

Sueños Films Colombia, a local non-profit-making project whose objective is to promote alternative audiovisual education and communication, was founded in 2005. A group of young people from the town set up the Escuela Popular de Cine y Vídeo Comunitario where, according to Carolina Dorado, one of the coordinators at the school, students are taught to operate the cameras. Above all, however, the idea was to “generate life projects”. Projects like Joel's, who joined the school five years ago and today not only hopes to go to Cuba to study filmmaking but is convinced he will do so, and will take charge of the school and of the Ojo al Sancocho (Spanish for „A glance into the melting pot“) community film festival upon his return.

For young filmmakers in Ciudad Bolívar wanted more than a film school. Three years after they had begun to tell stories they wanted their work to be seen, projected, made known. This was the intention behind the organisation of the Ojo al Sancocho film festival by Sueños Films Colombia. As its name reveals, the idea was to contemplate the sancocho, the shambles of Ciudad Bolívar: a mixture of “poor people who are very poor, wealthy people who are very wealthy, intellectuals, poets and artists”, to quote the definition of its founders. In Ciudad Bolívar this initiative has become a model for national and international community filmmaking.

  • A plot that carries symbolic value and that was chosen by the community. Photo (CC BY-SA): Gabriel Corredor Aristizábal

  • Here, a cinema is being built. Photo (CC BY-SA): Gabriel Corredor Aristizábal

  • Each weekend more and more people are drawn to the site. Photo (CC BY-SA): Gabriel Corredor Aristizábal

Building the cinema together

The next step now is to build their own cinema. For over three years the founders of the festival have been dreaming of an exclusive space in which to screen their short films. With the help of Arquitectura Expandida, a Colombian organisation devoted to building spaces for social projects, they managed to obtain the resources to realise their idea. The collective was formed in 2010 by three young people trained in the fields of architecture and town planning: Felipe González, founding member from Colombia, Harold Guyaux from Belgium and Marina Tejedor from Spain. According to González, it “emerged in the absence of the State, as there was no social or educational infrastructure in this area”. In 2016 their efforts focus on supporting the project for a cinema in Ciudad Bolívar.

For González, however, the process does not simply consist in arriving in Ciudad Bolívar and imposing a building. Quite the opposite: the effort must be collective, created with and for the community. The cinema will be built with “guadua” bamboo, and besides being a space for projecting films it will be designed to host community events. Furthermore, the site for the construction was chosen by the community. Vereda Potosí is a plot of land that carries symbolic value, it is the site of the Colegio Ices, an open school with no locks or railings that was set up to provide alternative and popular education. In Ciudad Bolívar, the school is a space of resistance; despite the fact that one of its founders was murdered and that the administration of Bogotá stopped its financial support, the school is still operating. That's precisely where the cinema is being built, in one of the outhouses adjacent to the school. “This is the epicentre of the neighbourhood: this is where the Film School is located and this is where the school began. It's a way of remembering history and a way for the community to appropriate it”, says Hernando Gutiérrez, one of the directors of the Colegio Ices.

The project has succeeded in involving the neighbours. The building work is carried out on weekends, to ensure that the greatest number of people can collaborate. It was complicated at first, but as the building rises, more and more people feel like taking part in it. Foreman José Arcángel wanted to become involved as early as the second weekend: “I saw they had tools and that enables the work to be done, however difficult it may be. I do it because I like the idea of others having what I didn't have”, says this man with white hair who, in spite of his age, is one of the first to turn up for work.

Filming instead of fighting

Each weekend more and more people like Joel, the aspiring film director, and José the foreman are drawn to the site where the future cinema will stand, where they can be found cutting, fixing, measuring and assembling parts of the building.

The cinema will be inaugurated on occasion of the ninth Ojo al Sancocho festival in October 2016 with a community project, enabling those who live in this territory to speak out and denounce their problems, with no need for intermediary figures. As community leader Angie Santiago tells us, the opening of the cinema will prove that “Every camera shot averts a gunshot. A camera is a possibility of telling the truth and, above all, of actually learning the history of this place.”


    August 2016
    Colombia, Bogotá

    Corporacion Sueños Films Colombia  
    Ojo al Sancocho


    Estefanía AvellaBermúdez
    worksas a journalist in Bogotá. She writes for El Espectador newspaper and Cerosetentamedia platform.

    Translated by

    Josephine Watson



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