Tag Archives: Caliwood

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 200 – Luis Ospina on MUBI – The Vampires of Poverty, A Paper Tiger, and It All Started at the End

Luis Ospina, the influential Colombian filmmaker who died very recently, was last month the subject of an mini retrospective of his work by MUBI, who showed three of his films: Agarrando pueblo/The Vampires of Poverty (1977, co-directed by Carlos Mayolo), Un tigre de papel/A Paper Tiger (2008), and his final feature documentary, Todo comenzó por el fin/It All Started at the End (2015), and we’re grateful to them for making these works available to us with subtitles. We begin by considering how such an influential filmmaker, not only in Colombia but across Latin America, remains so little known in Anglo-American film cultures. We talk about the ‘Caliwood’ group and how we’re so used to talking about structures that we forget how individuals make a difference. A group of young friends with shared interests get together and share a house, turning it into studios, an art gallery, a publishing house and a cinema. This group happens to include, amongst others, Luis Ospina, Andrés Caicedo and Carlos Mayolo. We’re shown how shared cinephilia leads to collaborative cultural production, one that’s left an imprint, proven to be very influential and now become part of the cultural history of Colombia and Latin America.

In Todo comenzó por el fin/It All Started at the End we see how the friendships and shared interests of these irreverent, druggy, countercultural dissidents bore fruit and left a legacy – which is not to say that structures are not important (they wouldn’t have been able to do so had they not been of a particular class, one with relatives who could afford to lend out empty houses). The film serves as an important reminder that individuals can make a difference and that collaboration is essential. Harold Innis’ observation in Empire and Communications that colonised people need to be fully conversant with their colonisers’ culture as well as their own is amply evident in the conjunction of the group’s programming and their own production.

All three of Ospina’s works are concerned with documentary, representation, ethics. In Un tigre de papel/A Paper Tiger, the Zelig-like mockumentary about an imaginary person, the form itself acts as a way of commenting on broad strands of cultural and political movements internationally that had an effect on the local and synthesises and evokes all of the virtues we admire: the playfulness, quirkiness, intelligence, the concern with politics and ethics but also fun, a pin-prick to pomposity. And we share admiration for the savage satire of Agarrando pueblo/The Vampires of Poverty, a statement against the exploitation of the poor, unfortunate and mentally ill on the streets of Cali, by filmmakers keen to sell their work, and the image of Colombia that goes along with it, to Europe.

José is in thrall to Ospina’s work and the culture to which it speaks, and has boundless thoughts; and although Mike asks questions of the ethics at play in Agarrando pueblo/The Vampires of Poverty, even in a film so clearly well-intentioned and with such a valid point, and comments on weaknesses he perceives in the cinematic quality of Todo comenzó por el fin/It All Started at the End, finding it less expressive artistically than simply informative of a time, place and culture, he’s glad to have spent this time exploring Ospina’s work.

This episode has been released early (keen listeners will have noticed a jump from number 196 to 200), and that’s to coincide with yesterday’s homage for Luis Ospina, hosted by the Filmoteca de Catalunya, one we hope will be but the first of many to come.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Cine Club de Cali

We´re so used to talking about structures that we forget how individuals make a difference.  I was reminded of this whilst watching Luis Ospina´s It All Started At The End/ Todo comenzó por el fin (Columbia, 2015). A group of friends with shared interests get together and share a house. The friends then turn that house into studios, an art gallery, a publishing house and a cinema. This group happened to include, amongst others, Luis Ospina, Andrés Caicedo and Carlos Mayolo. We´re shown how shared cinephilia leads to collaborative cultural production, one that´s left an imprint, proven to be very influential and now become part of Colombia´s cultural history. Cinephilia left a legacy in Columbia, one that exceeded filmmaking.

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I was particularly struck by the programs of the Cine Club de Cali. They don´t seem much different than Film Soc programs from that era (early 70s) in most of the West: Kubrick, Chaplin, Eisenstein, Cukor, Hitchcock, Buñuel, Westerns, Czech Cinema. Jerry Lewis worship was not restricted to Paris but also flowed in Cali. The programs made me wonder when and how Latin American Cinema began to circulate and be discussed in Colombia.

 

 

The film screenings then also led to publications on cinema, as you can see below, and this is also typical of what you´d find in the West; Truffaut, Polanski, the films of Clint Eastwood, whatever of interest was then playing. Ospina himself has declared that more significant for them were B movies like Romero´s The Night of the Living Dead (1968), partly because it was cheap and fun, about zombies and cannibalism, but partly because it was also a significant and serious social critique about America and the Vietnam War.

This coming together of friends also lead to an important intervention, the creation of the Caliwood group of filmmakers, which has proved an inspiration to several generations of Latin American filmmakers now and has also left an indelible imprint on Colombia´s cultural history: the work of writer Andrés Caicedo, now translated into several languages (see images below), the films of Carlos Mayolo, and of course the work of Ospina himself. So the friendships and shared interests of these irreverent, druggy, countercultural dissidents bore fruit and left a legacy, which is not to say that structures are not important. They wouldn´t have been able to do so if they weren´t of a particular class, one with relatives who could afford to lend out empty houses. That said, an important reminder that individuals can make a difference, that collaboration is essential, and that Harold Innes´observation in Empire and Communication that colonised people need to be fully conversant with the culture of Empire as well as their own is amply evident in the conjunction of their programming and their own production,

 

For those of you who speak Spanish, the great Jorge Yglesias tells a similar story of the developments of a cinephile culture in Cuba that can be listed to here:

 

 

José Arroyo

Agarrando Pueblo/ The Vampires of Poverty (Luis Ospina/ Carlos Mayolo, Columbia,1977)

 

Screenshot 2019-11-28 at 08.48.33.pngAgarrando pueblo/ The Vampires of Poverty, directed by Luis Ospina and Carlos Mayolo is  a scathing satire of poverty porn, very funny, quirky, self-referential and multi-faceted. A crew of filmmakers working for German TV are tasked with filming poverty. They chase after poor people on the streets, pay children to take their clothes off and go swimming for money, pin the most vulnerable to their poverty, all the while thinking ahead to the whorehouse they hope to visit later. The film alternates between black and white and colour film to startling effect, showing the differences in information conveyed and experience incited by a simple change of stock, Throughout bystanders interrogate the filmmakers: ´why always focus on the worst. Is this the only aspect of our culture Westerners are interested in? If you´re making money off our suffering,  shouldn´t we be paid? ´At the end some of the real people who were performing the aspects of their lives most desired by Western consumers have a good laugh about it all, but not before one of them wipes his ass with the filmmakers money. Essential viewing for those of you interested in poverty porn and documentary ethics. A prime exemplar of Colombia´s  ´Caliwood´filmmaking group.

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José Arroyo