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Camila Rodriguez Triana, lives in ashes

In a country where the internal conflict has lasted almost six decades, lying is another weapon for protecting yourself and others. Exposing it is dangerous. An ex-guerilla whose youthful ideals could not be realised abandoned the guerilla life. And his world fell apart, when, many years later, he began the cold hard work of facing the past that lived inside himself and his family.

Graham Douglas


Camila Rodriguez has made an intimate and harrowing film about this reality which seems stubbornly immovable in a country – her country – where the peace process has not brought an end to the conflict. A film set in the ashes of a family destroyed by the civil conflict, and where there is no phoenix about to rise gloriously from the struggle.

As in previous films and her other work, which includes films, installations and photography, this one is  about the tensions in close groups, often families.

Her work usually is inspired by a real story or real character. Sometimes a personal experience, but other times is a story of others. She says: “I try to be honest, so if I am going to work with someone, I spend a lot of time to get to know them and try to understand their situation, their time, their way to look at reality. My first film is about people in a nursing home, and of course, I never lived in one, but I worked for six years in one and tried to understand their world before I made that film.”

I was very moved by the film, despite never having experienced civil conflict – the dark oppressive interior and the dark feelings it evokes could stand for lives damaged by childhood abuse, or alcohol and drug abuse, the wasted years, the divided selves. In that sense it is universal, even though it does not depict the violence of civil conflict, only its destructive effects on a family.

We talked together after the showing of the film at this year’s DocLisboa Film Festival. And this is what she told The Prisma.

 You said in the cinema that people should respond to their feelings watching it, and I started feeling very sad and oppressed, and towards the end it seemed that the film was communicating a sense of shame, toxic shame.

 Yes, I think that’s right. I really believe that the people in  the cinema have to permit themselves to feel. This film is a story of a man who was part of one of the guerrilla groups in the 70s, and now he has to live the consequences of that for him and his family. The film is at the moment when this guy has to see face-to-face his old selves. Because he had to change his identity twice, when he joined the guerrillas, and again when he decided to leave, and for a long time he has tried to keep this part of his life as a secret. And the film is about him accepting his past, because his past is part of him. And that’s why he becomes more open and emotional towards these past selves near the end of the film, and wants to make peace with them. Because at the end of the film when he has lost his family, he discovers that he only has himself and at that moment he starts to accept himself, his story, his actions, his decisions. So, for me, it’s a film which portrays a sad moment but also a beautiful moment, because when you accept yourself and your story, you have an opportunity to be reborn.

Camila Rodriguez Triana

It’s important to understand that he joined the guerrillas because he believed in the possibility to create a new world with more equality. In this world, there are people with a lot of money and a lot of people who really have nothing. Not only in Colombia, but in other countries, and that inequality cannot be believed.

But later things changed, and the guerrillas in Colombia started to use narco-trafficking to raise money, and they lost their coherence. And they started to do extremely violent things, so he decided to leave. The movie is about the experience of this man in the revolutionary struggle that he lived, it’s about his ideals and how he couldn’t make them come true, it’s about how, after some years, this part of his life returned and made him pay the consequences.

In the film you show a person having to face their own past – do you think Colombia has to do that too?

Yes, Not only Colombia. It’s important to be face to face with your story, accept it and assume the consequences, because in that process the possibility is born to make a different future. But, usually, those in power are not interested in this kind of process, because they were part of all this violence and they want to hide it.

The Colombian situation is very complicated now because in theory the government has a peace process with the guerrillas.

But now you see every week two or three social leaders are murdered, and nothing happens, the government has no answers and at the same time inequality seems to be getting worse, people still have poor education and bad social conditions, so I think we are still repeating the circle of violence, maybe because the true story has not been disclosed, so it’s impossible to make a process to permit us to change something.

What went wrong with the peace process?

That the people don’t have the capacity to put themselves in the other’s shoes. Everyone only thinks of their own interests and in this way it’s impossible to build peace.

At this moment, for one part, the victims of the war try to live the process, to write their memories, because they see that it’s important for a healing process, but for the other side, you can feel that the war is coming back, with the social leaders being murdered.

The people who lived close to the war really want and need peace, but a part of the people who have a comfortable life in the cities and just watched the war on TV don’t care.

When his wife discovered his secret, she left him

For her it was so difficult, because in a moment of her life she discovered that her husband lied about his life, that she never knew who he really is, and she felt that she never had the possibility to choose if she wanted to share that with him, because when she discovered the truth, already she had two daughters. At that moment an abyss was created between them.

Was it a political difference between them?

No, it was the lie.

I find that very hard and sad because it wasn’t a betrayal of their relationship. And her leaving was abandoning their life as a family.

That is your perception, she couldn’t accept it, and my work in the film was to portray her feelings and his too, not judge them. I can understand your point of view, but I can understand hers too.

How long ago did the break-up happen?

She discovered the truth about 1985, but because of their daughters, she decided to stay until they had grown up. In the film there is the scene where the family is all together trying to be nice to each other, but it’s pouring with rain. It’s a family portrait where they are all wearing their best clothes and smiling and trying to show by their body language that everything is normal, that they are happy, but the rain comes into the house, it’s a metaphor for the destruction of the family.

You used some archive film in some places.

Yes, I used some speeches by the priest Camilo Torres Restrepo who was an important influence on the man when he joined the guerrilla. Restrepo left the Catholic church because he couldn’t understand how he could carry on repeating the speech about loving your neighbour like yourself when there were so much inequality and injustice in society, and the church didn’t protest. He was very influential at the university where this man was a student.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on different projects. I’m writing my next film which is a story about a woman whose mother had sent her away from her hometown as a child to live in the city because of the war.

The film is about the moment when this woman decides to return to her hometown and is reunited her mother, it’s about the tension between the two women, their pains, their process and about what is happening in that town after the war, about how people find different ways to survive the violence.

(Photos by Fredy Sarria Martos and Camila Rodríguez Triana, supplied by the interviewee)

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