Culture, Globe, Latin America, Screen, United Kingdom

War, the human condition, the animal condition

Recreation is part of the day to day of war, especially when it is boys and girls who are there in the line of fire. A group of teenagers in the face of a military conflict. Santiago Zapata is the producer of “Monos”, film selected as a candidate to represent Colombia at the 2020 Oscar Awards.


Photo courtesy of Picturehouse Entertainment

Juanjo Andrés Cuervo


“The film ‘Monos’ (Monkeys) is an international effort of Colombian heart and soul,” explains Santiago Zapata, producer of the film.

Directed by Alejandro Landes, it explores the relationship that grows between a group of young people sharing a common goal, and in which they have to overcome obstacles in the face of the coming battle.

Taking into account the context of the Latin American guerrillas and the climate of violence that still exists, a clear parallel is established with the reality of the continent.

However, Santiago Zapata says “the inspiration from subversive groups was not exclusively Colombian”.

Producer, Santiago A. Zapata (L) and director, Alejandro Landes. (Photo by Lia Toby/Getty Images for BFI)

“We analysed different conflicts around the world and throughout history, such as those in Vietnam and Syria, or Russia’s attack on Crimea.”

But he says that although the film shows an armed conflict, “it is not expressly focused on any one in particular.”

When facing various extreme situations, the protagonists show their human side in which it is difficult to distinguish between good and evil.

It is about establishing “a dynamic of power games, wanting to belong and be loved.” Simply, “an allegory of the human condition,” he admits.

Santiago Zapata, who spoke to The Prisma about the creation of “Monos”, was born in the United States to Colombian parents. Although he has lived in many countries, he says that Colombia is where he has his real roots.

After triumphing at Sundance and winning the Best Film Award at the London Film Festival, Santiago Zapata wants “Monos” to boost the cinema of his country.

Photo courtesy of Picturehouse Entertainment

How did the idea of creating “Monos” arise?

It arose when director Alejandro Landes was visiting the Colombian Ministry of Defence to confirm details about the participation of Porfirio Ramírez in his previous film “Porfirio“.

There were several groups of teenagers who had once been part of guerrilla and paramilitary groups in the country. After making “Porfirio”, Alejandro finished devising the story and wrote it together with the Argentine director Alexis Dos Santos.

What importance has the conjunction of cultures had for the development of the film?

Alejandro Landes was born in Brazil, his father is Ecuadorian and his mother is Colombian. I was born in the United States, my father and mother are Colombian and I have lived in many countries during my life. But Colombia is the only place where we both have true roots.

We have people of different nationalities in the team.

Photo courtesy of Picturehouse Entertainment

We have a leading American actress (Julianne Nicholson), an Argentine co-writer (Alexis Dos Santos), a Uruguayan producer (Fernando Epstein), a Dutch cinematographer (Jasper Wolf) and a Mexican production designer (Daniela Schneider), among others.

In addition to this, “Monos” was made possible by the various international co-producers participating in the film (from Argentina, Germany, Holland, Uruguay, Denmark and Sweden), in addition to those from Colombia.

“Monos” is an international effort of Colombian heart and soul.

Do you think that, as explained in “Monos”, life is a constant battle to find the balance between our good and bad sides?

In the film, Alejandro tries to portray  that reality and rejects any binary or extreme concept in the world. Paradise and hell, good and bad, man and woman, or black and white, we explore the shades of grey that we all have.

Photo courtesy of Picturehouse Entertainment

You filmed at a height of 4,000 metres, in the middle of the jungle and with drastic climatic changes. Did these conditions help the quality of the performances?

The combination of having non-professional actors (some had never been in front of a camera), the extreme situations and difficult conditions in which we recorded generated a kind of magical collective energy.

We were all convinced that we were doing something wonderful and important, even those behind the camera and that has been translated onto the screen.

“Monos” has been selected as the Colombian candidate in the “Best International Film” category at the 2020 Oscar Awards, and will represent the country in the Goya Awards. Do you think it will help boost Colombian cinema?

We hope so, especially considering that the film was chosen by the local academy to represent the country.

We are aware that we are representing national cinematography and we hope that our achievements will be shared and celebrated for the benefit of all Colombian filmmakers.

Photo courtesy of Picturehouse Entertainment

The story tells how a group of young people enjoy moments of leisure, despite being immersed in a conflict. Is there an analogy with that reality and the wars that take place in Latin America and globally, where the rulers seem not to take the severity of the problems that occur seriously?

Recreation is a part of being human and war is a condition that humans suffer through as a consequence of being social and political animals. This is how, although people ignore it, leisure is part of the day-to-day of war, especially when it is boys and girls who are there in the line of fire. Hostage taking, for example, is something that high officials negotiate, but it is commonly the lowest ranks who deal with the everyday reality of it.

Therefore, it is common to see dynamics that could play out in the playground of any school: love and heartbreak, sexual tension, upsets, fun and all the emotions that arise from us as teenagers.

Given that the film is Colombian, have you been inspired by national guerrillas to make it?

The inspiration from subversive groups was not exclusively Colombian. We studied and researched examples from different erratic conflicts around the world and throughout history.

Photo courtesy of Picturehouse Entertainment

For example, the Rastafari rebel movement, the Russian invasion of Crimea or the conflicts in Syria and Vietnam.

According to an Indepaz report from between 2016 and May 2019, 837 homicides of social leaders were committed in Colombia. Do you think your film can help foreign countries understand the situation of violence in Latin America?

“Monos” does not seek to teach or moralise, but rather seeks to question. We examine the war, yes, but not the Colombian war or that of any specific place. We have not spent four years making a film about obviousness, such as the importance of understanding violence in Latin America or that children should not be involved in war. We did it rather to establish a dynamic of power games, of wanting to belong and be loved. I don’t think “Monos”   is about foreign conflicts or what makes us different. Quite the contrary. I think it’s about what makes us human.

(Translated by Hannah Phelvin – Email: – Photos supplied by Sofia Serbin Celluloid Circus Limited

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