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Spotlight: Marta Rodríguez


Marta Rodríguez (Credit: Fundación Cine Documental)

 

In January 2024, we partnered up with our friends at CinemaAttic for an ambitious retrospective featuring a selection of powerful documentaries by Colombian eco-political filmmaker Marta Rodríguez.


Cursed flowers and sacred leaves: The militant cinema of Marta Rodríguez sought to celebrate Rodríguez’s extraordinary contributions to the documentary genre by bringing her groundbreaking works to the screens of Glasgow and Edinburgh, offering Scottish audiences a rare opportunity to experience the depth and breadth of her filmography.


The season featured several screenings across the month (find out more here) and concluded with two screenings of the gorgeously restored Amor, mujeres y flores, (Love, Women and Flowers), with extended introductions by IW’s own Camilla Baier at the Glasgow Film Theatre and St Peter's Church Hall in Edinburgh. 


For those who were not able to attend the screenings, we have shared Camilla’s intro (slightly amended) below.


 

CURSED FLOWERS AND SACRED LEAVES SEASON



Welcome everyone to this special screening of Amor, mujeres y flores, (Love, Women and Flowers). The final screening of the Cursed Flowers and sacred leaves: The militant cinema of Marta Rodríguez season, which we’ve co-curated and presented with CinemaAttic. 


My name is Camilla, I am part of the feminist film collective Invisible Women, and I am very excited to talk to you a little bit more about this film, this season and Marta Rodríguez tonight. 


It has been absolutely brilliant to work with CinemaAttic on this retrospective, in collaboration and with the support of the Fundación de Cine Documental Investigación Social in Bogotá. 


It has allowed us to take a journey through the cinematic work of Marta Rodríguez and her contributions to Colombian cinema, exploring her creative methods and her place in the political and artistic history of the Latin American film canon.


The screenings and the audience reactions have been incredible and it’s been so special to celebrate her legacy and remarkable influence on the documentary genre with old and new fans of Rodríguez’ work here in Glasgow and in Edinburgh. 


So thank you so much for joining us!


 

 

MARTA RODRÍGUEZ’ LIFE & WORK


Marta Rodríguez is a true trailblazer in the world of Latin American documentary filmmaking, and has cemented herself as a formidable force over her remarkable five-decade career. And I deliberately say ‘is’ here, because she is still a very active filmmaker and working on a project as we speak! 


Committed to shedding light on pressing social issues, Rodríguez uses her lens to amplify the voices of marginalised communities. Her documentaries tackle themes of gender, identity, social justice, and environmental concerns. 

 

She has said about her life’s work: 


My calling echoes that of an anthropologist. My vocation has been to witness and denounce all systems of exploitation and subjugation of people.


 

Marta Rodríguez was born in Bogotá, Colombia in 1933 and was the youngest of 5 children of a widowed single mother, and grew up most of her life in rural Colombia.


In 1961, she travelled to Europe to work as an au pair and take ethnographic film classes with Jean Rouch in Paris. Rouch was a French filmmaker and anthropologist, and is considered one of the founders of cinéma vérité (sometimes called observational cinema) in France.


This connection with Rouch perhaps therefore explains the influence of cinéma vérité, which would inspire Rodríguez to start her career as a filmmaker. A few years later she returned to Colombia and applied what she had learned from Rouch in her first film Chircales, a film she made together with Jorge Silva. 


Marta Rodríguez while filming Chircales, photo: Jorge Silva, credit: Fundación Cine Documental

Rodríguez had met Silva, once she was back in Bogotá, at a small cine club that they were both part of. After seeing his first short film Los Dias de Papel (1964), and being incredibly moved by it, she approached him to be her cinematographer on the Chircales project, which they completed in 1971.


This was the beginning of a professional and personal partnership that would last until Jorge Silva’s premature death in 1987. They would become an iconic couple of committed filmmakers, who dedicated their lives to creating a filmic memory of diverse communities in Colombia.


Chircales went on to win prizes at many international film festivals, including the Golden Dove at the prestigious documentary film festival DOK Leipzig in Germany. There Rodríguez and Silva established strong connections with members of the German cinema industry, who would continue to champion their work and support the preservation of their films to this day. 


Marta Rodríguez & Jorge Silva at DOK Leipzig, Germany (1972) credit: Fundación Cine Documental

The digitised version of their first film Chircales, as well as their 1981 collaboration Nuestra voz de tierra, memoria y futuro, which we screened as part of this season at the Edinburgh Cine and Video Society, with a wonderful intro by Charlotte Gleghorn (Senior Lecturer in Latin American Film Studies, University of Edinburgh), were restored by the Arsenal - Institut für Film und Videokunst in Berlin. 


As well as Chircales, the pair made several ethnographic films together including  Planas, testimonio de un etnocidio (1972) Campesinos, (1975) Nacer de nuevo (1987) and Nuestra voz de tierra, memoria y futuro, all works that contributed to understanding a society marked by violence and inequality in land ownership.


The last film made by Marta Rodríguez and Jorge Silva together was the film that we will see today; Amor, mujeres y flores. This film would be their last collaboration, as he suddenly died during filming in 1987, after a short illness. 


In honour of Silva's life and work, Rodríguez completed the film and dedicated it to her partner. She has said, and I’ll quote her here in Spanish, because she expressed it so painfully poetic:


Tuve que sacar mucho amor para terminar esta película. Un amor total por mi país,

por el cine y por él.


[I had to draw upon a lot of love to finish this film. A complete love for my country,

for cinema, and for him.]


Jorge Silva & Marta Rodríguez (Credit: Fundación Cine Documental)

Even after losing her greatest collaborator, Rodríguez would continue to make activist and political cinema for the next 30 years, seeking to give voice to the struggles of indigenous, afro-descendant, and working-class communities and to raise public awareness of social and political issues in Colombia.


Including the trilogy of Amapola, la flor maldita, Los hijos del trueno (1994 - 1998), and La hoja sagrada (2001), that were produced with her son Lucas Silva over the course of almost a decade. 


Amapola, la flor maldita and La hoja sagrada were screened as part of this retrospective and were followed by a brilliant in-conversation with Dr María Antonia Vélez Serna (Lecturer in Communications, Media and Culture, University of Stirling) and Andrei Gomez-Suarez (Senior Research Fellow in Reconciliation and Peacebuilding, University of Winchester, and Co-founder of Embrace Dialogue (Rodeemos el Diálogo, ReD) at the CCA in Glasgow. 


AMOR, MUJERES Y FLORES


But today we’re here to see Amor, mujeres y flores.


The tagline, if you want to call it that, of the film is “What is the cost of producing beauty?” And I am not sure we can answer this question today, but we can at least explore this question through the unflinching look (or lens) of Marta Rodríguez.


In the 80s, the floriculture industry was booming in Colombia, and was recognised for its potential by industrial powers worldwide. Cheap and abundant quantities of luminous carnations and daisies in every colour are available to consumers in the Western world, year-round. But this limitless accessibility to the flowers comes at a global price. 


Amor, mujeres y flores (1987/2023)

Thousands of miles away from the flower shops and the supermarkets, unsafe labour conditions endanger the 45,000 women who work in Colombia’s flower ‘production’. The industry not only exploits the labour of these women, but also exposes them to the use of pesticides that are ironically banned in the countries that end up consuming the flowers.


‘Every flower is pretty, but behind every flower there is death.’ says one of the workers that Marta interviews, heartbreakingly. 


You will see the intimate and urgent approach that is always present in Marta’s films, that she uses to amplify the voices of the women workers and to document their courageous efforts to organise and resist exploitation. 


And I don’t want to say much more about the film here and give too much away. But I do want to touch quickly on the restoration work that has made it possible for us to see this film today in its absolute best version. 


Originally filmed on 16mm back in 1987, you will be seeing a gorgeous 2k digital restoration which was conducted between 2022-2023 by Felipe Colmenares, who is part of the Fundación de Cine Documental Investigación Social. It then had the world premiere in its crisp, new form at the Cannes Film Festival, in the Cannes Classics strand, and now we get to see here in Scotland.




The Fundación, together with Marta Rodríguez of course, continues to protect, promote and produce her body of work. Including her upcoming documentary, currently in production. As I said, before she is far from done - so watch that space! 


A big thank you to the Fundación Cine Documental for the incredible work they do.


Huge thank you to David Sierra for instigating this beautiful collaboration and the CinemaAttic team, with Rafael Cueto at the helm, for pulling it off!


And now, I’ll leave you in Marta’s capable hands. 


I hope you enjoy the film. 



 







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