Ernesto is one of many FARC guerrillas who dream about a better country worth fighting for, but this time without a weapon. After 52 years of armed conflict, the FARC guerrillas are about to hand over their arms in exchange for social changes and political participation.
However, as Ernesto is taking his first steps towards politics and normal life, the much-celebrated peace agreement throws Colombia into chaos. Many Colombians want to rescue the country from the FARC terrorists, among them a passionate right-wing politician and a descendant of Spanish conquistadors. Meanwhile, the farmers cultivating coca could escape poverty, but only if the peace agreement is respected.
While Colombia faces a crucial opportunity for change, Ernesto and the polarized society around him are driven into a situation in which everyone fears for the future and their own survival. Many think the war is senseless, but can find a justification for it and are willing to take justice into their own hands if necessary — even at the cost of peace.
What happens to a fragile peace in an unequal country if doing the ‘wrong’ thing may easily be justified as the only means of struggle? Colombia in My Arms is an intimate, strong and sincere portrait of people at the extremes of Colombian society depicting controversial dreams about how to achieve a better society to live in. Through the situation of one country, this documentary reflects the human condition on a universal level.
“An impressive documentary film far from reportage style, a wide angled visual interpretation, a drama with strong characters. The filmmakers have succeeded in creating a drama as good as any fiction.”
“Colombia in My Arms is an important documentary on the current panorama of Colombian society. The filmmakers go straight to the point.”
“The filmmakers manage to structure a fluid and aesthetic narrative where the words say as much as the music and the images. There are clear subtexts in this documentary and that is one of its greatest merits. The characters are treated with respect, but without condescension, and the directors deftly avoid pamphletism and political activism by presenting the different sides of the coin.”
“Eloquent and sensitive. Dreamlike quality interrupted by occasional bursts of violence. Balanced glimpse into the consequences of Colombian’s much-heralded peace accord.”
“Another value of the work is the cinematographic one. Colombia in My Arms is a work where the editing has a significant role, a captivating soundtrack, an agile surprising narrative.””
★★★★★★★★ 8.5 / 10
★★★★★★★★★ 9 / 10
Although we have both lived in Colombia and South America for years, we have never thought to make a film about the Colombian conflict. Initially, as foreigners, we didn’t have a personal connection to this immense topic. However, because of our personal backgrounds in Latin America we happened to be in Colombia around the time of the peace agreement being signed between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian Government.
The country seemed to be breathing a hope — maybe for the first time in its recent history. Suddenly, we were offered an opportunity to film in a guerrilla camp, which became possible due to this historic event. Taking this chance would lead to us to work in Colombia for a year and half, on an extensive film related to the conflict.
The original idea was to make a beautiful and calm poetic documentary about peace, reflecting the capacity of human beings to coexist and share a country after decades of armed conflict. However, soon the atmosphere in Colombia both in the rural areas and cities started to intensify. There was a clear opposition to the peace accord and you could see actions taking place that were anything but peaceful.
As uncertainty, fear and confusion rose all over the country and as the people we were filming began to face challenges, we felt it important to start following the escalating societal situation. The much-celebrated peace did not seem so apparent anymore. We understood the reality at hand was much more complex than we had originally thought and many of our preconceptions had been proven wrong.
Already in the beginning we decided to create a polyphonic documentary that would listen to several characters’ opinions from across Colombian society. In looking for characters and a balance for the documentary we assessed who seemed to be the protagonists of the current circumstances.
Eventually, after an organic process of extensive work, good contacts and lucky coincidences we found ourselves close to people who opposed each other, yet were very open to discuss difficult matters with foreign filmmakers. We were seen as neutral, as we were not part of the conflict. This was an opportunity to open windows for the audience to better understand the diverse realities that gave rise to this chaotic situation.
When forming the first ideas about the film we ran into an article about Wetiko. According to a native American tribe the Europeans — the colonizers of the continent they claimed to have discovered — suffered from a disease called Wetiko. This disease made its carrier think that abusing other human beings’ vital energy was a reasonable way to live. This became one of the main leads for this documentary. To what extent are the current human societies possessed by Wetiko?
As the American continent has been remarkably established in an oppressive relationship, we wanted to examine the new Colombian context and ask if the mindset could change and whether people might finally find ways to live in peace after decades and centuries of abuse. Regarding the current conflict, both the state and the guerrillas could be accused of being abusive in many different ways. If the peace accord was about to be the ground-zero for a new era, would people continue to be abusive to one another?
With this film we’re not trying to explain the Colombian armed conflict. Through the eyes of distinct Colombians we observe how civilization is built, if peace can be possible in a polarized society and if not, then why not? It was clear we didn’t want to make propaganda for any group or political party, but to provide an unbiased view examining the situation from humane perspectives, leaning to change, towards non-violent actions and peaceful coexistence.
In the film we attempt to remain as true as possible to the things we personally witnessed. All the characters and all the events in the film are real, and there is no fictional element in this film: no actors, no fictitious or acted scenes, no planned dialogue. We filmed in Colombia for a year and half and immersed ourselves in the subject, making sure we had a profound view of the situation. The facts presented in the film have been evaluated to be truthful by Colombian experts and independent studies.
We think that local people should be equipped to tell their own stories and create their own works about the topics addressed. However, in this particular case we believe that as Europeans we have been able to access certain circles that are inaccessible to Colombians themselves. In addition, a Colombian filmmaker could put her or himself into great danger when dealing with a political subject. Only during the production of this film, 412 Colombian human rights defenders were murdered — in addition to them, one Colombian filmmaker and four journalists working in rural areas were killed in this post-peace accord era.
Aesthetically we wanted to make high quality cinema that would speak to the audience at all cinematic levels. The extensive time we spent in Colombia allowed us to refine the aspect of visual storytelling. Each image and element in the film has a significance, a symbolic value that adds to the story while creating the desired style and artistic qualities we were searching for. While filming we were intrigued to think of how García Márquez’ magical realism would be presented in a cinematic form.
We felt a need to create a film that would be equally valid for the international and Colombian audiences. In the editing this was a challenge, as well as forming a multi character intertwining narration that would provide sufficient information to understand the context, but not reducing the drama. We also had to acknowledge that we couldn’t avoid the film being taken politically although our filmmakers’ point of view was entirely humane. It took almost a year to achieve the correct balance during the editing phase.
Eventually, the film ended up being a very heavy documentary that deals with inequality, power and colonialism via both tragic and comic forms. The film portrays individuals who wish the best for their country, but are able to find justification for war under certain circumstances. The film lets the spectator approach distant bubbles that in an optimal world would understand each and achieve a lasting peace.
Although the film takes place in Colombia, we believe it deals with universal topics, closely observing the contemporary condition of humanity within the current global context. Our aim with the film is to make visible societal and human characteristics, some of which are counterproductive for humanity, while others keep us together regardless of our dissenting opinions. We hope the film can raise constructive discussion for bringing realities closer to each other.
“This award is given for the curiosity of the directors in observing vastly different opposing groups, resulting in a polyphonic portrait of a country in which peace doesn’t seem welcome. The precise use of photography and editing submerges us in the differing realities presented and creates a stark contrast between the political sensibilities at play in the natural and urban environments, and the associated poverty and luxury. This film goes beyond being an intimate portrait of a country, and makes us reflect upon colonialism and post-colonialism, capitalism and anti-capitalism, and what keeps us going as humanity.”
“The best film was a big surprise due to the depth of reflection and seriousness when dealing with an urgent topic. Colombia in My Arms is a film that elevates the greatness of documentary cinema.”
“A strength within the documentary field is to seek out and go back to places to see what happens after the media’s spotlight on long term conflicts are gone. [...] Beautifully shot, with images observant to details and a conscious use of sound makes the film unforgettable.”
Written and directed by Jenni Kivistö & Jussi Rastas
Cinematography by Jussi Rastas
Edited by Jenni Kivistö & Jussi Rastas, Sully Reed, Antti Jääskeläinen
Music composed by Povl Kristian
Sound Design by Rasmus Winther Jensen
Produced by Filmimaa Ltd / Markku Tuurna
In Co-production with
Les Films d’un Jour / Sébastien Tézé
Hansen & Pedersen Film / Malene Flindt Pedersen
Medieoperatørene / Ingvil Giske
Produced with support from
Finnish Film Foundation / Pekka Uotila
AVEK / Outi Rousu
Danish Film Institute / Cecilia Lidin
Fritt Ord / Bente Roalsvik
Nordisk Film & TV Fond / Karolina Lidin
Produced in collaboration with
YLE / Erkko Lyytinen
France 2 Communication / Isabelle Delécluse
Production / Dominique Faure, Cristelle Poirson, Nelly Dutreuilh
Head of Documentary Unit / Catherine Alvaresse
DR / Anders Bruus
NRK / Fredrik Faerden
+358 50 5666 596
+ 44 (0) 20 8786 6059
Raina Film Festival Distribution / Andy Norton
+ 358 44 970 6841
Running-time: 91 minutes
Original language: Spanish, English
Filming location: Colombia
Production: Finland, France, Denmark, Norway
International title: Colombia in My Arms
Title in Spanish: Colombia fue nuestra
Title in Brazil: Colômbia era nossa
Aspect ratio: 16:9
Shooting format: HD
Screening formats: DCP / QuickTime ProRes 422 / H.264
Sound: 5.1 / 2.0 stereo
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Greek