SQL Error ARDECHE IMAGES : Fragment of a filmmaker’s work: Luis Ospina
Les États généraux du film documentaire 2023 Fragment of a filmmaker’s work: Luis Ospina

Fragment of a filmmaker’s work: Luis Ospina

I like my films to be like a book, because I think the concept of the duration of films has changed. I think many people see films like they are reading a book. They can read the prologue and put it away, then go back to it. Because the whole film exhibition concept has changed since the multiplex and all these things, and now with the TV series it has changed more.

I don’t know why people from Cali have the cinema within them, because the first silent feature film in Colombia was made in Cali, 1921, which was María. The first sound film was made in Cali, the first colour film was made in Cali, the first anti-imperialist film was made in Cali. So I don’t know, maybe there’s something. I have my own theory that maybe we have talent to make films in Cali because we move slowly but our eyes move rapidly.

My father was an engineer in a company that built swimming pools whose slogan was “If you think of a pool, remember Ospina”; he was also a filmmaker, which was quite rare in fifties Colombia. In those days there were trucks that drove around the villages showing 16mm prints. When they came to Cali they would deposit them in our garage, where we kept a small collection of westerns, travelogues, science and war films. In those years we also went to the cinema three times a week.

Cinema is the only art that was born during the period of advanced capitalism, and it has in itself all the elements of an exploitative situation. In what other art form can you say to someone: “OK, you walk from this door to that door, take off your clothes and go to bed with that guy”. It's like a dictatorship!

Yes, I’m obsessed with death. I think any documentary filmmaker has to be obsessed with death because we’re in the process of filming things that are dying. Everything that we shoot is going to change. We’re filming buildings and they’re going to be torn down. If you’re filming a person he’s going to die. So we’re working with memory, and for me the absence of memory is death. So as documentary filmmakers we’re struggling against death, against being forgotten, against oblivion.

For me, the epiphany was Bruce Conner’s A Movie; it changed my life completely, it was the first film of montage, of compilation or found footage, I don't know what expression to use, that I saw. It made me disquiet that one could make a film with diverse materials, without having to film anything and achieve something through editing and rhythm.

One of our purposes was to make directors think about ethics before making a film, because there’s an intrinsic vampirism in cinema. You’re taking somebody’s image, and with that image and sound you can make an ideological film that is leftist or rightist or whatever. It depends on how you edit. Film is not objective and documentary is not all true. Especially when done by leftist filmmakers. I don’t believe that you can use film to change the world or for a cause, to support an ideology.

In 1968, I applied for cinema at the University of Southern California (USC). I was not satisfied because it was a very Hollywood-oriented place – Lucas and Milius studied there – they told you to choose what role you wanted to play in the industry while I wanted to learn everything. One day, a friend who attended UCLA invited me to take a tour of his university where a big demonstration against Reagan, then governor of California, was going on. It was a great adrenalin moment and I decided to move there.

My dream was not Hollywood, I wanted to go back home and create the conditions for a film system to develop where it was lacking. I returned to Cali in 1971 and found a neighbour who loved cinema, Carlos Mayolo. Together, in 1971 we made the counter-information film Oiga, vea! and joined the cineclub directed by Andrés Caicedo, the most cinephile person I knew. We were programming, we were discussing, we founded Ojo al cine, the first magazine that gave importance to the history of cinema made in Colombia.

Mayolo started making industrial shorts and advertising in the mid-sixties. When I returned to Colombia for a vacation, in 1971, we decided to make together the documentary short. We were also in a film club. We had a camera and a tape recorder. That’s how we started working. I was very shy and he had a very explosive personality, very quick, very funny. We complemented each other well, and shared the same visual sense and humour.

Un tigre de papel's main character, Pedro Manrique Figueroa, was invented by my nephew in 1996. I decided to make a mockumentary, with all the traditional features of a documentary: archival material, interviews, historical documents. I looked for people who had a lot of credibility with Colombian culture: historians, filmmakers, ex-militants, artists. I would describe the character to them and ask: “Do you know somebody like this?” They’d say, “Oh yes, I knew someone in the sixties.” Everybody had an anecdote about somebody they knew. I then told them to change the names and improvise stories, and I would invent a context in which they could have met my character. I did a lot of research in the Colombian film archives. A film about a collage artist has to be a collage in and of itself. For me that was easy, because many of my later films are collages.

In the seventies we began to be interested in films that were not by the great masters, we liked the B-movies, the Hammer horror films. Night of the Living Dead had a great impact on us because for the first time we discovered the possibility of giving a political reading of the genre. Cronenberg's Shivers also impressed us because it told us that the body is capable of producing horror, among other things foreshadowing something that would manifest itself shortly afterwards, AIDS. Pura sangre sets the myth of the vampire in the Colombian context, it is a parable about violence in my country.

Some of my projects become portraits of generations, and I wanted to make Un tigre de papel about my generation, the sixties: utopia, totalitarian ideas, and how all that came to a bad end. It is a little bit ahead of its time, more in tune with what’s happening right now with post-truth. I wanted to put into question the narrative devices that you use to tell the truth and to tell a lie – they’re the same. If you say, “This is a shot of Ukraine and this man is Grushenko,” we believe that. We are used to believing what’s said. In fact, that scene wasn’t shot in Ukraine; it was shot in New York. That man’s name isn’t Grushenko. Grushenko was Woody Allen’s character in Love and Death. One of the main purposes of the film is to demonstrate that the same devices used to tell the truth can be used to tell lies. This is clearly seen in propaganda cinema, where the same images with a different order or text can completely change their message or ideology.

There are certain preconceptions about how we Latin Americans should approach reality: in the sixties and seventies they said that practically the duty of all revolutionaries was to make documentaries, you couldn’t make fiction because those were bourgeois problems and intellectual things that were of no use to the people; then it was that if you made fiction you had to make naturalism, social denunciation, a kind of realism. I think we’ve already gone through those stages. And I’m more in favour of a cinema that is stylised, that is expressionist, that is not so closely linked to reality, that is perhaps inspired by reality.

We decided to make Agarrando pueblo as a provocation. That’s why, when you start watching it, you don’t know what the fuck it’s about. “Should I laugh? Should I be against it?” Sometimes you have to use the weapons of the enemy to destroy the enemy – like an antidote in medicine. You inoculate to eradicate the disease. It’s a therapeutic film in this sense. It gradually flows into fiction, because the middle part is all scripted, but at the end, it again becomes a documentary.

There’s an ethical dilemma one has to face when making a documentary, because in a documentary you are always using people whether you like it or not. For example, with the character in Agarrando pueblo, well, we became friends, or with the fakir that I also filmed, we met each other beyond the film. Generally in a fiction film, nobody wants to see the people they worked with again, but in the documentary there is a human thing that remains, a very strange bond is established there, and the documentary filmmaker also has to have a certain elf to be able to get things out of his subjects. You have to establish trust, it’s easier to manipulate when there is trust.

I have always considered myself non-mainstream, underground. I’ve made the films that I wanted to make without concessions, mostly because I’ve produced them myself. I have rarely gotten money, from the government or from other countries. Only for Soplo de vida, from France. And my movies are very low-budget. My sympathy is always with the marginalised or with those who are against something.

When I made Nuestra película (1993), in which I filmed the painter Lorenzo Jaramillo dying of AIDS, I edited out images from the last filming session, when he was already in the clinic in a state of delirium. I decided not to use those images; I literally felt like a pimp, a gallinazo (vulture)... When we filmed those images he wasn’t in his right mind, he was hallucinating.

Montage of edited excerpts by Federico Rossin, from interviews by: Hernán Darío Arango, Ela Bittencourt, Alejandro Martín, Juan E. Murillo, Silvia Nugara, Oswaldo Osorio, Carolina Sourdis, André Tapps, Andrew S. Vargas, Pedro Adrián Zuluaga.