There’s a race issue in Colombia. A class issue too.
Add in right-wing leaders who champion the appropriation of land inhabited by people of African heritage, and the mere existence of the well-grounded, social activist Francia Márquez is a miracle. Her ascension, from local hero to presidential candidate, is a transformation worth studying.
Documentary filmmaker Juan Mejía Botero traces Márquez back to her roots in her small town of La Toma. She’s an outspoken local hero and a voice for people desperately trying to stave of speculators who wanted their land for its gold. “We are aware that we are fighting off monsters.” Watching her grow and gain her political astuteness and power, while trying to remain honest to her constituents, should be part of a college civics course. She galvanizes Afro-Colombians, women, the youth and environmentalists in ways that should be duplicated.
Judiciously, Botero uses the archival footage of the younger humble, but self-assured Márquez to show how she developed her grassroots movement instincts. Her knowledge and perspectives on race, class and the disenfranchised are surprisingly mature. And as she progresses, she never forgets her background. One of the film’s most poignant moments is when a supporter shows gratitude: “Thank you for going from a white woman’s kitchen to the ballot box.”
The footage (cinematographer Karen Gómez) isn’t spectacular and lots of it looks like a home movie. The editing (Andrea Chignoli) isn’t all that precise. So, technically this doc does not look polished But that cinema verité style hooks you and the musical soundtrack (Richard Cordoba and La Muchacha) fills in the spaces nicely. Any imperfections are greatly overshadowed by the aura of a woman nicknamed Igualada. Traditionally that’s a derogatory term used to demean someone who wants rights that others deem they shouldn’t have. However, that moniker became a crown for Márquez, a woman who succeeded in places where people who look like her have never been.
This doc’s achievement isn’t its artistry. Its strength is that it leaves a record of Colombia’s first Black female Vice President’s accomplishments and marks a trail for others to follow. It’s a portrait of a proud, courageous woman whose persona is reminiscent of heroes like Cesar Chavez. “We are the descendants of free men and women who were enslaved,” she proudly proclaims.
Francia Márquez has enough charisma to raise this film up and make it vital. She turns this well-intentioned but flawed portrait into a film worth viewing.
Photos courtesy of Sundance Institute and shot by Darwin Torres.
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