Colombia’s Germán Arango and Ana María Muñoz, the director-producer duo behind Hot Docs International Spectrum competition title “Songs That Flood the River,” are prepping a host of new documentary and fiction features focused on race, gender, violence and resistance in the South American nation, Variety has learned.
Buried deep in the jungle of Colombia lies the riverside village of Pogue. In the Bojaya municipality, Pogue is home to muses who weave together songs as intricate and powerful as the Río Bojaya that cascades past the village. It is here that director Germán Arango chose to film Songs that Flood the River, his first feature film.
Arango has spent seven years in the Bojaya municipality shooting short films and Songs that Flood the River. The feature film will have its U.S. premiere at this year’s True/False Film Fest. It’s the culmination of Arango’s time spent with the people of Pogue, who he says have become like family.
True/False Film Programmer Amir George first saw the film behind closed doors at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, and was immediately captivated by the story.
“When I watched it, I thought, this has to be at True/False,” George says. “Like I felt that immediately and I contacted the filmmakers right away.”
Bojaya lies within the Chocó Department, one of the poorer regions of Colombia. It is home to a large Afro-Colombian population, which has largely been ignored by the government. The people of Bojaya have a rich culture, and the songs, called “alabados,” are traditional melodies sung by Black communities following the death of a relative or friend. They are meant to help guide the soul of the deceased to the realm of the dead. But for the inhabitants of Pogue, the songs have begun to take on a different meaning.
In 2002, Bojaya experienced one of the most horrific massacres in Colombian history. Another village in the municipality, Bellavista, was at the center of a firefight between guerilla forces and paramilitaries. During the firefight a bomb went through the roof of a church and killed at least 79 inhabitants of the village, though some reports counted dozens more. “It was one of these events that really marred the community because lots of their family members and friends died in that massacre,” Arango says.
The result was a community left searching for a way to reckon with such a loss. Arango found that they had turned to the alabados as a way of processing their grief. He likened the process to rap music, where a melody is built from samples and then lyrics are laid down over it. In this case, the alabados served as the sample from which melodies were derived. Then lyrical stories about the massacre, the ongoing civil war and other sources of pain were vocalized over the traditional songs.
At the center of the film is Oneida, one of the Pogue’s cultural leaders. Oneida lost one of her legs early on in life to a snake, which has left her stuck in the village ever since. “That’s important because the Afro-Colombian families in Chocó are people that are moving around a lot,” Arango says. “So, this mobility is important in their communities, and for her, this is her course, but also what makes her different and what brings out all the strength that she has in her.”
Oneida’s early tragedies in life have made her alabados a powerful experience and given her a unique connection to the river. She describes the river as a man that is sometimes tender and good to her, bringing gifts and good fortune. Other times he is jealous and will flood, taking everything away.
Arango says Oneida’s story serves as a microcosm of what the entire country is enduring. In 2016, the Colombian government and the guerilla group responsible for the Bojaya massacre, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed a peace agreement. The agreement marked a monumental point in Colombian history, and to many served as the start of a nationwide healing process. Since then, the government has failed to uphold its end of the agreement Arango says. Still, there is plenty of hope within the country.
Arango says as the country moves into a post-conflict time period, it will allow for the culture of Bojaya to thrive. “All this context is important because in that process the voices of the victims emerge,” Arango says. “What seems to be important in the narrative is that these people only exist because of what happened in the war. And what this film tries to show is that these people and these communities… there is this cultural richness around them in their relationship with the jungle and their culture and it’s before even the war.”
“It’s so melodic and it’s so poetic,” George says. “A lot of our program this year is really artistically driven, but this one stands out because it’s a new filmmaker, I think that’s something to be excited about immediately. Germán has really made an impressive debut.”
Viewers absorb the cultural richness of Columbia and reach a level of understanding of the people lost in the narrative of conflict. Arango’s work asks the viewer to move past the misconceptions and easy judgements of a country that has frequently been presented as a war-torn nation run by drug lords and paramilitary forces. He asks viewers to be human.
Now Arango is developing “MC Silencio,” a Medellín-set musical drama in which the young resist and fight paramilitary aggression through hip-hop, and “The Man With the Trumpet,” a documentary that turns to film noir to delve into the murder of the director’s uncle and question the links between masculinity and violence in Medellín.
Both projects are produced by Yira Plaza, a fellow member of the Colectivo Audiovisual Pasolini de Medellín, which produced “Songs That Flood the River.” Commenting on Arango’s forthcoming projects, Muñoz said: “His line of work has not abandoned formal experimentation, but is moving towards more personal and autobiographical topics.”
Muñoz herself is working on a new documentary feature film set in the village of Pogue, the Black community at the heart of “Songs.” “La Selva y la Luna” (The Moon and the Jungle) explores the construction of a sisterhood by the girls of the local community as a way to survive and find happiness, following their efforts to navigate a hostile environment marked by racism, patriarchy, and the surrounding jungle that both nurtures life while offering the threat of death.
Muñoz is also in the development stage of an experimental documentary film, “MalaMadre” (BadMother), an autobiographical exploration which she’ll direct about high-risk pregnancies and the deconstruction of the notion of motherhood in Latin American feminism.
With their new projects, the two filmmakers will continue the exploration of marginalized Colombian lives they brought to bear on “Songs That Flood the River,” a film centered on the traditional songs sung by Afro-Colombian women in one of the most untamed and violent regions in the world: the jungles of the Chocó province on Colombia’s Pacific coast.
The alabaos sung by the region’s women have become a mechanism to unite communities, foster resistance, overcome the horrors of war, express pain, and raise a cry for peace. These powerful songs—heard across the world during the 2016 signing of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas after 60 years of war—have been created by a group of women who sing their melodies and compose their lyrics while washing clothes, cooking, braiding, or performing other household and outdoor tasks.
“With ‘Songs That Flood the River,’ we aim to put the focus on the strength of these women, the resistance of the Afro-Colombian people and the imperative need to end war,” said Arango, who has been accompanying the communities of the Bojayá River for over eight years throughout their reconciliation process. “These women have lived through a relentless war that has hit them hard day after day, and their way to respond is through songs, unity and tradition.”
Filmed over the course of four years, “Songs That Flood the River” presented its creators with a host of logistical challenges, due to the combination of Pogue’s “remote location, the persistent armed conflict and the unquestionable absence of the state” in a village that has no electricity or running water, according to Muñoz.
“As this place has approximately 100 houses and less than 600 inhabitants, it was important for me to work with a small crew able to display not only an artistic, but a social vision of cinema, and a capacity to adapt empathically to life dynamics in the community,” said the producer.
“I think that our highest achievement in terms of production was the engagement with the people,” she continued. “Our current challenge is focused on sharing with our audience the priceless beauty that the women of Pogue have allowed us to witness, and intertwine the exhibition of the film with the urgent cry for peace and the achievement of better living conditions for the Black communities of the Bojayá River.”
The film’s premiere coincides with the 19th anniversary of the Bojayá massacre, which took place on May 2, 2002 in the town of Bellavista, where more than 100 villagers were killed after a cylinder bomb exploded in the church where they were taking refuge from area fighting. It arrives at a time of widespread unrest in Colombia, where protests against poverty and inequality that have worsened during the coronavirus pandemic have met with a violent government crackdown in recent weeks, leaving at least 24 dead.
“Songs That Flood the River,” said Muñoz, “is in part the result of the longing for…peace undertaken by these communities through their songs, their traditions and their struggle.”
From https://www.voxmagazine.com/features/true-false-songs-that-flood-river-movie-premiere/article_3cfbd0d2-a168-11eb-b8c5-f73dd9f3736e.html and https://variety.com/2021/film/global/songs-that-flood-the-river-german-arango-ana-maria-munoz-1234968920/