Carlos Mayolo and Luis Ospina, Agarrando pueblo, 1977, 28min, film stills

By Michèle Faguet

In the summer of 1971, while on vacation from film school at UCLA, Luis Ospina met with his childhood friend Carlos Mayolo, and together they decided to film the sixth Pan American Games taking place in their hometown of Cali, Colombia. The idea came after an earlier attempt to record Pope Paul VI's visit to Colombia that didn't happen due to a lack of economic resources. Equipped with a 16mm camera, which Mayolo had 'borrowed' (without permission) from the advertising agency in Bogotá where he worked, the two aspiring film-makers travelled to Cali, where they arrived just in time to miss the opening ceremonies and all of their pomp and political rhetoric,1 only to find that they would be excluded from all official venues without the proper permits, and that their arrival had been preceded by a film crew contracted by the Colombian state. Significantly, this official film crew was headed by Diego León Giraldo, a filmmaker iconic in Colombian film history as an early proponent of Cuban revolutionary cinema, and whose 1967 documentary Camilo Torres represented the first instance of militant cinema in Colombia.2 León Giraldo, however, had come to exemplify the ideological ambiguities and betrayals of a nascent national film industry struggling to define itself amidst the contradictory impulses of political commitment and aesthetic value, economic viability and mass visibility.

Initiated as a spontaneous exercise in simply going out to film without imposing any specific narrative, the experiment inevitably would produce a portrait of the thousands of others who had also been excluded: the majority of Cali's population, for whom admission fees were far beyond reach, and who experienced the events and festivities alongside Ospina and Mayolo from behind chain-linked fences or in stairwells of shopping centres, where precarious transmissions were visible on televisions for sale in store windows. The first part of the film consists of a series of images juxtaposed in a disorderly or impressionistic manner, much in the way one might, in real life, experience the contrasts they embody. What makes them stand out is their sense of humour, absent from the exaggerated images of opulence and poverty that became formulaic in certain examples of Third World cinema. For example, one scene shows North American baseball players clad in bright new uniforms awkwardly towering above local spectators, probably more accustomed to playing baseball with improvised materials in empty lots - like one shown earlier in the same film, of adolescents in a marginal neighbourhood engaging in a sport that simultaneously embodied US imperialism and Cuban liberation, next to a billboard that read 'Vote for the Communist Party'. Another scene captures a group of off-duty soldiers clumsily dancing salsa in their heavy boots (an image that is not so extraordinary in a tropical militarised culture), while later in the film a young man wearing just his underwear effortlessly moves to Bobby Cruz and Richie Ray's 'Amparo Arrebato' (1968)3 on the banks of the Pance River, a popular weekend recreation spot that serves as a public pool for the city's working and middle classes. Read More...>


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