‘Birds of Passage’ Directors Say They Found the Real Story of Narco Trafficking From the Women, Not the Men

TheWrap Oscar magazine: “It’s very hard to see Pablo Escobar become a hero to a generation, because his process was really a process of destruction,” says director Ciro Guerra

Cristina Gallego Ciro Guerra
Photo by Steven Gerlich for TheWrap

This story on “Birds of Passage” first appeared in the Foreign Language issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

Ciro Guerra, whose “Embrace of the Serpent” was nominated for the Oscar in 2016, co-directed with his ex-wife Cristina Gallego for the first time in “Birds of Passage.” The film tells the story of how the drug trade enriched but nearly destroyed the traditional Wayuu tribes in northern Colombia in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

“Birds of Passage” is the Colombian entry in this year’s Oscar foreign-language race, and this is one in a series of interviews with the Oscar foreign contenders.

What about this story spoke to the two of you?
CRISTINA GALLEGO: We knew about these people, the Wayuu, from taking journeys in that part of the country. But when we started to hear about the history from when this film is set in the ’60s, it just blew up our minds.

The question was, “Why we didn’t know anything about this history?” In this region, where they have this code of behavior, rules that are very strict, many families killed each other one by one, over 300 members of families.

We saw that period as a big gangster movie that hasn’t been told. And as we started to develop, we found out that it was a matriarchal society, so we wanted to tell the story through the eyes of a very strong woman. We decided at that point we should direct together, that the film needed my point of view. It’s a different representation of the Colombian drug trade than the Pablo Escobar-style stories we usually see.

CIRO GUERRA: We feel that there has been a glorification of criminals, which has been really painful for our country. It’s very hard to see Pablo Escobar become a hero to a generation, because his process was really a process of destruction — the moral destruction of our whole country.

And this story has been told from outside points of view, so we wanted to give our take, from a Colombian point of view. We felt that our story was a different perspective, and there was no glorification.

The female characters have a fascinating dynamic — they are the leaders in some of the old rituals but they are also making decisions about this new revenue stream as well.
GUERRA: Wayuu women are very special, very strong women. They lead their families through a very tough life in a very harsh landscape, and they are sort of the keepers of tradition  –they are the ones who are in contact with the spiritual world, the ones who dream. But also the ones who are involved in politics.

GALLEGO: But all the history is written by males. All the history of the narco trafficking was written by men. We started asking what happened with the women in the period, and we found that we were going to hear these histories not in the lobby or the living room — we go to the kitchen to know the truth.

Normally, when you go to visit some tribes, the males are telling the history, but that is the history that we already heard. We found that the history that we wanted to tell was behind those stories. It was silent history told by the women.

To read more of TheWrap’s Foreign Language issue, click here.

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