In the Wake of Colombia’s Vote Against Peace, One Filmmaker’s Documentary on Displacement

Bogotá’s economic disparity spreads from the southeast side of the city like a rash, climbing up the hillside of Ciudad Bolívar. The higher you go, the more primitive — and desperate — life is. This is where the victims of Colombia’s displacement gather — the peasants, indigenous groups, Afro-Colombians. A short bus ride from the polished glass of Bogotá’s financial district and the serpentine affluent neighborhoods of the Andean foothills, it stands as a stark statement of a country entrenched in dichotomy. Juan Mejia Botero, a documentary filmmaker born in Bogotá, has spent the last decade of his life recording the stories of the marginalized and voiceless of the capital city.

Mejia is the founder and social documentary director for the production company Human Pictures. He started his work on The Battle for Land in the slums of Bogotá in 2002, partnering with AFRODES, the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians. The film, shot between 2008 and 2012 and expected to be released in 2016, follows people fleeing the lands of Colombia’s Pacific coast to slums like Bogotá’s Ciudad Bolívar and the neighboring Altos de Cazucá in Soacha. Mejia believes that before the world jumps to the conclusion that Colombia is now a glimmering, reborn nation, there needs to be a straightforward look at the reality of many of its impoverished citizens — those living on the periphery of the urban and rural areas as well as the periphery of Colombia’s conscience.

“I love Colombia, and Colombia is a very beautiful country, and I’m very happy that people are seeing that,” Mejia said. “And I’m happy that people are coming, and I’m happy that we are shedding our Pablo Escobar skin. But the fact of the matter is, there are two Colombias.”

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Matthew Ankeny