The Troubled Colombian Image: Part I

La Sierra documentary - discussing the negative image on Colombia portrayed in films of the past 20 years.

I am finally sitting down to write a small contribution to those who may not have been exposed to movies on Colombia or by Colombian directors. The movie industry is indeed one of the main culprits of the distorted image of Colombia – some of which is earned and true but the sole focus on mafia, drugs, violence and kidnappings creates a distorted image.

The image one gets from some of these movies and the image that seems to prevail is that a Colombian is synonymous to not only crime and murder but to VICIOUS crime: it is almost like saying that to die is one thing but to be killed by a Colombian is ‘More Terrible Than Death’. Well, that is unfortunately exactly the title of an excellent book by Robin Kirk of Human Rights Watch ( But the point is that book was written in 2002 and now we are finishing off 2009 – that creates the discrepancy and the opportunity to support all those positive developments in this beautiful country.

So I went to Colombia for the first time in 2008 – and had a wonderful time in Medellin. Only after returning did I start to research how the rest of the world forms their perception of the country. I went on Amazon and typed in the keyword ‘Colombia’ and bought pretty much everything that showed up. Including a couple of movies that shocked me considerably – especially ‘La Sierra’ and ‘Virgen de los Sicarios’. Then I watched La Vendedora de Rosas and Rodrigo D and they did not make me feel one single bit better. Was it really me who had just visited that city?? No wonder my friends here think I am crazy – those movies can give you goosebumps, seriously. And finally I got my hands on Cocaine Cowboys 1 & 2 and not only did it make me feel sick but I felt very sorry for the glorification of crime in the American culture, especially among the rap/gangsta culture.

So let’s build a list here, see what we’ve got and discuss it a bit. Feel free to complete the list and make comments.


The True Story of Killing Pablo (2003): He was the biggest mafioso of all times.. so what? There have been others and there will be a few more of them. Nobody will hopefully ever surpass him, though – he nearly destroyed the country, made it into ‘a Somalia’. (

Colombia Vive – 25 Años de Resistencia: If you know Spanish and want to know what really went on in Colombia this is a great documentary. We watched and deep-analyzed it all on our Spanish class at EAFIT in Medellin. (

Cocaine Cowboys I: Shows how American criminals (who somehow already got out of prison!) established the cocaine business. This film establishes the image of Colombians as the killing machines in the underworld and introduces the ‘godmother of cocaine’, Griselda Blanco. (

Cocaine Cowboys II (2008): Continues to glorify the drug culture and the moral decadence in the American Society and especially in certain segments of the African-American population. Pictures Griselda Blanco as the cruel mafiosa she certainly was. Do not show this one to your children – very bad. (

Plan Colombia – Cashing in on the Drug War Failure (2004): Fumigating the Colombian wildlife indeed sucks, this film rightly brings a lot of injustices into daylight. But if anything else, it really makes me start to fear the American government, not the Colombian one…LOL. The DVD cover sleeve misspells ‘Columbia’ in two instances… silly gringos… (

Subtle Voices – Cries from Colombia (2005): A documentary by a missionary visiting Colombia – too much religious ‘crusadery’ to my taste – no thanks. (

La Sierra (2004): Documentary on the infighting between two paramilitary gangs in Medellin around 2003. Shocking, powerful and well-made. Leaves you totally gasping for air. Not sensationalist, depicting well the human aspect of the lives of these poor people. Serves as a great ‘calibration point’ when measuring how much Medellin has changed for the better since 2003. (


Rodrigo D – No Futuro (1989): Powerful, sad and definitely leaves you with fearful images of Medellin. But a good movie – V ictor Gaviria is a talented director and this is a sample of his early work. Nine out of the actors in the movie died before the movie released – or something equally shocking, don’t recall the details. (

Sicario – Assassin for Hire (1994): Touching, horrifying story on child-assassins. Watch this and you will die before reaching your hotel in Colombia. (

La Vendedora de Rosas (1998): This is another one by Victor Gaviria, the Colombian version of the ‘Match Factory Girl’ story. Sadness, hopeless and misery taken to the max. A quality film but does not promote Colombian tourism for sure. I visited this barrio where the film was shot and albeit not super-dangerous… no, you don’t get out of the car. But then again, you have such barrios in Brazil, Washington DC and East Palo Alto. (

Our Lady of the Assassins (2001): A Colombian gay gangster movie. Scary, chilling. Depicts the randomness of the killing that prevailed. (

Rosario Tijeras (2005): Basically the ‘hetero version’ of the previous one. A good movie but on the same negative subject. (

Medellin – Sumas y Restas (2004): a somewhat comedic gangster movie by Victor Gaviria. A girl at my language course at EAFIT told me its tells about her father’s clan. (

Perder Es Cuestion de Metodo (2004): a Colombian director trying his hand at an American-style crime story. I did not like this one very much as a film. And it has the same theme of crime, drugs and violence. (

So this concludes the first part of my coverage on Colombian films and their influence on what people might think of the country. In the second part we can discuss some Hollywood movies. Among the few I have been able to identify only one with a positive message: Love in the Time of Cholera based on the wonderful novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Are there any others with a positive message?

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