Director Jaap van ´t Kruis about ’Unpaved road to peace’, nominated for the Movies that Matter Activist Award and public´s favourite
INTERVIEW KATJA NOORDAM | BOGOTÁ, MARCH 25, 2019 – Unpaved road to peace (Jaap van ´t Kruis, 2019) is a moving documentary about a Colombian coffee farmer and community activist who fights an uphill battle to turn his village into a laboratory for reconciliation. The film had its world premiere at the Movies that Matter Festival (22-30 March, The Hague) and has been selected for the Activist competition. “Farid is fighting this fight on his own and realizes that many victims have no interest in reconciliation. I am very happy that his efforts are being recognized through this nomination.” During the Activist Night on Wednesday 27 March, an international jury will hand over the Golden Butterfly Awards to the winning director and activist.
Caldono, in southwestern Colombia; birthplace of coffee farmer and community leader Farid Julicué, is one of the villages which has been hit the hardest in the internal armed conflict that lasted for five decades. The peace agreement between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government was signed in November 2016. A few years earlier the paramilitaries had already officially laid down their weapons. Van ’t Kruis: “For Farid, this is the moment when the people in his village can finally start to live in harmony with each other. A ‘transition camp’ has been installed nearby for all the former FARC guerrillas who come from the town. Some have even fired shots at their own village during the conflict. Farid wants to be the bridge between them and the victims and turn Caldono into a laboratory of peace. We went along with him to see if it works.”
What motivated you as a Dutch director to make a film about the Colombian peace process?
“I have been traveling to the country regularly since 2014 and my girlfriend is Colombian. When the first rumours surfaced that peace could be signed sometime soon, I thought that would be a good subject for a documentary. I was fascinated by the question: what is it like for guerrilla fighters to hand in their weapons after ten or fifteen years in the jungle and return to society? I started to get to know those FARC rebels in the transition camp. I wanted to go into it very objectively listening to the human story from their side.”
Nevertheless, the focus of the documentary soon switched when Van ‘t Kruis met Farid in the village. “It turned out that this man had kept a record of all FARC attacks and all data about the battles that Caldono had endured during the war. He is one of the few people who has a complete picture of what has happened and who has died.”
The community leader registered 308 armed attacks and more than 500 intimidations. “Farid is very warm-hearted towards his fellow villagers and the new generations, including his own grandchildren. For them he wanted to finish his book with a positive ending, so he started talking to guerrillas and victims and began to organize reconciliation meetings in the village. That’s when I knew: this is a very interesting person to follow.”
The result is a moving film, in which we meet the former rebels who are nervously and suspiciously waiting for the moment when they can leave the transition camp to enrol in the government’s reintegration program. Their perspectives are cleverly intertwined with Farid’s experiences and his interaction with the victims of Caldono.
Did making the documentary help you find the answers you were looking for?
“Well, of course my original idea was to show how the two guerrilla fighters that I portray in the film, would go back to Caldono, but it soon became clear that that’s not what the former rebels want at all. They feel completely uncomfortable in their village. There are soldiers standing on every street and people look at them like: ´hey, where did you show up from…? We haven’t seen you for ten years, so you must be one of them.´ That creates a very strange atmosphere. Nobody speaks about it, but you can clearly feel the intensity.”
The silence around the horrors of the war is characteristic. Although the armed conflict has affected the lives of many people (according to official figures the country has more than 8 million war victims, about 1 in 6 Colombians), it is striking how little it is being talked about. There are hardly any collective therapy programs for processing the traumas suffered, and few people seek individual counselling. Also, there is widespread distrust: you never know who you are dealing with and to which party in the conflict that person belonged. Most Colombians choose to remain silent without forgetting and continue with their lives as best as they can.
That’s why it is so unique that Van ‘t Kruis has succeeded in having us look over Farid’s shoulder during his emotional encounters with victims. Some of them tell him, with tears in their eyes, of how their sons, husbands and children’s fathers were murdered by the rebels. We feel a father’s despair as he recounts how his teenage daughter went off into the jungle with the guerrilla fighters and he didn´t see her back for fifteen years.
Van ‘t Kruis: “President Santos has received the Nobel Peace Prize and it is worthy of praise that the man entered into negotiations with the FARC, but well, one thing is drawing up a peace treaty on paper and another is the reality in a village like Caldono. Generations will have to pass before the end of the conflict is felt there too.”
One of the most impressive scenes in the documentary is the moment when we see Farid standing in front of a room where villagers and victims are meeting – many of the plastic seats are empty because far fewer people have turned up than he had hoped. Farid proudly tells them about the next meeting he has organized, when they will have the opportunity to embrace a guerrilla fighter as a gesture of reconciliation. Stern, serious faces look back at him, while others overwhelm him with objections. So much suffering, so much loss! How can he ask them to forgive? Silently shaking his head, Farid listens to them and his desperation is evident. These are the first cracks in his initial enthusiastic belief in the chance of reconciliation.
What do you think your film means to the people of Caldono?
“For the victims, talking to Farid about their experiences may have had a therapeutic effect. That said, I especially wanted to make the film to put someone like him in the spotlight, because Colombia really needs this kind of people. It is an uphill battle and he is under enormous pressure. The victims are not looking for someone who says, “come on, let’s forgive and extend our hand of friendship to them”, nor are the guerrillas looking to hear all the victim’s stories. At the same time, Farid has been threatened by paramilitaries and other armed groups, just like many other community leaders in the country. So, what he’s doing is very dangerous.”
Two years after the signing of the peace agreement, dozens of former FARC fighters have been murdered in unexplained circumstances, and the number of fatal attacks on community leaders has risen alarmingly: at the end of the film the death toll is 220. Things have become so dangerous for Farid that he doesn´t leave home at night anymore.
Your initial focus is on the international release of the film. Will your documentary also appear in Colombia?
“Yes, absolutely, that has always been one of my main goals. More importantly, I would really like the film to be shown here in places where ex-guerrillas and victims live. For me the local impact of the documentary is more important than it being seen everywhere. I am working to make sure that it will be screened in small villages which have been hit by the conflict and can stimulate a dialogue.”
For President Santos, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, at the time provided him with badly needed support to give the peace process some prestige amongst his countrymen who, filled with pain and hatred, were not interested in reconciliation at all. Perhaps the nomination and, who knows, winning the Activist Award at the Movies that Matter Festival might have a similar effect?
“I am very happy that Farid has been nominated and has been invited by the festival. I also think it is important as a signal to the people from his village and other Colombians. That man fought for reconciliation on his own and this is now being seen and recognized. He is not someone for giving up. The road to peace is still a very long one, but his grandchildren will someday think: ‘That’s what grandpa did, and we will carry on the work he started.’ A small seed has been planted and I think that’s very important.”
Unpaved road to peace (2019). Director Jaap van ‘t Kruis, producer DOXY. Spoken language: Spanish, with English subtitles.
Unpaved road to peace is one of eight documentaries that have been selected for the Activist Competition organized in collaboration with Amnesty International at the Movies that Matter Film festival.
An international jury will award the winning documentary with the Golden Butterfly Activist Documentary Award and €5000 during the Activist Night on Wednesday 27 March, The Award is aimed to stimulate the work of an activist.
Unpaved road to peace has also been selected as one of the top 5 public´s favourites at the Festival, in the BNNVARA-audience award competition.
The BNNVARA audience award and € 5.000 will be handed over to the winning documentary during Best of #MtMF19 on Saturday 30 March in Theater aan het Spui, The Hague.