Awhile back, I heard Joe Jones speak, and among other things, he said, “There’s something to be said for growing up in a space and a place where success looks like you.” And that’s something I think about all.the.time. Because I didn’t have that growing up. To a large degree, I still don’t get that even now– turns out there is not an abundance of Colombians running around Grand Rapids (though thanks to Laura and her Colombianitas WhatsApp group, I’ve got a few more in my life now).
Last night, I had the opportunity to go to the kickoff reception for the Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival. This year, the festival brought Catalina Mesa, the Colombian director of Jericó: El infinito vuelo de los días, which will screen on tonight, April 6 at 8pm. She spoke at the reception, and the part that really struck me was when she talked about what it means to have made a film that represents Colombia the way hers does. She talked about colors. How so much of Colombia is under a shadow, and how the world only sees that part of us– the dark, complicated part. She was quick to acknowledge the reality of that shadow, but it’s clear that the power in her work, and her passion for it, comes from showing the colorful parts of her Colombia, the women featured in her film and their stories, and how they are woven together to form a part of her memories of that space, and that place.
After the formal part of the program, everyone wandered off into small groups to chat, and this theme of representation continued to be present in the conversations that I was part of. One person talked about what it means to see Latin American films made for Latin American audiences, films that existed outside the gaze of mainstream U.S. culture. Films that were made by and for Latinos. #representationmatters
I’m lucky to have friends that, upon hearing how much I wanted to meet Ms. Mesa and knowing me well enough to know I’d probably just lurk for the rest of the night if left to my own devices, were willing to make their way toward her, little by little, and eventually just push us together with a 2 second introduction: “This is Erika, she’s Colombian, too.” Basically a nightmare for me, but it worked. I managed to pull myself together enough to introduce myself in Spanish, and thank her for what she’d said.
My friends rescued me after a minute or two, and we started this amazing conversation with her and a bit later with Gustavo Rondón, a Venezuelan director and editor of two other films in the festival. They talked about archetypes, and universal story lines, and I think MAYBE Ms. Mesa referenced a master class by Aaron Sorkin of all people (aka my dream). I was reminded of something I had read once about a woman who did counseling for refugees in camps, and how when she started she had been worried about what it would be like to hear such terrible stories. She said she was surprised that so many of them wanted only to talk about the person they had fallen in love with, and their relationships. Universal experiences.
Then Ms. Mesa used the word acá. In Colombia, they use acá for what most Spanish speakers in other places say aquí– here. Ven acá. Come here. I haven’t heard it used like that since I left Colombia almost two years ago. It was loud during the conversation, and I was having a hard time understanding parts of what was going on, and I didn’t chime in much because my Spanish is still so limited, but the whole experience, that moment in time… There’s something to be said for having a space and a place where success looks like you. Last night, that space and place was the GRLAFF kickoff at the Wealthy Theater. I’m so grateful.