One of the best parts of being a first time Sundance attendee is being able to see films that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to due to distribution, or in my case living in a city not known for its film scene. Birds of Passage directed by Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego is one such film. After premiering at Cannes, where Birds of Passage quickly garnered buzzed and then being selected as the Colombian entry for the best foreign film at the 91st Academy Awards, it was a no brainer that this was one of my most anticipated at Sundance.
Based on the true story of the rise of the Colombian drug cartel, and the tragic involvement of the indigenous people caught in the flames of greed, lust, and power. Birds of Passage will you leave emotionally raw due to the nature of the events depicted, yet appreciative of the message it teaches, and the way it captures the beautiful land of Colombia. Your heart aches throughout each chapter because you know the outcome for people involved in this dangerous trade.
The film starts at the origins of illegal drug trading in Colombia in the 60s spanning to the 80s told in five chapters: Wild Grass, The Graves, Prosperity, The War and Limbo. Similar to other crime dramas like City of God, The Godfather, and The Sopranos it centers on one family’s rise and fall throughout the decades, in particular, a Wayuu family.
Both directors being Colombian took incredible care to dissolve cliches and Hollywood stereotypes we have associated with the Colombian drug cartel. There is no true enemy or big bad boss in this film, just corruption, and greed plaguing the land like locust plague crops. In the Wayuu culture, they believe in the power of dreams, and omens. These dreams serve as foreshadowing throughout Birds of Passage as they often come to fruition. As the Wayuu people begin to stray away from their traditions and embrace their worldly desires, they begin to ignore the omens that warn them of having these desires. After the events have unfolded, the only things left to pass on the story of these people are the birds and the people who carry their blood throughout the generations.
This is what sets Birds of Passage apart from other crime films, as it serves as a history lesson and remembrance of a culture that should never be forgotten. We learn about the Wayuu’s sacred traditions, their crafts, and their way of life throughout the runtime of the film. It is a shame this film is being overlooked as it is one of the most important releases of the year, with visual storytelling that deserves to be seen on the big screen.