‘Birds of Passage’ an epic Colombian movie at Film Forum

‘Birds of Passage’ (Pájaros de verano) is Ciro Guerra & Cristina Gallego’s epic 2018 crime drama set among the Indigenous Wayuu communities of northern Colombia.

This is another Colombian narco movie about the drug trade that took over New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Colombia in the 1970s, but ‘Birds of Passage’ puts a different spin on a very big and complex story.

“Like an indigenous The Godfather” (The Hollywood Reporter), ‘Birds of Passage’ follows the emergence of the drug trade from the perspective of the narcotic-harvesting tribes of the Colombian Guajira desert.

As American demand for marijuana grows in the 1970s, a cash bonanza hits Colombia, quickly turning farmers into hard-nosed businessmen. A Wayuu family discovers the perks of wealth and power, plus the dangers inherent in mixing greed, passion, and honor. A drug-trade fratricidal war puts at risk the family’s new-found status, ancestral traditions, and their very lives.

As with all narco popular culture, it has to be said that the root of the problem is American demand for drugs. As long as that exists, the cleverest among us will fill the demand. We like to blame “them” for being bad guys. That’s human nature, but the blame is actually on us.

Wayuu People

The Wayuu are an indigenous people of the Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia. It’s a desert region that straddles the  border of Colombia and Venezuela on the Caribbean.

The Wayuu are the largest Indigenous group in Colombia, representing about one fifth of the population of today’s Indigenous Colombians. They a proud people who were never subjugated by the Spanish.

Wayuu are known for their weaving. Their hammocks and mochilas (bags) are popular with both Colombians and tourists.

One of the striking things about Wayuu design is how at first glance it looks like Indian fashion from India. Seeing a Wayuu group in the distance, you might think an Indian community was transplanted to Caribbean Colombia, but they have their own style. It’s interesting how the human nervous system, which we all share, spontaneously generates similar images across time and place.

Today the community struggles with access to clean water.

Ciro Guerra

Director Ciro Guerra first rose to prominence with ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ (2015), the story of an Amazonian tribe’s search for a healing plant. It was the first Colombian film to be nominated for an Academy Award.

‘Birds of Passage’

Torn between his desire to become a powerful man and his duty to uphold his culture’s values, Rapayet (José Acosta) enters the drug trafficking business in the 1970s and finds quick success despite his tribe’s matriarch Ursula’s (Carmiña Martínez) disapproval.

Ignoring ancient omens, Rapayet and his family get caught up in a conflict where honor is the highest currency and debts are paid with blood. A sprawling epic about the erosion of tradition in pursuit of material wealth, ‘Birds of Passage’ is a visually striking exploration of loyalty, greed, and the voracious nature of change.

The story is based on an idea by director Cristina Gallego. The screenplay was written by Maria Camila Arias and Jacques Toulemonde Vidal.

Film Festivals

‘Birds of Passage’ premiered at Cannes where it was the opening night selection in the Director’s Fortnight program.

It was Colombia’s 2019 Oscars entry for “Best Foreign Language Film.” It got as far as the Oscars short list.

‘Birds of Passage’ Tickets

Tickets are available at the Film Forum Box Office or online at filmforum.org

From $9

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