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La Sierra

La Sierra

Best Documentary Nominee!
2006 Independent Spirit Awards

During the last decade over 35,000 people have been killed in Colombia's civil war, a now 40-year-old conflict that has moved from the nation's jungles to its cities, where left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries combat each other and government forces. Today urban gangs allied with either side are engaged in a war for the control of neighborhood slums, with adjoining barrios pitted against one another, and the civilian populace caught in the middle. As a resident of one such Medellin barrio, La Sierra, explains, the neighborhood is "in the hands of kids with guns."

The winner of Best Documentary at the 2004 IFP Market and the Grand Jury Award at the 2005 Miami Film Festival, LA SIERRA traces a year in the life of three young people in a Medellín barrio: Edison, the charismatic gang leader and playboy who has fathered six children with six different women; Cielo, a widowed mother with a paramilitary boyfriend in jail, as she struggles to avoid becoming a prostitute; and Jesús, a young gangster whose readiness for death fuses with his indulgence in drugs.

Produced by Colombia-based photojournalist Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez, an A.P. reporter based in Bogota, the film contrasts frightening scenes of armed street battles with quiet scenes of domestic life, and the everyday culture of guns and drugs with vibrant scenes of the community. LA SIERRA is thus an intimate, emotionally powerful look at life in this impoverished and violent hillside community that few journalists dare to enter. While the film's semi-anthropological approach avoids any editorializing or moralizing about the lives of its protagonists, LA SIERRA nevertheless succeeds in revealing their dangerous activities as motivated less by political ideology than as a means to social prestige, power and relative wealth.

Since the filmmakers were able to gain the confidence of their subjects, LA SIERRA features unusually revealing interviews with Edison, Cielo and Jesús about their views of the conflict, their family lives and relationships, and their dreams, for themselves and for their children, about escaping the cycle of violence and poverty.

LA SIERRA records the profound changes that the protagonists, and the barrio itself, underwent during the year, including peace, love, hope, victory, despair, heartbreak, and death. This unusual documentary offers us the rare opportunity to experience from within a conflict most often characterized by statements from government leaders in remote capitals, and to better understand the violence that holds the community in fear as well as the human tenderness and faith that enables it to survive.

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