Sitting here in Toronto it’s easy to forget that there are people in other parts of the world who are living in unimaginable circumstances, fighting for their safety, lives, families and livelihood everyday. At the end of 2009, it was estimated by the UN that there were 4.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Columbia, all of whom had been violently removed from their land, losing their homes, husbands, wives, children and jobs. The Land Left Behind is a documentary the follows a number of such IDPs through their struggles to regain some semblance of normalcy in their lives, and it serves as a potent reminder that the world is larger than what we can see everyday.
The Land Left Behind is an observation-style doc that follows the everyday lives of Teodoro, Solangel and Ruben, now living in Bogota after being violently removed from their land in the country by guerrillas. It is a very simple film, in that it doesn’t go to great lengths to explain the entire situation, beginning to end. There are no graphics or history lessons. In fact, the stories of these three people are not even introduced with the standard “overview”-type histories many documentaries employ. Instead, the film is quiet and contemplative one, taking its time to tell the stories as though you were actually participating in the daily lives of these subjects, finding out the very important details as you go, much like getting to know a new person in your life. Using this device the film begins by plunking the viewer into a situation they likely know little to nothing about, but leaving them feeling intimately connected to both the country of Columbia, as well as these three displaced persons and their families.
[quote_left]…when I realized that I saw the film’s subjects as people, not as objects, I understood the power of this decision on the part of director Juan Camilo Sarmiento[/quote_left]The thing I found most refreshing about this film is that it never veers into the territory of making you feel intentionally sorry for the people on the screen, which is incredible considering the immense amount of pain they have all lived through. I didn’t consciously recognize this during my viewing, but after when I realized that I saw the film’s subjects as people, not as objects, I understood the power of this decision on the part of director Juan Camilo Sarmiento. I felt that this was a sign of great respect for his subjects, something I don’t often feel from documentarians. To see the subject of your documentary as a human being, and to let them tell their story in the way that best suits them is a very powerful way to connect people all over the world to a horrifying set of circumstances.
This is a documentary I would recommend to anyone. It has no shock tactics, no hyped-up betrayals of the audience’s trust. It simply puts a beautiful and haunting face on something that generally goes undiscussed. I won’t pretend that there aren’t sections that are difficult to watch — no film on this topic should be an easy viewing — but it presents its gruesome subject matter in a way that shows you the people of Columbia and their connection to their land. And then it connects you to them, wherever you are, reminding us that we’re all human and we all deserve the right to dignity.
The Land Left Behind is screening tonight at the opening of the aluCine Latin Film and Media Arts Festival. You should absolutely run and see it.