To bring peace to the living, you must remember the dead.
Interview with Director Oisín Kearney
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
As a filmmaker, I am drawn to exploring identity and the causes of war. I grew up in Northern Ireland, which was engulfed by conflict for forty years in the late twentieth century. I was eight years old when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, a peace deal that brought an end to the conflict. Like many of my contemporaries, I was a child of this peace process.
Twenty years later, I was working as an Associate Producer on a documentary in Cuba and I was in Havana, as the Colombian peace talks began. I learned that the Colombian Government was upholding the peace process in Northern Ireland as a model for peace. This fascinated me, as I had seen the successes of the Irish peace process, whilst also observing the failures and pitfalls that have sustained institutional violence and poverty in working-class communities.
I have always had a fascination with Colombia and its conflict, mainly because I saw parallels with what had happened in my own country. There were guerrilla armies, paramilitaries, state terror, victims, and intractable conflict due to the exclusion and alienation of people from power. And like Colombia, Ireland had seen its fair share of atrocities. As I observed the celebration of the Colombian peace deal in late 2016, I saw how the government lauded the victims of the conflict.
A group of women known as the Alabadoras sang hymns of peace. And when President Manuel Santos accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2016, he dedicated the award to victims, specifically pointing out a man called Leyner Palacios. Leyner had lost 32 relatives in the massacre of Bojayá in 2002. And he had forgiven the killers. I was shocked to hear this; 32 relatives lost in one attack? I began researching Leyner and the massacre of Bojayá. I was horrified to learn how over 79 people perished (as many as 119 according to some early reports) when the FARC launched a bomb at a church where innocent men, women and children were hiding. I was reminded of the Omagh Bomb of 1998, perpetrated by the ‘Real IRA’, in which 29 innocent people lost their lives on the streets of Northern Ireland. I wanted to know how such a massive atrocity could be allowed to happen.
From the beginning, I was very conscious that I was not Colombian. I was not Latino. I am a white European from Ireland. I did not know the complexities of Colombian politics and of its conflict mired with blood and bullets and drugs. I approached this film, not to impose my views or experiences, but rather to ask the victims of the massacre of Bojayá: what happened, and how? Once I met Leyner and the victims who had lost their family members in the massacre, I knew that the importance of the film would be in its recording their pain for posterity. I was not there to extract a story, but rather to be a witness to what they had to say and how they live their lives with that traumatic memory. This is a story told from the point of view of the victims. The film is a megaphone for the voice of the victims through Leyner Palacios, weaving together victim testimony with heartbreaking archive and following current developments with the exhumations of the deceased in Bojayá.
BOJAYÁ: Caught In The Crossfire is a film about the importance of memory and healing. It is a film that seeks to unpick the cause of the massacre and explore how such an atrocity can be used to sustain war. It is a film about what it means to be a victim – and how that should be a term not to denote weakness, but strength. It is a film about how the root causes of conflict, if not addressed, will inevitably lead to the repetition of violence. As Leyner says in the film: “Colombia is cyclical. The cycle of violence needs to broken – and the only way to do that is to remember the past.”
Unfortunately, the memory of Bojayá is under threat. In mid-February 2019, Leyner announced that the communities of Bojayá were forced to withdraw from the memory exercise after Darío Acevedo was appointed by the government to oversee the National Center of Historical Memory. Leyner believes the new Duque government has turned back the clock by 10 years to an era of denial, and that Mr Acevedo does not understand the armed conflict and even denies its causes. Leyner sees this as “a dispute on the part of the Government to obscure the truth and the memory of what happened here.”
If Bojayá is not remembered, the victims will not receive the adequate reparations, such as exhumations and return of the bodies of their loved ones, and this further creates the conditions of the repetition of violence. Leyner and the victims of Bojayá have lived the reality, know the impact of it, and ultimately; foresee the consequences of erasing memory. I hope this film can contribute to the memory of Bojayá in Colombia and worldwide. I hope this film can help the victims to be heard and, in some small way, contribute to the cessation of conflict in Colombia and around the world. The cycle of violence will continue unless we break it.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
This is a film about humanity struggling against the odds. It's about conflict.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
We look at the universal themes of conflict and trauma through one individual, so through the personal experience, we understand the universal issues of how to bring peace.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The feedback has been very positive. Audiences have recognised that it is a very important film with a powerful central character.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I want more people to learn about the people of Bojayá so that another massacre is not allowed to happen.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We would like to show the film at as many festivals as possible. We have KEW MEDIA GROUP as our North American distributors. So we are looking for distributors and buyers in other territories around the world.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I would like it to be received as it is - a stark truth. It is about the difficulty of struggling for peace, and we need to realise this and keep pushing forward.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Can peace be achieved overnight? Can we actually stop the conflict, or does it have to keep coming back?
Interview: May 2019
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BOJAYÁ: Caught In The Crossfire
To bring peace to the living, you must remember the dead.
Director: Oisín Kearney
Producer: Trevor Birney
Writer: Oisín Kearney
About the writer, director and producer:
OISIN KEARNEY is a self-shooting director. After studying Politics at the University of Cambridge. Oisín has worked as Associate Producer on Oscar long-listed and Emmy-nominated Elián, and Irish box-office smashing 66 Days. He has also worked with Oscar-winning director and Executive Producer Alex Gibney and BAFTA-winning cinematographer Marcus Robinson. This is Kearney’s debut feature film as director.
TREVOR BIRNEY is an award-winning producer, director, journalist and founder of Emmy-nominated studio, Fine Point Films. Trevor’s production slate includes: producer of WGA nominated No Stone Unturned directed by Academy Award-winning Alex Gibney, Emmy nominated Elián directed by Ross McDonnell and Tim Golden for CNN Films, Bobby Sands: 66 Days directed by Brendan J. Byrne which broke Irish box office records, Netflix Originals Mercury 13 directed by Heather Walsh and David Singleton, and Gaza, which premiered at Sundance in 2019 and competed in the World Documentary competition.
Key cast: Leyner Palacios
Looking for: buyers, film festival directors, sales agents
Facebook: Bojayá: Caught In The Crossfire
Hashtags used: #BojayaFilm
Funders: KEW MEDIA GROUP, Northern Ireland Screen, Screen Ireland