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La SierraReview - La Sierra
by Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez (Directors)
First Run Features, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Apr 10th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 15)

La Sierra is a documentary about the civil strife in Columbia.  It focuses on a barrio in the city of Medellin.  It starts out showing the body of a young man, lying by a river.  Then we see a young girl weeping for him.  The subtitles translate her words: "Why?  He was the rather of my children!  Why did they take him from me?"  The next scene shows an older man talking to an interviewer, from behind a window in a dark room.  We never find out who he is, but his comment sums up most of the film: "They're just kids.  We're in the hands of kids with guns."  He shrugs. 

The documentary focuses on three main characters.  Edison is 22 years old, and commands the paramilitary gang called the "Bloque Metro."  He has at least 6 children, by 6 different women.  The youngest mother that we meet is 14 years old.  His gang fights other paramilitary gangs as well as leftist guerillas and the police.  Just about every young man we see carries a handgun or a machine gun, often quite openly in the middle of the street in the daytime.  Edison knows very well that he is likely to be killed, but yet he talks about the responsibilities of his position caring for his barrio.  Cielo is 17 years old.  She has been a widow for two years; her husband was killed in the gang wars.  Her brother was killed in the fighting, and she has a boyfriend in jail.  She has a little boy from her dead husband.  She makes money by selling candy on buses, or just by begging, but she can hardly get by.  Many of her friends have turned to prostitution, but she does not want to do that.  Jesus is 19 years old: he lost his left hand when it got blown off when he was making a grenade.  He is in the "Bloque Metro."  He seems distracted and slow, but that may be because he is snorting cocaine nearly every time we see him.  The barrio of La Sierra is very poor: often we see people living ramshackle rooms that look abandoned.  If there is money being made from drugs, it is not going to the people who live in the barrio. 

It is amazing that these young people open up so much to the documentary makers, but still it is hard to understand how their lives have become so disastrous.  At the end of the credits, we are told "Permission and access necessary to film this project was granted by Doble Cero, the High Commander of the Bloque Metro."  It would be interesting to know the story about how this movie got made, but there are very few extras on the DVD, and there is no commentary track.  So viewers are left to make their own guesses.  The opinion of the man quoted at the start of the film seems right: these are young people who have taken on adult responsibilities of fighting for their neighborhood, relationships, sex, and babies.  We also get the sense that parents and families have no influence or control over them.  Although the political situation in Columbia is not explained in any detail, it seems that these young people are largely at the mercy of more powerful older people in government, running the gangs, and running the drug trade.  La Sierra is a shocking and depressing film, yet it is also compelling viewing. 

 

Links: First Run Features page

© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.

 


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