To roll the odyssey of Fitzcarraldo (1982), in which an Irishman obsessed with opera insists on building a theater in the middle of the jungle, director Werner Herzog faced as many or more vicissitudes in the Peruvian Amazon than his protagonist. Something similar happened to Simón Uribe, Colombian filmmaker and geographer, when he began recording in 2013 in the jungles of the south of his country, in the Amazonian foothills, the documentary Suspension. In it, he observes the realities around a gigantic, abandoned, half-built concrete bridge.
The original intention of this ambitious infrastructure was to connect San Francisco and Mocoa by road, in lower Putumayo, to give an economic boost to the region and replace the precarious road that runs through the area. For generations, politicians and engineers have tried to dominate an area of complex orography and enormous biodiversity. It has also been the desire of evangelizers. The Capuchin friars of Barcelona promoted the creation of the current and dangerous roads in the area, to promote “the civilization of the savages”. This is how Uribe cites in the doctoral research he wrote about “a practically vertical landscape, difficult to narrate in words.” That is why he decided to make it his first feature film, told this time from the point of view of those who live around this paradox of iron and stone.
The bridge attempt continues, years later, halfway, leading the way to nowhere and turned into a curiosity to entertain tourists. Public funding has long since dried up in the face of mountain resistance. In that part of the world, nature has imposed itself on human will. To record all the metaphors that this unfinished creation awakens, the film crew faced the same uncertainty as the locals. “There is always something of an odyssey in a shoot. And even more when it comes to the documentary genre, where there is no closed script like in fiction ”, Uribe admits on the other side of the screen in a Zoom conversation, while his film is projected on the London Open City Documentary Film Festival. The film, which is also competing for a prize this October 4 at the Biarritz Latin America Film Festival, shares part of its theme with Herzog’s classic. Specifically, “that human obsession to conquer the jungle” and, to a lesser extent, the specter of colonialism.
Simón Uribe, during the filming of Suspension. / Sebastian Bright
To address the audiovisual version of his research, the director surrounded himself with a versatile group of producers and technicians who, in addition to experience in cinema, have training in fields such as anthropology, sociology and geography. It was a way of ensuring poetics without renouncing the veracity of what was previously an academic document. “We wanted to give nature a different place in the narrative and convey another way of understanding it than the one usually seen in the cinema, where it often appears in the background, as a mere aesthetic incentive,” explains the Colombian. “It is one of the areas where it rains the most in the world. The Amazonian winds collide with the mountains. There are constant landslides on the old roads and a very special haze is generated. Humans are very small compared to the landscape; its presence is ephemeral before the imposing nature ”.
So much so that, years after filming ended, the bridge began to be engulfed by the jungle. “In a certain way, that human creation will return to its natural state, since cement continues to be the stone of rivers”, reflects the filmmaker.
The violence of colonization and usurpation of the lands that belonged to indigenous communities only appears as a secondary theme in the film. “It is an issue that is part of the history of Colombia and that is why it has often been told in the cinema. It was more interesting for us to focus on that part of the violence that is structural and, therefore, invisible. There is a moment in the documentary in which it is said that the presence of that highway is more aggressive for this part of the world than that of the FARC, ”he says in reference. to the guerrillas that have forcibly controlled part of the Colombian jungle for decades.
The possible restart of the works that the Colombian Government has come to announce concerns conservationists and indigenous leaders. The most optimistic estimates do not see the bridge completed before 2030. For the director of Suspension, the future of the road remains very uncertain. “That this project is always under construction favors politicians, because they make it an eternal electoral promise. They see it as an opportunity to engage in the politics of illusion. Surely another section will be made and it will be abandoned again ”, he says.
An instant of Suspension.
Nature is imposed on human will in this region of the world.