La Sierra – DVD: Scott Dalton & Margarita Martinez

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Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the Miami Film Festival, this film finds itself dead center in a horribly bloody conflict in the barrios of Medellin, Colombia. Made in partnership with Human Rights Watch, it follows three young people from a barrio called La Sierra, which is occupied by a paramilitary force known as Bloque Metro, as they tell their stories from this urban guerrilla-war ravaged part of the world. One of them is 22-year old Edison, a young man whose life, like those of so many of his contemporaries, is already largely mapped out for him by the ultra-criminal/political forces around him. As Edison tells us his story, the prevailing sentiment is a despair of the completely lost, a soul who doesn’t have answers for what goes on around him.

The drug wars in Colombia have led to a bizarre situation in which there are several amorphous groups vying for political (drug) power in various regions of the country, including leftist guerrillas, para-military gangs of various types and the U.S.-sponsored Colombian military. It’s impossible to know who’s who upon first glance. The U.S.-backed drug eradication and interdiction efforts by the Colombian government have helped unleash a free-for-all of corruption and bloodshed. The explosion of the black market gangsterism we see today, where people are indiscriminately murdered for petty territorial politics, is one result of the astronomical profits culled from the drug trade.

The culture of drugs defines the social climate for the people of the barrio. When someone is murdered in the streets, people might stop to take note of whose body is lying dead, but children continue to play, dogs continue to run around, traffic continues to move. In one sequence two women are tending to a fresh corpse on the side of the road. They wipe the flies off of his face. Ultimately, ones comes away from the documentary a little sicker for knowing this horror is a daily reality for a part of the world about which we can do nothing, despite the fact that our government bears an enormous responsibility for this state of affairs. Welcome to the real world.