Our Song to War — Conversation with Juanita Onzaga

Gwynne Fulton
Our Song to War (2018) is Colombian-Belgian filmmaker Juanita Onzaga’s second short film. Drawing oneiric connections between land, memory, legacies of displacement, and death, Onzaga explores the darker side of magic realism in her hybrid documentary films. Our Song to War, which premiered at Cannes, is a ghost story that takes place in Bojayá, an Afro-descendent community in Colombia’s Chocó jungle. Women sing into the night to free the spirits of the dead; crocodile-men lurk beneath the water, lying in wait for the living; a mystical river remembers the May 2002 massacre that left seventy-nine dead. Invoking the lost spirits killed in the crossfire between FARC guerrillas and the state-sanctioned right-wing AUC paramilitary forces, Our Song offers a haunting and poetic vision of a town seeking peace in the wake of war.
I spoke with Onzaga in Bogotá, where she was developing her first feature film, The Landscapes That You Seek.

Gwynne Fulton Your film contests dominant visual narratives of the Colombian conflict. Historically, access to the conflict was limited to embedded reporting, resulting in a view framed by the state, from the perspective of the military. Attentive to discourses in contemporary art concerning resistance and memorialization, your work offers another narrative that reflects on our responsibility to the dead and to a past that is never past but is written into the fabric of the world through song and ritual gesture. Violence has left its spectral traces in the land and, in particular, the waters of the Atrato River, which witnessed one of the worst massacres of the conflict.

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This article also appears in the issue 96 - Conflict
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