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  • Writer's pictureeclectic Stefan

Birds of Passage:"If there's family, there's honour"

Storytelling is a human tradition that goes back to the days of cave dwellers. The earliest stories were transmitted by singers and the spoken word. Birds of Passage, a tale of customs, traditions and rituals that are lost when the pursuit of money overtakes traditional life in Colombia, is told as a song cycle. A singer of songs evokes memories and ghosts of tales that are fading from peoples' memories.

The Wayuu clan lives a subsistence existence in the barren lands of Guarija, North Colombia. They trade goats, cattle and coffee as a means to acquire money to support their families.

In the words of Ursula (Carmiña Martínez), the clan's matriarch and spiritual protector, family is everything. Her strength comes not from her command of the talisman that protects her family but from her determination and ability to do anything to preserve her people.

Strength, honour, respect and truth are values interconnected by "The Word". The Word is not a divine proclamation; it is the words that express their traditions and rituals and keep them connected with the memories of people and events from their past.

The clans use nominated Word Messengers as intermediaries during negotiations. These messengers are beyond reproach. No-one is allowed to touch or harm them.

Ursula's daughter, Zaida (Natalia Reyes), marries an ambitious young man, Rapayet (José Acosta), despite Ursula's misgivings about his status, adherence to customs and intentions. A chance meeting with a group of Peace Corps workers leads Rapayet, along with his fiery friend Moises and cousin Aníbal, to swap coffee trading for marijuana.

An increased demand for drugs leads to large scale drug deals, and the beginnings of the Colombian drug trade. The families are caught in the acquisition of wealth that threatens their cultural bonds. Ursula embraces Rapayet's drug business while upholding her people’s customs until her talisman informs her that the wealth and riches that come with dealing drugs will come at the expense of her cherished traditions and cultural values.

The clan loses their spiritual centre and spiral out of control in a war ignited by greed and a clash between the tight-knit family and the world outside the clan. The nexus is broken.

Natalia Reyes as Zaida in Birds of Passage, where the beginnings of the Colombian drug trade disrupt a centuries-old culture.

The clan enters a new frontier. Once they cross over into the unknown territory of money and guns, their traditional ways are decimated. Ursula's dilemma is clear. How does she accept the European 'alijuntas' while maintaining her ancestral ways?

And that's where the magic of contemporary storytelling jumps in. Filmmakers Cia Guerrero and Cristina Gallego bring us a film full of dreams, memories and myths.

Birds of Passage is not a drug film. It is about family, customs, traditions and culture. And contradictions created by corruption that is fuelled by enormous wealth for the benefit of family.

Don’t get me wrong. Birds of Passage is seeped in the drug trade yet soars above it to establish the importance of traditions and cultural practices. The emergence of Colombia’s drug trade is the instrument that unravels traditions and meaningful interactions with the past. The value of drugs and money corrupts their true cultural identity.

Official Trailer Birds of Passage

You can pull apart critically the components that make up Birds of Passage but the true genius of the film is how the directors have blended all these elements to produce a seamlessly unified film.

From its structure set in the tradition of song cycles to its depictions of cultural memories, Birds of Passage is outstanding.

"I rate Birds of Passage as one of the best films I have seen…ever" ~ Eclectic Stefan

Birds of Passage (Colombia 2019) WATCH: Rent/Buy Birds of Passage AWARDS: Birds of Passage List of Awards The Oscars are among the most prominent film awards, but the Oscars is not the only prestigious award. Although it was nominated as Colombia's official entry, Birds of Passage didn't make the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards. However, Birds of Passage has won numerous awards. And regardless of it's awards, the film stands on it's own as a superb piece of storytelling, myth-making and cinema.


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