More than 30,000 people have been killed over the last ten years in Colombia’s bloody civil conflict, in which left-wing guerillas fight against the government and illegal right-wing paramilitary groups. Recently, as guerillas and paramilitaries sought to control marginal city neighborhoods, urban gangs aligned themselves with each side. In this way, the national conflict was translated into a brutal turf war that pitted adjacent barrios against each other. The documentary La Sierra explores life over the course of a year in one such barrio (La Sierra, in Medellin), through the prism of three young lives

Edison, aka “The Doll,” is a paramilitary commander in La Sierra. At the age of 22, he is also the de facto mayor of the neighborhood and a playboy who has fathered six children by six different women. Openly dedicated to and excited by his life of violence, he is also an intelligent and charismatic young man. As we follow him through the armed conflict, its victories and setbacks, he shares his dreams for himself and his children, and explains his attachment to what he calls “my war.” We follow his life up to the moment he is gunned down in the street, and then witness his family’s suffering and faith in the face of tragedy.

Cielo, age 17, was displaced from the countryside in sixth grade, when her brother and father were murdered by guerillas. A mother at the age of 15, she was widowed when the father of her son (a gang member) was killed. Now Cielo is devoted to a new boyfriend, a paramilitary, who she visits in jail every Sunday. With little or no money to her name, Cielo goes downtown to beg and sell candies on the buses, resisting her friend’s suggestion of prostitution. After her rocky relationship with her boyfriend unravels, Cielo finally gives in and takes a job in Medellin’s red light district.

Jesus, 19, is a mid-level paramilitary member. Badly wounded when a homemade grenade blew up in his hands and face, Jesus presents himself as ready for death at any moment and hoping for little more than the opportunity to continue indulging his taste for marijuana and cocaine. But as the war in La Sierra comes to a end, and the paramilitaries begin a government-sponsored disarmament process, Jesus dreams of beginning a life without war.

La Sierra is an intimate, unflinching portrait of three lives defined by violence, and a community wracked by conflict. Over the course of a year these lives, and the life of the barrio itself, each undergo profound changes, experiencing victory, despair, defeat, death, love, and hope. In a place where journalists are seldom allowed, Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez spent a year filming, interviewing, and building trust. The result is a frank portrayal that not only includes startling scenes of graphic violence and its aftermath, but also reveals intimate moments of love and tenderness, and shows the everyday life that manages to coexist with conflict.

 

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