In the spotlight:

Iván Guarnizo &

Jorge Caballero

"This is a film to create collective catharsis”

Film still: On the Other Side, dir. Iván Guarnizo

Holding Space for the Other Side

On the Other Side is a deeply personal journey, one about healing and reconciliation. The film director Iván Guarnizo and his brother Papeto set themselves on the path to find the ex-FARC guerrilla who captured their mother years ago. During this truth-seeking trip through the jungle, Iván courageously turns the camera inward and shares his own doubts, hopes, and fears.

Before her death, Beatriz Echeverry told Iván she had forgiven Güérima, the man who held her in captivity for 603 days. He came to understand that his mother did not solely hate Güérima, her feelings towards him were ambiguous, even affectionate at times. This contradiction symbolizes the complexity and uniqueness of Iván’s family story, and of reconciliation processes. On the Other Side was recently released in Colombia, where it created an unprecedented space for dialogue. The film was screened in more than 25 cinemas and in many cultural venues across the country, with an audience of more than 7,500 and is still touring to this day. The premiere took place at the Medellin Museum of Modern Art, a special venue away from the capital, purposely chosen by Iván and producer Jorge Caballero who wished to go beyond the usual path. Their distribution approach was clear from the beginning: Jorge and Iván placed significant importance on screening the film in a variety of venues and locations to reach a broad audience, who sometimes have opposing opinions about the Colombian peace process.

To this goal, they organized screenings in small regional festivals located in areas where people were particularly impacted by the war and in “places that don't usually get reach by cinema," says Jorge.

Ranging from a film festival in Bogota's Ciudad Bolivar attended by many refugees, to screenings in Colombia's most commercial cinema, Jorge and Iván encouraged diverse audiences not only to see the film, but to discuss it with each other afterwards.

“Most of the people were surprised by the possibility of dialogue,” says Iván. His raw and sincere storytelling left no one untouched. By opening his wounds and his past, he inspired other people to do the same—right after the screenings, or later with their own families. Everywhere, Jorge and Iván witnessed the same questions, realizations, and intensity: “90% of the time, the first intervention is: I have this experience in my family and this is the first time I am thinking of talking to them about it.". One after the other, the screenings allowed more unresolved and buried personal stories to be told. "The collective experience within a theater, along with other people, is powerful,” explains Iván. "This is a film intended to create a catharsis. The physical experience is very important.”

Film still: On the Other Side, dir. Iván Guarnizo

Cinema transformed into unique spaces for reconciliation and dialogue. At times former combatants and their victims sat together in the same screening rooms. After seeing the film, redemption moments happened. Ivan remembers one of his cousins who was abducted 20 years ago, “Güérima and him started talking, and at the end of it they hugged." One of his aunts who still had a lot of resentment for Güérima, “she told him after the film, ‘I wanted to kill you, now I forgive you,’” Iván recounts. Iván realized that he is not alone in his suffering: “When you start to socialize your pain and your concerns, you feel there's a community that can understand you. I first felt it with my family only, and now I feel it with Colombians.” That is the force of On the Other Side in the Colombian context—the film’s ability to shake people out of their individual sufferings and create a safe space for dialogue. By the end of the film, when they finally meet with Güérima, a hopeful feeling remains—people do change. “Things are not black and white,” says Iván. Iván and Jorge realized that their documentary film can really shift perspectives, and that its potential for positive transformation needed to be taken further and shared widely. They saw limitations in the current matrix used for distribution, mostly based on numbers. “Beyond selling film tickets and awards—we can prove that this film can change society,” explains Jorge. Together with researchers and psychologists, they put together a behavioural impact evaluation around the ambitious question: Can a documentary help build peace? As part of the 5-year commemoration of the signing of the peace process, and inspired by the advances in the field of peace science, the production company GusanoFilms teamed up with two behavioural scientists to carry out a social experiment that sought to explore how On the Other Side can help foster support for peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness among Colombians. This innovative study created a new methodology to evaluate the social impact of documentary films.

The results are encouraging, to say the least. Amongst other conclusions, they found out that “people exposed to the documentary film seem to report a more positive response than they were before in terms of prosociality and support for peace. It also increases the perception that ex-combatants have the capacity to change, coexist peacefully, and respect the law". On the Other Side’s journey is far from over, as Iván and Jorge continue developing a new kind of distribution model based on dialogue and collaboration. Today, they wish to inspire other filmmakers and institutions around the world, who are interested in embracing this new framework. “A window of unique opportunity opens to try new remedies to heal, accelerate, and ensure the achievement of peace. One of those innovations lies in the collaboration between artists and scientists to explore complementary mechanisms to transform minds, hearts, and behaviours,” the study explains. On the Other Side has since been released in Spain, where Iván and his brother are joined in cinemas by family members as well as Güérima. The conversation continues, in a different country with a different national history but most certainly with similar unique resonance.

By Juliette Garms

Film still: On the Other Side, dir. Iván Guarnizo