The origins of the Colombian drug trade, as seen through the eyes of an indigenous family from the matrilineal Wayúu tribe, residing in the remote northern desert region of Guajira, who become involved in the booming business of selling marijuana to American youth in the 1970s. Birds of Passage embraces the Wayúu language, traditions, rituals and codes and unflinchingly confronts the challenges they face today.
This unique tale charting the rise of the Colombian drugs trade is told from the perspective of the Wayuu people, a series of clans in close association living on the desert-like Guajira peninsula in northern Colombia. While traditionally the Wayuu tended goats and raised cattle, they also learnt to use guns and horses to repel outsiders such as the colonising Spanish; who called them “barbarians and horse thieves”, but feared them.
Maternal authority is strong among the Wayuu; girls go through a long period of seclusion around puberty for instruction on life skills. The film begins in the late 1960s with Zaida (Natalia Reyes), daughter of the formidable Ursula (Carmina Martinez), emerging from her year of seclusion.
Co-directors Ciro Guerra (who made Embrace of the Serpent, also screened by WFC) and Cristina Gallego (whose original idea formed the basis of the screenplay) were committed to working collaboratively with the Wayuu, rather than exploiting their story; they were the first to see the completed film and most of the actors are Wayuu people, speaking their own language.
The film is based on extensive research – e.g. the changes depicted in the family’s style of housing are authentic. Look out for the birds who appear throughout; these have symbolic meanings for the Wayuu and they herald the story told in the film’s five acts.
‘part ethnographic documentary, part The Godfather … The movie is a knockout.‘ David Edelstein, Vulture