Credit: DOC NYC
by Daniel Gorman Featured Film

Our Movie — Diana Bustamante [DOC NYC ’22 Review]

November 18, 2022

Diana Bustamante’s Our Movie casts a peculiar spell; an essayistic documentary of sorts, it’s constructed entirely out of archival Columbian broadcast news footage from (roughly) 1988 to the early 1990s, tracing several years of massive social upheaval as a wave of extreme violence grips the country. There are cartel massacres, political assassinations, and sectarian killings, all processed through fuzzy, decades-old images from cathode ray tube TVs. As an act of collective remembrance, Our Movie is opaque yet instructive, somehow simultaneously specific and opaque. In an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, Bustamante references trauma but also traza (memory) — she states that “the film is full of ghosts.” As a repository of a kind of cultural memory, what better medium than TV? 

Bustamante organizes the reams of footage at her disposal into various sections; the film begins with the kidnapping and killing of Inspector General Carlos Mauro Hoyos Jiménez, then segues into the assassination of presidential candidate and staunch cartel enemy Luis Carlos Galán, before then moving on to the assassination of another presidential candidate, Carlos Pizarro Leongómez, in 1990 (at least one of these events has been dramatized in an episode of Netflix’s cops vs. drug dealers show Narcos, albeit to drastically different effect). Between these peaks are a series of smaller movements, where Bustamante emphasizes a series of repeating images that testify to the sheer numbers of killings happening during this time. There’s a long montage of coffins lined up at funeral homes and cemeteries, each one an ornate tomb containing an extinguished human life. She occasionally singles out eerie, almost abstract items, little totems left behind like shoes or other personal items. One particularly distressing sequence simply edits together various crime scenes awash in blood, be it smeared on walls, pooled on the ground, or in long streaks where bodies were obviously dragged away. 

This is all viscerally disturbing stuff, a sensation only accentuated by the matter-of-fact delivery of nightly news anchors. It’s remarkable to witness how little the formal attributes of the network news broadcast have changed over the years. Minus a few hairstyles and the glitchy, pixelated quality of old video cameras, this could all be taking place on TV tonight, as we speak. Bustamante also exerts her authorship in interesting ways, occasionally showing the same scenes from different angles (she obviously gained access to different takes from the same broadcasts) and repeating key images in stuttering patterns. It’s a useful reminder of the hands of the artist at work, even when dealing with footage that hasn’t originated from them. 

Conceptually, the film separates itself from similar-ish works by Sergei Loznitsa and Adam Curtis through its tunnel-like insistence on documenting a fairly narrow period of time; this isn’t a survey of an entire decade nor a specific community, but instead a mass exorcism of sorts. In fact, it’s not dissimilar to Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, specifically Book 4, titled “The Part About the Crimes.” There, Bolaño attempts to impart an identity to the hundreds of women killed at the U.S./Mexico border by creating brief, imagined biographies of each one and, most importantly, naming them. Bustamante does something similar, albeit in an admittedly different way. But in sharing her attempt to organize and process her own memories of this time period, she’s also demanding that her audience feel the sheer weight of all this death and violence. As she says in the same Filmmaker interview, “I am interested in digging into the deepest meaning of the images, to remind us that this happened to us, as a generation and a people, and that we have lived for years insensitive to pain, after a long hyper-exposure to violence that makes those images lose their meaning to us.” That interest is evident in Our Movie, and Bustamante’s skill in executing her vision results in a truly remarkable film.

Published as part of DOC NYC 2022 — Dispatch 2.