DER Documentary

Misa Colombiana


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by Anne Fischel and Glenn McNatt
black and white, 20 min, 1977




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At the turn of this century, only four Latin American countries had ten percent of their population living in cities of more than 20,000 people. Fifty years later, one quarter of the total Latin American population lived in cities, and in the second half of this century the urban population has continued to grow rapidly. Population pressure, shortage of agricultural land, and the lure of prosperity in the cities have combined to create ongoing, large-scale rural to urban migration in Latin America and throughout the developing world. But the cities of Latin America, as elsewhere, have been unable to provide employment or even shelter for the streams of migrants who come, seeking jobs, education, and better lives for themselves and their children.

Medellin, Colombia, is an industrial city with a population of more than a million people, of whom many are migrants from the surrounding countryside. Lacking education or industrial skills, the migrants are often unable to find sufficient work to feed, clothe, and shelter their families. Forced to the outskirts and abandoned lands within the city, they have instead created squatter settlements, shacks of tin and paper, without access to electricity, running water, or sanitary facilities. In Medellin today, there are over ninety of these squatter settlements, or tugurios.

Misa Colombiana was filmed in 1976 in a tugurio community at the edge of Medellin's municipal dump, the Basura. Most of the 370 tuguriano families depend on the dump for sustenance. Working daily in the dump, people glean the "leftovers of the rich:" paper, glass, and metal which are recycled to the city's factories; discarded clothing; firewood; and food. The film focuses on one woman, Doña Tulia, and on the commitment of a dissident priest who works with the tugurianos. In a Mass delivered by the priest, he pleads: "How can there be love in Colombia when we know that 100 children die daily of hunger, when over 100,000 of our brothers and sisters live in tugurios?" In 1980, four years after Misa Colombiana was filmed, Father Vicente Mejia, a priest who had worked closely with the priest shown in the film, was arrested, tortured, and killed in a Colombian jail.


Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Grierson Award, Honorable Mention
Red Ribbon, American Film festival



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