For a crash course in the struggles taking place in present-day Colombia, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better primer than Jorge Cadena’s Flores del Otro Patio. Cadena’s film highlights the justice fought for by activists on the margins of Colombian society – Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and LGBTQ+ people – and won the International Audience Award at last month’s Glasgow Short Film Festival.
The film follows a group of queer activists – friends, lovers, comrades – in the Colombian Caribbean. Snippets of news broadcasts punctuate the film and place its characters in the crosshairs of overlapping crises; coastal infrastructure will buckle during the rainy season, indigenous community leaders are being murdered, and a coal mining company is looking to alter the course of the Ranchería river.
The Cerrejón coal mine in La Guajira has long been a site of unrest due to its human and environmental costs. Its expansion has polluted waters, contaminated soil, and displaced primarily Black and indigenous people. Members of the indigenous Wayuu community, who’ve lived beside the Ranchería since ancient times, are organising a protest against the company’s plans.
Cadena’s film is flush with coastal vernacular, rhythms and customs. Even the title, which translates as ‘flowers from another garden’, is a reclamation of a homophobic slur used in the Colombian Caribbean. Cadena is based in Geneva but the love for his home city of Barranquilla bursts through, evident primarily in the percussive groove that floats in before the opening credits is by Barranquilla’s ‘godfather of champeta’ Abelardo Carbonó.
Barranquilla is also home to Colombia’s biggest Carnival, and Cadena’s characters incorporate its traditions into their protest at the mining company’s conference. Wearing elaborate masks and headdresses they throw maizena, powdered cornstarch, into the face of the mining company’s spokesman while onstage putting a PR spin on the company’s extractive practices.
The use of powder recalls another film synthesising protest and dance, specifically the ACT UP Paris activists of 120 BPM (Beats per Minute) who spread their friend’s ashes over the food at a health insurance conference. Strobe lights and house music transform that scene of protest into a queer club, and Cadena does something similar. The synth stabs from the reggaeton track that plays in the queer club echo the protesters’ staffs pounding on the conference floor, and one character yells insults at the spokesman with as much glee as when they MC at the club.
Festival-goers who attended the screening of Brazilian shorts by the duo Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca will notice parallels with Flores del Otro Patio. Both works explore the fine line between acts of celebration and acts of resistance, highlighting the physicality and musicality intrinsic to both dance and protest. Cadena’s film also brings to mind real-life scenes from Colombia’s Paro Nacional protests in 2021, when members of Bogotá’s ballroom community vogued defiantly next to Colombian riot police.
Despite the 2016 peace agreement that sought to end Colombia’s armed conflict, left-wing activists and members of marginalised groups continue to be killed or disappeared by the state and paramilitaries. Flores del Otro Patio is a testament to the bravery of those who continue to resist, however, its characters are far from textureless martyrs; their sexual, social, and political lives are intertwined.
An atmospheric work that draws the dots between joy, solidarity, and rage, Cadena accomplishes more in 15 minutes than many do with a feature length.