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Mute Fire 2020


Distributed by Pragda, 302 Bedford Ave., #136, Brooklyn, NY 11249
Produced by Jerónimo Atehortúa Arteaga
Directed by Federico Atehortúa Arteaga
Streaming, 83 mins

Cinema Studies; Political Science; Propaganda; War Crimes

Date Entered: 08/03/2022

Reviewed by Matthew W. Rothfuss, Head of Reference, Bethlehem Area Public Library

How much does art influence life? Or in Colombia’s case, how have images and film influenced national history? This is one of the big questions that filmmaker Federico Atehortúa Arteaga asks in his 2020 documentary Mute Fire. Simultaneously a personal portrait of his family and their struggle to come to terms with Arteaga’s mother’s recent muteness and of his country’s troublesome history with violent images, Mute Fire asks serious questions about the relationship between truth and the representation of truth. Framed as a personal essay, the documentary weaves historic and found footage with well-known examples of film in Colombia’s history and personal clips of his family in a crisis.

Mute Fire, chiefly, is about the relationship between truth and image and through this exploration an argument for a “national fiction tradition” in Colombian history. In attempting to solve what separates history from reenactment, and what is the difference between someone who suffers and one who pretends to suffer, Arteaga aims to unveil universal truths about the human experience. Presenting his argument through a series of images, historic film clips, home movies, and archival footage, and narrating over most of the film, the filmmaker makes a strong case. He manages to show how Colombia’s history of violent, often false imagery has likely desensitized its population into apathy about recent horrific events. Unfortunately, the viewer is oftentimes left guessing the relationship between the images on the screen and their place in Colombia’s history and the film’s thesis. The disjointed presentation and timeline of the film and the often-discordant music makes viewing difficult, and it easy to lose a sense of place while viewing the film. (However, one must assume that many of these images might strike a chord or be more familiar to Colombian viewers.) This loose presentation and uneven structure take away from its strong thematic narrative. Even though it only clocks in at a short eighty-three minutes, the film would have likely worked as a shorter piece without much of the included footage.

Mute Fire is suitable for at least two different audiences. First, it would be helpful for classes exploring the nature of film’s subjectivity and role in representing truth in history. Secondly, it would be welcomed by those who might want to study the history of Colombia and how imagery of the “dead guerilla,” and the recent discovery of “false positives” might represent a pattern in the often-complicated relationship between Colombia's political state and military. These aspects would likely elicit strong discussion in a classroom setting.

Idartes, Best National Film; Shanghai International Film Festival, Nominee, Best Documentary; Las Palmas Film Festival, Nominee, Best Film; DocsBarcelona, ES, Nominee, What the Doc! Award

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