For Colombian filmmaker Jhonny Henrix Hinestroza, Wednesday represents a milestone in his career.
The screening of his film “Choco” at the Berlin International Film Festival, an event famous for bringing up-and-coming directors to the attention of the the world, is the result of 14 years forging his skills. With a myriad of production credits to his name, including 2008 Sundance Film Festival nominee Dog Eat Dog, Hinestroza also spent two years managing the CinMilimetros Film Festival in Cali, as well as being the man behind Antorcha Films, the company through which Choco was produced.
The film is named after the Pacific coastal department in which Hinestroza was born and where the story is set. It focuses on a poor afro-Colombian woman in her twenties, whose days consist of panning for gold and washing clothes for other families to support her two children and alcoholic husband. The simple promise of a birthday cake to her youngest daughter takes the whole family on an adventure which examines the joy and anguish entwined in rural Colombian life. Threaded with the themes of domestic abuse and race, Choco seeks to challenge its audience with a sometimes uncomfortable look in to Colombian society.
According to Hinestroza, the decision to tell this story was based on two ideas. “The first is the mistreatment of women,” says Hinestroza. “A woman is beaten in the street and the first thing we say is ‘who knows what evil does this.’ Culturally [the film] makes a counterweight [to seeing such abuse as abnormal] because this behavior is very common not only in Choco, but also in our beloved Colombia.”
Filming took just four weeks, and Hinestroza heaps praise on the efforts of Tulio Restrepo, of production company Restrepo y Londoño, and Alvaro Morales, of Morelco S.A., for allowing this to happen.
“It is important to mention these people because they care more about film than business,” said the director.
Assistance also came from a range of foundations and charities, as well as the efforts of countless individuals who, Hinestroza said, “were not paid what they really should have charged, but were enamored of the story once they had read the script.”
According to Hinestroza, the nomination of Choco is not just a reflection on his own work, but on the continued development of Colombian cinema.
“I think we’re learning through nominations to these festivals that our directors in Colombia have moved on and that people are willing to take on greater challenges to take Colombian cinema to the next leavel,” he said. “It confirms that we have been doing our job for many years,” he added.
And for Hinestroza, this new exposure is just a part of the filmmaking journey which has made up almost half of his life.
“What do international nominations show?” He asks. “That the work is getting better.”
Choco will appear at the Berlin International Film Festival, February 9-19, and the Cartagena Film Festival, February 23-29.