On June 4, 1819 Simón Bolívar embarked on a six-week journey that would take him from the Arauca River on the border of Colombia and Venezuela all the way through the high Andes and ending in Bogotá. Departing from the hot prairies and climbing the high Andean marshlands of Pisba, Bolívar made his way through inhospitable landscapes, frozen swamps, and searing valleys as he rallied troops to join him in his campaign for the liberation of South America.
August 10, 1819 would mark the end of this journey, and Bolívar would have liberated Colombia, eventually claiming the title of El Liberator: the Liberator and sole Commander; the top General and President of the northern half of South America. This epic journey cemented Bolívar as the continent’s most important figure and ruler of what became Great Colombia, a short-lived empire comprised of what are now the republics of Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru. Great Colombia was the largest nation in the Americas and was politically modeled after Great Britain—La Gran Colombia—Bolívar’s dream.
2019 marked the 200th anniversary of the epic journey that kicked off the liberation of South America, and Simón Bolívar’s memory is more alive and influential than ever.
Bolívar’s creation of La Gran Colombia has been compared to Napoleon’s quest, not only in geographic magnitude but also in their shared personal ambition and insatiable quest for glory. Bolívar’s governing methods have been the object of study and debate, while his charisma and military skills are undisputed, his reliance on caudillos (violent landowners he used in order to control such a vast area of land in exchange for political power) would establish a dominant political class that is still in place today and this governing legacy is arguably the cause of the region’s seemingly endemic violence. 2019 marked the 200th anniversary of the epic journey that kicked off the liberation of South America, and Simón Bolívar’s memory is more alive and influential than ever. Admired by a wide range of international personalities with often opposing political views, Simón Bolívar is regularly invoked in political discourse and immortalized in public plazas with statues and epic monuments.
The film’s unconventional narrative form allows for a dialogue that reflects on the weight of history in the collective unconscious of today.
The film’s topic and aim are therefore multifaceted, as on the one hand we follow Bolívar’s path by exploring the psychogeography of the landscape, but on the other we find diverse rituals of remembrance that emerge during the celebrations of the Bicentenary. Following Bolívar’s path, we listen to a wide range of oral histories across the land and discover how these oral histories, like a living archive, ephemerally internalize such a complex political narrative. While the government celebrates Bolívar’s militaristic accomplishments to justify their present belligerent conflict, the inhabitants in these different geographies internalize the narratives in a multitude of ways that range from theatre, to folk song, to political rituals.
The film’s unconventional narrative form allows for a dialogue that reflects on the weight of history in the collective unconscious of today, revealing a set of political and social realities that can be traced back to the political legacy Bolívar established during the liberation of South America. A legacy that goes back to his reliance on violent caudillos during the liberation campaign and their reemergence as the governors of today. The liberation that Bolívar once fought did in effect force the Spanish to relinquish control over their colony, but it left a sickly territory—a fragmented territory forced to fight amongst itself for political power and land ownership.
In the year of the bicentenary of Bolívar’s liberation journey, BICENTENARIO reflects on the far-reaching consequences of the Liberator’s legacy, which is kept alive through a wide range of intentional and unintentional rituals of remembrance. Inhabiting the timeless landscapes that witnessed Bolívar’s voyage, we seek to reveal the social rituals that invoke his name and that reside deep within the social and political fabric that constitutes who we are.