HCIAS Blogcast: Strangers to Peace with Colleen O’Brien

Welcome back to the HCIAS Blogcast! This is a series of posts on the HCIAS blog, we summarize some of the key points from our most recent podcast episode. This week, we bring you a conversation between Dr. Coleen Alena O’Brien, a postdoctoral researcher at the Universität des Saarlandes, and HCIAS Publications Coordinator Marian Orjuela about the documentary film Strangers to Peace, which Dr. O’Brien produced and which was shown by the HCIAS as part of its Observa series of documenaries from Ibero-America.

Colleen O’Brien and Marian Orjuela

Strangers to Peace tells the story of three former members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) as they attempt to re-integrate into civil society. The film depicts both the general challenges that former combatants face in a country which continues to view them as terrorists, as well as the particular struggles of the documentary’s subjects as they try to construct a new identity for themselves after dedicating a large portion of their lives to the FARC: Dayana, as a trans woman who has had to suppress her gender identity for most of her life; Ricardo, as a young father, studying and working for a government re-integration agency while still clinging to idealistic views about revolutionary struggle; and Alexandra, a young woman from an indigenous community in the Amazon, who was drafted into the armed conflict as a child.

The filmmakers went through a lengthy process to find the three protagonists for the film. Initially, they worked with a number of ex-combatants from various left-wing revolutionary movements and right-wing paramilitary groups, as well as with victims of the armed conflict, but ultimately ended up focusing on just three subjects, whose stories were particularly compelling on a personal level, while also being representative of the wider peace process. Although the FARC signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2016, it remains an extremely controversial and divisive organization. Getting Dayana, Ricardo and Alexandra to tell their stories involved spending of huge amounts of time with them and their families in order to build up a relationship of trust with them.

Dr. O’Brien shares some insight into the film-making process and what her role was. The documentary was made by a very small team, which meant that everyone had to get involved in all aspects of the film making process, however, Dr. O’Brien was particularly involved in conducting the on-screen interviews as well as in the logistics of planning the shoots and in applying for funding. After filming was complete, the editing process took an additional three years of shaping the footage into a narrative, with the filmmakers going through around one hundred different versions of the documentary, before arriving at the final product.

Strangers to Peace attempts to strike a balance between being accessible to those unfamiliar with the Colombian armed conflict, while also engaging with an audience of people who are living through the peace process in Colombian. This is a challenge, not only because of differing levels of awareness of the historical context among the audience, but also because of the extremely politically polarized nature of Colombian society. Dr. O’Brien hopes focussing on the stories of three individuals can be a way to speak to a broad public, who will be able to empathize with and relate to their struggles even if their personal background is very different. She views film as a very powerful vehicle for discussions of conflict and post-conflict, which can serve an important role in the peace building process, both in terms of helping participants see viewpoints outside their own experience and for researchers, who may benefit from complementing their theoretical understanding of the issue with a more personal aspect to the conflict and the diverse human beings who are involved.

This HCIAS Blogcast has been just a short recap of a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion. If you would like to learn more about our guest and her work, you can listen to the whole episode here.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
HCIAS Blog (December 20, 2023). HCIAS Blogcast: Strangers to Peace with Colleen O’Brien. HCIAS Blog. Retrieved July 25, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/vfdc

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