Making the Move from Producer to Director: Cristina Gallego on 'Birds of Passage'
The transition may be less difficult than you think.
While Cristina Gallego was busy working as a producer on her partner Ciro Guerra's magnificent film Embrace of the Serpent, she caught wind of a story from one of the many indigenous non-actors onset. That story was one that perhaps many of us have heard before, a Colombian man finds partners in America that he can sell drugs to, becomes fantastically wealthy and ends up abandoning his morals as a result. Except Birds of Passage is so much more.
With Gallego and Guerra at the helm, we get a glimpse at a side of this much-glamorized Narcos-era that we've never seen before. The film presents the narrative from an indigenous Colombian perspective, full of magical realism steering from traditions that go back hundreds of years and is perhaps the most authentic story concerning its subject matter of all time. Think of it as a thrilling mixture of The Godfather and One Hundred Years of Solitude, where we watch the entire history of two families whose native ways are slowly brought to a halt as they engage in the burgeoning drug trafficking business. Eventually, it brings a war to control the business that ends up destroying both their lives and their culture.
There is no other pair of directors in the world that could've told this story, and for her part, Gallego switched from a lifetime of producing to the role of co-director in order to more clearly communicate her vision. I sat down with her at TIFF to talk about what that transition was like, working with Ciro Guerra, and finding the stories that stem from your own history.