Iconic and Influential Colombian Filmmaker Luis Ospina Dies at 70

Iconic and influential Colombian filmmaker Luis Ospina, one of the key members of the Cali Group—along with artists Carlos Mayolo and Andrés Caicedo—died today at the age of 70 in Colombia after a long battle with cancer. He had a prolific filmography of 34 titles spanning over fifty years, including the classic short films Listen and Look / Oiga vea (1971) and The Vampires of Poverty / Agarrando pueblo (1978), both co-directed with Mayolo, and more recently Paper Tiger / Un tigre de papel (2007), It All Started at the End / Todo comenzó por el fin (2015). He was both a major cultural figure in Colombia and of Latin American cinema.

Born in Cali, Colombia on June 14, 1949, Ospina studied cinema at the University of Southern California (USC) between 1968 and 1969, and at University of California (UCLA) between 1969 and 1972. He was one of the founders of the Cali Cine Club with Mayolo, Caicedo, Ramiro Arbeláez, and Hernando Guerrero, and served as its co-director between 1972 and 1977 at the San Fernando Theater. With Caicedo, Mayolo and Arbeláez, he also funded the film magazine Ojo al Cine, which was published between 1974 and 1977.

The cine club planted the seed of the Cali Group, made up of filmmakers, writers, and artists, that led a cultural upheaval in the South American country creating artistic work in the form of literature, films and other media that reflected on the relationship between popular and political culture in Latin America.

Ospina’s first short film was the 1964 fiction Vía cerrada, which was followed by the 1970 short fiction film Acto de Fe, based on a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre, and the 1971 experimental short Aurretrato dormido. Between 1971 and 1978 he directed five short films with Mayolo, which became largely influential: Listen and Look (1971), El bombardeo de Washington / The Bombing of Washington (1972), Cali: De película (1973), Asunción (1975), and Vampires of Poverty (1978).

In 1982 he made his debut feature film Pure Blood / Pura sangre, a hybrid that mixed genre conventions with intellectual parody, and worked as a poignant satire on Colombian landowners. His second, and last fiction feature film, was the 1999 Breath of Life / Soplo de vida (1999). He continued active directing documentary features among them The Supreme Uneasiness of Fernando Vallejo / La desazón suprema: Retrato de Fernando Vallejo (2003), Paper Tiger, and It All Started at the End,

His films were awarded at numerous international film festivals such as Oberhausen, Biarritz, Havana, Sitges, Bilbao, Lille, Miami, Lima, and Toulouse, and his work has been shown at several renowned international institutions such as the Tate Modern Gallery, the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Dokumenta Kassel, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Reina Sofia Museum, and Jeu de Paume.

Ospina was also the founder of the Calí International Film Festival (FICCALI) in 2009, and was its director for its ten editions until his death. He also worked as a film critic for numerous publications and, between 1973 and 1987, served as an editor for several films directed by Mayolo, Luis Crump, Eduardo Carvajal, Juan José Vejarano, Oscar Campo, Patricia Restrepo. In 2018 DocLisboa presented a complete retrospective of his work, and more recently he played the role of Martin in Laura Amelia Guzmán e Israel Cárdenas’s Holy Beasts / La fiera y la fiesta, starring Geraldine Chaplin and Udo Kier, which had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival this past February.

Cinema Tropical hosted the New York premiere of It All Started at the End at the 2016 edition of Neighboring Scenes at Film at Lincoln Center, featured Vampires of Poverty in the 2014 film series ‘Tropical Uncanny’ at the Guggenheim Museum, and distributed the documentary film The Supreme Uneasiness of Fernando Vallejo.