Mute Fire

Federico Atehortúa Arteaga | Documentary

2019 | 83 minutes | Colombia

A personal essay that examines the relationship between film footage, the events of the war in Colombia, family history, and the origins of cinema in Colombia.


In the tradition of Harun Farocki and João Moreira Salles, in this personal film essay, Federico Atehortúa Arteaga examines the relationship between film footage, the events of the war in Colombia, his family's story, and the origins of cinema in Colombia.

On March 6, 1906, four people were executed in the streets for the attempted assassination of the then-president of Colombia, Rafael Reyes. The representation in images of this event is considered the beginning of the cinema in Colombia. Arteaga embarks on a deep investigation of media representation through his film, which explores how cinema became an instrument of power and control in the country’s violent political history.

As Arteaga’s mother suffers an episode of mutism -without any explanation she stops talking-, the film’s focus widens to examine the family’s relationship with imagery, memory, and politics. As a result, Arteaga decides to investigate the family’s past and finds a video archive of a children’s play in which he acts, pretending to be a captured false guerrilla.

These images bring him back to his original film and lead him to find the relationship that exists between recent tragic events in Colombian history, the false positives, innocent people extrajudicially killed by members of the Colombian army, and then falsely labeled as enemy combatants. Nobody knows exactly how many young people became false positives. The most recent report released by Colombia’s attorney general’s office says that between 1988 and 2014, around 2,248 people were killed. Previous reports by human rights organizations have estimated that the number may be 5,000 or even higher.

* Spanish language audio description is available via the ALL4ACCESS App and/or .wav file when purchasing a DSL license.

Accessibility for these films was created by DICAPTA and funded under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education- Office of Special Education-OSEP, project “Enhanced Access to Video for Students with Sensory Disabilities through Emerging Technology,” TV Access H327C210001.


"The personal and the political entwine fascinatingly in Federico Atehortúa Arteaga's meditative documentary essay...War, Atehortúa Arteaga movingly demonstrates, is fought as much with images as with weapons, and as those images persist through time, so do the many wounds of battle." — Devika Girish, The New York Times

"A discerning, intelligent film, Mute Fire, offers an unparalleled dive into Colombian media history. But it's also universally urgent for its exceptional insights into what it really means to exist in today's world of well-documented yet convoluted wars and conflicts as a spectator, and what a responsibility watching has become." — Katya Kazbek, Supamodu

"One of the first films of the new generation of Colombian directors to reflect on post-violence." — German Scelso, DOCBuenosAires

Main credits

Atehortúa Arteaga, Carlos Federico (film director)
Atehortúa Arteaga, Carlos Federico (screenwriter)
Atehortúa Arteaga, Carlos Federico (on-screen participant)
Arteaga Betancur, Aracelly (on-screen participant)
Atehortúa Ríos, Carlos Alberto (on-screen participant)
Atehortúa Arteaga, Jerónimo (screenwriter)
Atehortúa Arteaga, Jerónimo (film producer)
Ariza Navarrete, Sonia (screenwriter)
Balduzzi, Veronica (screenwriter)

Other credits

Cinematography, Mauricio Reyes Serrano; editor, Carlos Federico Atehortúa Arteaga; music, Carlos Eduardo Quebrada Vázquez.

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Idartes - Best National Film
International Film Festival Rotterdam
Neighboring Scenes New York
Shanghai International Film Festival
Yamaga International Documentary Film Festival
Hamburg Film Festival

DIRECTOR: Federico Atehortúa Arteaga


YEAR: 2019

GENRE: Documentary


COLOR / B&W: Color

GRADE LEVEL: High School, College, Adults



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