Throughout Colombia’s long and turbulent political history, seven presidential candidates have been killed in the last century. Since the country’s inception, a left-wing president has never won. Then, in 2021, Gustavo Petro, a former guerilla, began a historic campaign and became an early front-runner for the 2022 presidential election. In Petro, the aptly named documentary, director Sean Mattison, along with producer Trevor Martin and their team, follows Petro from his campaign’s inception on through the historic election day.

Petro: Guerilla, Politician, Father

“The only thing that can match our love for this cause is our outrage towards those who harm people.” 

The film opens with archival footage of Petro being interviewed back when he was a member of M-19, dubbed the “19th of April Movement” after a case of election fraud in 1970. From there, we venture through Colombia’s political history both past and present, including the rise and fall of M-19 from footage as well as interviews with former members of the movement. Petro himself is interviewed, along with former major political players from recent years, as we follow the campaign from its massive launch event through the three rounds of elections to its final conclusion. In addition to politicians, Mattison also interviews activists such as Moisés Ninco Daza, quoted above, who has been with the campaign since 2011.

source: Slamdance Film Festival

The path to election day is not all handshakes and photographs. Audio and news footage provides his opponents’ viewpoint, slandering the candidate as a “leftopath” and every other name in the book. From inside Petro’s vehicle, we see gunshots taken at the bulletproof glass. Police intimidate activists peacefully protesting, our POV right next to theirs, and we see the harrowing incident in 2019 that led to the death of 18-year-old Dilan Cruz. Gustavo’s daughter Sofía tells us that she’s used to the campaign chaos and the threats against her family, because she grew up in it.

Incisive, Informative, and Incendiary

For those not familiar with Colombian politics, Petro gives insight into a bitterly divided electoral system, fraught with turmoil, violence, and smear campaigns that mirror the United States in too many ways. At the same time, it shows that hope is attainable. For years, Petro fought to become mayor, then senator, and finally take his shot at becoming president. For those who align politically, this film could be a source of inspiration for those looking to make progressive change in their own countries, whether at the national or local level. In addition to their interviews with notable political figures, Mattison and his team tirelessly scoured Colombian archives to find incredible footage of  some of the most powerful moments in the country’s modern history. With their North American premiere at Slamdance, they also earned an Honorable Mention in the Documentary Feature Grand Jury Prize category.

source: Slamdance Film Festival

Petro is a riveting documentary, a beacon for those who strive for change to see what can be done. When we come together, making ourselves heard as one, eventually “Yes, we can,” might just become “Yes, we did.”

Check out more of our Slamdance coverage here.


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