Review by Doug Rule
Rating: (2 out of 5)
Saturday, 10/18/2008, 7:00 PM
Feature presentation, $10 at Goethe Institut Inter Nationes
CAROLINA VALENCIA IS a freelance filmmaker who struggled to find a story to tell, she says at the outset of this unfocused documentary. So, just as many with the power of the camera have done before her, she decides to put herself in the picture. Fortunately, she does have quite a story to tell. Unfortunately, she hasn’t mastered the art of telling it. Her camera-work is glitchy, fading in and out and bouncing all around at times.
And then there’s the issue with the story itself: She initially and officially — see the title — talks about her effort to become a witch doctor in the Santaria tradition. But that eventually morphs into her struggle to become a woman and her subsequent gender-identity activism. And yet, we don’t even learn the basics of that until nearly halfway through the film, which needs a total editorial revamp. You’re not nearly as engrossed as you should be, or at least could be, in her story. She spends far too much time congratulating herself on how special and rare her videotaped images of Afro-Cuban Santaria practices are — as well as the difficulties in making her previous documentary, Two Cubas, which chronicled gay life in the Communist country. She’s reluctant to talk about her own story, for decades bottled up inside, but it is far more compelling than her tendency to talk up her talents and access, or interest in mystical traditions.
What’s ultimately special and rare in Valencia’s story are the insights she has to share about the difficulties in coming to terms with her gender identity in middle age, when to shift from being Carlos to being Carolina — never easy for anybody — is far harder and more complicated than had she done it 30 years earlier. She lost most of her old friends and family; she lost confidence in what gender she prefers to pair with emotionally and sexually; and life became incredibly lonely for a time.
Born into a once-prominent Colombian family, Valencia eventually becomes a spokesperson of sorts for greater tolerance of gender complexity and identity. That’s become her purpose in life, not practicing in the patriarchal, animal-sacrificing Santaria religion. So why is she still so outwardly focused on that? –