Los Hongos: street culture as a movement for social change
by Vladan Petkovic
- Oscar Ruiz Navia’s sophomore effort was the big winner at this year’s REC Tarragona, going home with three separate awards
Colombian director Oscar Ruiz Navia’s second feature film, Los Hongos (lit. “Mushrooms”), is a light-footed but sure-handedly executed drama that tackles numerous human and social issues in an unpretentious and sincerely touching way.
The main characters, Ras and Calvin, played by non-professionals Jovan Alexis Marquinez and Calvin Buenaventura, respectively, are teenagers living in the Colombian city of Cali. They come from different backgrounds: Calvin is a white boy from a middle-class family, while Ras lives with his working-class black mother. But they share a love of street culture, especially graffiti, with Ras skateboarding and Calvin riding a bicycle. They spend their days hanging around the city, smoking marijuana and painting graffiti with a group of established artists. And in a country riddled with problems such as crime, drugs, corruption and poverty, they are the ones considered dangerous and are constantly harassed by the police.
Ras’s very religious mother believes his attitude is a result of the devil’s work and wants him to go to a Mass held by an evangelist preacher. The clergyman also introduces the new mayoral candidate, about whom Calvin’s grandfather, a singer of popular songs, has a heated discussion with his friends in a bar. In this way, Navia easily points out how these “pillars of society” are actually the ones who are ruining it, whether through direct action – like the preacher and the politician – or through inertness, like Calvin’s grandpa.
On the other hand, Ras and Calvin (who is also incredibly sweet and caring towards his ill grandmother) are among those pushing for real social change through their street art, which almost by definition includes political activism. While they may not be educated enough to understand all of the issues (the inspiration for one of their works is a YouTube video of women at an Arab Spring protest, to which Cal says: “Good idea, supporting feminism and all that”), they have the right spirit and inclination to do something positive.
Los Hongos, co-produced by Contravía Films and Burning Blue (Colombia), Arizona Productions (France), Campo Cine (Argentina) and Unafilm (Germany), went through a series of workshops and production-lab projects, including TorinoFilmLab, Cannes’ Cinéfondation and Buenos Aires Lab. Navia’s clear vision is a good example of how too many cooks do not always have to spoil the broth, as long as the head chef keeps a firm grasp on his original idea.
The movie, which won the Special Jury Prize in the Filmmakers of the Present section at Locarno, the Hubert Bals Fund Lions Film Award at Rotterdam and, most recently, three prizes at the REC Tarragona International Film Festival, is handled internationally by FiGa Films.