September 12, 2008

Negret draws from painful memories to write, direct film

By Kiko Martinez

José Antonio Negret was a teenager when his three-year-old cousin and aunt were kidnapped in Colombia. Fortunately, after paying ransom and going on a nationwide manhunt, the two were returned home and the kidnappers were arrested.

“There were some things that happened to my extended family that were very hard for my parents and the rest of the family,” Negret, 26, told La Prensa Newspaper during a phone interview.

A year later, Negret’s uncle was also kidnapped in Colombia. His fate, however, ended tragically when he was murdered by his assailants.

“I remember as a kid watching my family go through that terrible emotional journey,” said Negret, who was born in Bogotá.

These two profound events in his life inspired him to write and direct his first feature film “Toward Darkness” (“Hacia la oscuridad”). The film, which was released on DVD at the end of July and stars America Ferrera (TV’s “Ugly Betty”), tells the story of a man kidnapped in Colombia and the issues his family has to face to assure his safe return.

“For me, I never wanted to make a film about [personal] events, but I always wanted to make a film about that feeling and that memory of helplessness that I had,” Negret explained. “I wanted to give it an outsider’s point of view.”

According to Fundación Pais Libre, over 23,000 people have been kidnapped in Colombia from 1996 to 2006. It’s a fact of life in Negret’s home country that he says affects every Colombian citizen.

“Unfortunately, this has been happening for over 40 years,” Negret said. “There’s been this cloud of violence that has fallen over such a wonderful culture and people. I think you’ll find in Colombia, you know someone who has been kidnapped or know someone who knows someone else that has been kidnapped. Whether it’s one or two degrees of separation, most people in Colombia have experienced it, which is sad.”

Still, Negret feel there is still hope for Colombia. When presidential candidate Íngrid Betancourt was rescued by Colombian security forces on July 2 after spending six and a half years in with members of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), a revoluntionary guerilla organization, Negret says it was a sign that the Colombian government was no longer going to stand idly by and let the country be controlled by terrorist groups or other criminals.

“Watching how the government acted to save these hostages without firing a single shot really was an amazing moment,” Negrete said. “It really showed us that Colombia is entering a new age, hopefully, where peace can be found. The government really is taking a stance in preventing these kidnappings. After all these years, there really is light in all the darkness.”

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