Eight accusations against film director Ciro Guerra for sexual harassment and sexual abuse

Photo: Chris Pizzello for AP.

By: Catalina Ruiz-Navarro and Matilde de los Milagros Londoño

Translated by: Jenniffer Abaúnza and María Alejandra Peñuela

This article showcases eight testimonies of women that have been sexually harassed or sexually abused by the renowned Colombian film director Ciro Guerra. Seven of the eight testimonies (Beatriz, Daniela, Eliana, Carolina, Fabiana, Teresa, and Gabriela) narrate sexual harassment cases with different degrees of gravity. The eighth one (Adriana’s) describes a case of sexual abuse. The assaults took place between the years of 2013 and 2019, in three different Colombian cities and three international locations, during events such as the Cannes Film Festival, the Colombian Film Festival, and the Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena (Cartagena International Film Festival). The testimonies follow a similar pattern. It includes things such as uncomfortable conversations of a sexual nature; invitations to his hotel room or apartment; situations where he forced himself on women to touch them sexually, kiss them or even abuse them in one particular case; all despite the women’s rejection, who on several occasions explicitly said “NO.” These testimonies also show how Guerra used his professional prestige to intimidate the victims and establish relationships of abuse of power.

The testimonies are the result of conducted interviews that provide supporting details such as chats and recordings to which we assert the right to source protection; these have been edited minimally only to guarantee their readability. All of the names of the victims and the witnesses were changed to respect their privacy and prevent any form of retaliation.

Who is Ciro Guerra?

Ciro Alfonso Guerra Picón has directed the films La Sombra del CaminanteLos Viajes del VientoThe Embrace of the Serpent—nominated to the Oscars for Best Foreign Film in 2016—, Summer Birds (2018) and Waiting For The Barbarians (2019), debuted in the Venice Film Festival and starred by Johnny Depp. He also worked with Netflix as an executive producer for the series Green Frontier, debuted in August of 2019.

His career as a film director, screenwriter, and producer —largely financed by public resources, as stated by the statistical yearbook of the Film Department of the Ministry of Culture of Colombia, which adds up to 4 billion Colombian pesos (1,066,390.00 USD) awarded to him in stimuli, donations, and investments— has allowed him to travel as a public figure to several countries around the world, representing Colombia’s cultural heritage. He has become one of the most familiar faces of Colombian cinema globally. He has continued to grow his power in the industry, both nationally and internationally. This is why his actions have become of public interest, especially in regards to his abuse of power: his systematic harassment and one case of sexual abuse. All of these assaults are framed in a public health issue: gender violence.

First case

Beatriz: sexual harassment in an Uber

NYC, 2019

It happened during the 2019 Colombian Film Festival in New York, March 28, 2019. I went to watch a movie premiere with a couple of friends, and we were going to attend the after-party later. I was introduced to Ciro in the theater by my boyfriend at that time. Even though he didn’t tell Ciro, I was his girlfriend. He said, “I’d like you to meet someone who also works in the industry and is very proud of your work.” When he introduced me, I told him I thought it was awesome that they were going to, or had already, filmed a series with Netflix in the Amazon. It was a very short conversation. I said bye to my friend and went to meet Leila, a friend, and a couple of others to go to the after-party.

At the party we started dancing and drinking beer, everything was very cool. Ciro arrived. He started asking me to dance with him, and at first, it was cool, but then he got very intense, and he asked me to dance with him all the time. If a song went by without us dancing, it was because I would dance with other people or avoid him. Still, he became more intense, and my friends would look at me and make fun of me, like saying, “that guy is hitting on you,” and I would look back at them, annoyed by the situation. People started getting drunk, and the party became a bit overwhelming. I told Leila we should get out of there, and she agreed. By that point, it was already March 29, around 3:00 am, and as we were heading out, we ran into Ciro. I said, “Bye, I’m leaving. See you in Cannes. Good luck with everything,” and I left. We were waiting for the Uber outside, and five minutes hadn’t passed, when Ciro showed up out of nowhere, with his jacket and all his things and said: “I’m headed Uptown, who’s headed that way?” I was going to Uptown. Leila and our other two friends lived in Brooklyn, so we were headed in opposite directions. I had already called my Uber, so they left, and Ciro and I waited for the ride.

The Uber arrived, it was like a minivan, I don’t know what had happened to the first-row seat, but it was broken down, and only one person would fit in that row, right behind the driver. I thought “great” because Ciro and I wouldn’t fit in the same chair, he’s a huge guy and I assumed he would sit in the back seat. I don’t know what he did, but Ciro shoved his way into the front seat next to me. I was very nervous because he was pretty much on top of me. I regret it a lot because I was wearing a dress and knee-high boots, and he started placing his hand on my knee, and I tried to move it with my purse. I was talking about work things when he tried to kiss me and started touching my inner thigh. That’s when I said, “I’m sorry, but I have a boyfriend, and I’m not interested,” and Ciro asked, “And what would happen if you didn’t have a boyfriend?” and I said “But I do have a boyfriend! And well, no!” Then he talked about my boyfriend: “your boyfriend is a gringo, how can you deal with that? How can you get used to that?”

It was a bizarre conversation, and my body was faced towards the window so that I didn’t have to look at him directly. That’s when he placed his hand on my knee again, and we started wrestling. I didn’t want him to touch my vagina, I tried moving his hand, and that’s why he didn’t touch me there. He tried to kiss me a second time, and I told him, “Hey! I already said no! Honestly, I don’t want to kiss you!” He started getting upset and said, “You know I’m going to be one of the judges at Cannes Critics’ Week, right?”, “Yes, yes I saw the news, congratulations,” I answered. He started asking me to go to his hotel: “Don’t you want to come to my hotel? I have an incredible room! Don’t you want to spend a night with me? Wouldn’t you like to orgasm tonight?” During all of the conversation, he continued to touch my inner thigh, and I continued to move his hand away.

The third time he tried to kiss me was the most violent one. He grabbed my face very violently with one hand while I tried moving it the other way, but he pulled me very strongly. I thought, “If I let go of him, we will knock our heads against each other.” I was moving my hands all over the place, but I guess the Uber driver didn’t have much visibility. We were also talking in Spanish and right behind him. Anyhow, I continued to struggle and wrestle harder than before. Ciro held my head very hard, not like when someone wants to kiss you, but instead something very violent. He held my head with one hand, and with the other, he tried to touch me. At that moment, I don’t know how it happened, but the Uber stopped and told Ciro he had arrived. It wasn’t his hotel, but the Uber stopped and, out of the blue, told Ciro to get off, but he didn’t want to. So I asked him, “If I kiss you on the cheek, will you leave?” He said, “yes,” and leaned with his cheek towards me, I grabbed him firmly so that he wouldn’t turn his head, and I kissed him on the cheek. The Uber finally started moving. I started crying.

The next day, I had lunch with Leila, and I told her everything. I was shocked to find out that the person who was my primary emotional support at that time had judged me horribly when I told him what had happened with Ciro. So I thought, “I can’t tell anybody about this. Nobody is going to believe me.” I feel very guilty about what happened because I always thought that if something like this ever happened to me, I would react and defend myself. I would do anything to protect myself, but the only thing I did was remain paralyzed and then struggle. As the days went by, I felt angrier and then decided I would tell all the people I knew.

I saw him again in Cannes, May 2019. Leila and I were in a restaurant outside. We realized that Ciro was inside with other people from the industry. As soon as I saw him, I froze. The people with him were acquaintances, and so they started coming over to say hi. He saw me and waved, but I ignored him and started panicking. Everyone in our table started saying Ciro was going to get them into the Critics’ Week party. I thought to myself, “This is horrible, anytime that I want to hang out with my friends from the industry that adore him, he’s going to be there.” Ciro only had three tickets, but he was going to try to get the rest of the people in, so those with the tickets were considered the “Lucky Ones.” Leila and I went outside for a moment, and I told her how sad and frustrated I felt, I didn’t want to stop seeing my friend because of Ciro. I was panicking, and I told Leila I didn’t feel capable of being with him in the same place. So we left, and that was the last time I saw him.

Leila

That night we went to the Colombian Film Festival after-party. We danced and had a few drinks. There were a lot of people. I didn’t know this director [Ciro Guerra]. I had never heard of him, but after Beatriz told me about that incident, I do remember that he was wandering around us. I do remember that a big bald guy was there. I got in a cab, headed home, and I remember leaving Beatriz with some people while she waited for her Uber. The next day, when I woke up, I got all of her texts saying, “My God, you have no idea what happened to me in the Uber with that film director!” That day we had lunch because we worked very close to each other, and she told me everything. She told me everything less than 24 hours after it happened, and I was one of the first to find out. She was very affected by what had happened. I thought, “My God, I can’t believe this shit happened to you!” and that was it. Life went on, and she never talked about it again, until we saw him at Cannes. We were going to a party together, and I recall Beatriz asking: “Do you remember the pig that harassed me in an Uber? Well, he’s going to that party, and I don’t want to go.” What I remember the most was that she was very shaken by all of it, she didn’t want to see him or be near him. I didn’t see anything directly, but I was there to hear my friend’s story, and I saw how she was affected by everything.

Chat between Beatriz and Leila after the assault.

This first case shows a series of conduct that will reappear in other testimonies. These include how Guerra approached women at parties when they were alone and how he used his force to touch them or force them to kiss him. These stories also show how persistent he was despite women’s clear and consistent rejection. It’s also important to highlight three things: he uses his fame and influence in the industry to impress them and establish a relationship of power, he uses the promise of contacts and work opportunities, and he uses international film festivals as the place to harass women, even though these spaces are intended to be platforms that showcase Colombian talent. The latter is especially crucial because Ciro Guerra is a public figure. His participation in these spaces carries the symbolic weight of representing all of the Colombian film industry and culture. It’s also important to note that Beatriz felt intimidated and was then attacked and groped without her consent. The feeling of discomfort, which is an understatement, has lasted for months.

Finally, something significant to note is that there was a third party present at the time of the assault: the Uber driver. Even though he didn’t know Spanish, it looks like he managed to understand that Beatriz was being sexually harassed. He took the initiative to stop the ride and stop Ciro Guerra. In doing so, he probably prevented this case from becoming sexual abuse. 

Second Case

Daniela: sexual harassment in a bar

Mexico City, 2019

I have never worked with Ciro; he’s not my friend. I had seen him at a party at the Cartagena Film Festival, but we had never even had a conversation. I traveled to Mexico in late 2019. The first time I saw him, there was a Sunday afternoon when I went to watch a movie with Camila and other friends, and we were casually going to watch the same film. We greeted each other. We were all Colombians in a foreign city, and we talked about what we were doing in Mexico. Minutes before we went into the theater, I bought a coffee, and so did he. We continued talking about his project, and he told me that he was in the pre-production stage for a series that was going to be pretty big. He asked for my phone number to keep in touch, he was nice, and the situation was not uncomfortable or weird at that moment. After the movie, I saw him again.

It was my last weekend in Mexico. I would be flying back to Colombia in a few days, and Camila told me that she was getting people together to go salsa dancing that night. She asked me if I wanted to come and that way they could throw me a small farewell party. She told me that Ciro and another Colombian actress were going to be there. I went by myself that night because the friends I was staying with didn’t feel like going out. I met Camila there, the only person I knew that night. We knew we couldn’t stay too late because we were going to a temazcal very early the next morning. Camila doesn’t drink; I had a couple of beers and danced salsa with everyone. It was the only night during my trip that I had been out to dance, and my birthday had been a few days back. I was delighted, and the group of around ten people was very lively and fun.

At one point in the night, Ciro sat next to me, and he asked me about my partner in a condescending tone. Ciro asked if he was working on something and I told him he was working on a series, he asked me for the producer and the TV channel, and I answered. In return, he responded with arrogance, saying that he had never worked for TV, that he had only worked on prime series or films. I answered that I admire people who embarked on such long projects. For me, as an actress, working on long productions has taught me very much, especially when it comes to working on my memory, which is one of the muscles an actor must strengthen. Then he started talking about Johnny Depp, and about his experience filming with him in Morocco.

As the night went by, I continued to dance and meet new people. I danced with several people, but I didn’t dance much with Ciro. As some people started leaving, Ciro asked me to dance with him, and when we were dancing, Camila came to say goodbye because we had just a few hours to sleep. I told her that I’d leave as soon as the song was over. She left, and when I looked over at our table, there were only some people left, and I didn’t know any of them. Two women came over to say goodbye, and they were the last two in our table. When the song was over, I told Ciro I was going to call an Uber, and I sat at the table where my things were.

As I called the Uber, Ciro sat in the chair across from me, and he tried to kiss me in a very violent and awkward way, and he was trying to stick his tongue down my mouth. It was so out of the blue and clumsy that our heads knocked against each other. I was very nervous, and I felt like I couldn’t be rude to him. I said, “Hey, I have a boyfriend, and you are very drunk.” He answered, “That’s okay; let’s go to my place. Is there anything wrong with having orgasms before you go to bed?” I was very nervous. Everything had been unexpected because, throughout the night, I never felt like he had any weird intentions. He tried to kiss me again, and this time I sat him more sternly and said, “Hey, that’s enough!” We struggled that second time around because he had leaned closer and had pushed his hand inside my pants and all the way to my ass, and he squeezed it. I took his hands, pushed him away, and said, “No, I have a boyfriend,” He said, “You’re on a trip, we can have fun.” He kept saying disgusting things, and he asked me if my boyfriend treated me well. I felt terrified. I remembered that a friend had told me about a similar situation with him a couple of years back. I also remember she had said it all happened when she was alone. I also felt kind of socially anxious, knowing that he was a renowned person in the industry and someone with some sort of power. When I remember that, I hate myself for not being more radical and telling him that I simply did not want any of that. Instead, I kept repeating what I felt was a valid excuse: “I have a boyfriend; I have a boyfriend.”

He was drunk, he was aggressive, and he was out of line. When I told him I wanted to leave, he held my hands harder and said, “let’s dance one last time.” I was nervous, and I felt that that was the only way of getting him to let me go, and I agreed. As we were dancing, he started talking about other Latin American film directors, letting me know that he could contact one of them, and telling me that there would surely be opportunities for me if I stayed in Mexico. When the song was over, I headed towards the table, grabbed my things, and left running. I left the bar, and he came after me and asked me if I was sure. I didn’t answer anything, I got in the car and texted my friend Camila everything that had happened.

Camila

Ciro and I have known each other for several years, and even though we don’t have each other’s phone number, we have run into each other at several places. I’ve always liked him. Well, I used to like him. We would run into each other, dance, talk, and I never felt a strange vibe from him. I ran into him in Mexico for the first time in one of the protests of 2019, El Cacerolazo, at Reforma’s Angel. We greeted each other; I didn’t know he was living here. He was with the art director of a Colombian series, he introduced us, and I introduced him to my friends. We exchanged numbers and said, “We have to get together.” 

I ran into him a second time at the Cineteca. I was with Daniela and another friend that day, and we all said hi. We were going to watch the same movie. A couple of days later, he texted me and said, “Let’s get together and go salsa dancing,” He asked who else was here. I named the people who were in Mexico, and he asked me about Daniela, “is she still here?” I told him she was and let him know that I would invite her. 

We met that day, and he came alone. Daniela got there late, and he asked me several times if she was going to be here. He told me he really liked her. That night I got bored and decided to leave because I had to wake up early. When I went to say bye, he was dancing with Daniela, and he hugged us both very hard. He had already had too much to drink. A while after I got home, Daniela texted me, and I didn’t understand anything. I couldn’t picture Ciro acting like that, he was someone I admired and knew, and he had never behaved like that with me. That’s when Daniela told me that she knew that something similar had happened to Eliana. I was surprised, and I let her know that Eliana and I were very close, and she had never told me anything about it.

I texted Eliana the next day, and she told me that it had been horrible, but I didn’t get any of the details. I thought that perhaps he just had an issue when approaching women. Maybe he had a rude and clumsy way of hitting on people, but I didn’t picture the magnitude of the issue. That was until Eliana visited me in January and told me the details of what had happened. Daniela also told me all the details of what happened that night. She told me that he had waited until everyone left and started hitting on her and tried forcing her to kiss him, even though she told him she didn’t want to. She said he held her very hard, had inappropriate conversations, and felt her up, telling her something like, “You know you want to have a thousand orgasms.” I’m only telling you what I remember Daniela telling me. Honestly, I don’t know what came over him. Then Eliana told me her story. She said she ran into Ciro at Casa Ensamble (a popular theater in Bogotá). He was with a friend, she was having a beer, and when she drank the last sip, Ciro offered to walk her home. Ciro’s friend suggested to come with, but he asked him not to. When they got to her place, she opened the door of the building. He pushed her, started forcing himself on her to kiss her, and groped her everywhere until she was able to push him and closed the door with him outside. It was tough to handle.

Chat between Ciro and Camila before the party.
Chat between Daniela and Camila after the assault.

Daniela’s case follows the same pattern: a party; looking for a place to be with them alone; the habit of name dropping to impress the victims with work-related topics; the use of the force to touch them and kiss them; the invitation to his hotel or apartment to have “orgasms” or have sex. Another repetitive element is the denigrating comments about the victim’s romantic partners. Another pattern present in these narratives is that Guerra continues to make sexual advances despite the explicit rejection of the women being harassed. 

When the coronavirus quarantine began, Guerra sent Daniela a message using the same words as the ones in a message sent around the same time to Carolina, another woman whose testimony we have recorded. It’s the same message for two women with nothing in common other than having the same career and that Guerra has harassed both of them.

Third Case

Adriana: sexual abuse at Ciro Guerra’s house

Bogotá, November 2019

Ciro and I work in the same industry. We ran into each other at an event, and he started texting me and asking me to meet him. I didn’t want to, but I thought to myself, “It’s Ciro, I have to have a good relationship with him, he’s a very powerful man.” He asked me to meet him at a bar, and I thought it would be a hustle, but I also knew it would be good to cultivate that work-relationship. He reached out for me several times when he was in Bogotá to ask me out, but I played dumb and tried to ignore him. But I didn’t want to be rude, because he’s a man with a lot of power and influence in the industry. I didn’t want to have a bad relationship with him. 

Eventually, we agreed to meet on November 13, 2019. I left my place at around 9:15 pm9:15 pm because my partner, Hector, had to pick up a friend from the airport. Ciro told me we should meet at his place and I accepted. I got there, but I kept texting Hector the whole time I was with him, I felt like something was wrong, and I was somewhat stressed, but I also thought: I’m a strong woman, nothing’s going to happen to me. At 9:47, I sent Hector a voice note that said: “I’m a bit stressed; I feel like I’m walking straight into the lion’s den.” He answered, “Don’t worry, I know him, nothing’s going to happen, but I’m here if anything does. Let me know.”

I arrived at Ciro’s house, and he was having a drink, I don’t know what it was. He offered me some, and I took it, but I didn’t drink it because I didn’t want to drink while being alone with him. I remember his house being tiny: he had a chair and a sofa across from it. He sat in the chair, and I took the couch. I felt relieved that he was sitting across from me and not next to me. We talked about projects I had worked on, and I felt he was condescending about my work. We talked about my boyfriend, and then he stood up and walked over to a round dining table to pick some things up, he had papers and other stuff on top of the table. Behind him, there was a library where he kept his awards and the bottles of booze. He told me he had some envelopes with things from the Oscars and wanted to show them to me. When he reached down to look at his computer, his jeans rolled down, and I noticed he wasn’t wearing any boxers.

I started getting scared because he went to the bathroom very often. I don’t know why. I texted my partner and told him that Ciro was acting very weird, but that so far, everything was fine, that I had it under control. But I did say to him that I felt like in a slaughterhouse. Ciro started telling me about his film in Morocco. He said that he was going to show me a trailer no one else had seen. He said he didn’t have any work for me in the project he had in Mexico, but that he had another big project where I could work. He handed me the computer and showed me the trailer, but before sitting down, he turned off the lights, and once the lights were out, he sat next to me. I had his computer on my lap. He put his arm around me, and I felt very uncomfortable because he was cornering me on the sofa. He moved closer, and I could feel the weight of his arm on my neck. I was wearing a necklace, and he started playing with it and moving in closer to look at it. He seemed very interested, and he said my necklace was very nice. It was very uncomfortable because I had felt like a fool for worrying about the situation, and now I felt like a fool for thinking that everything was going to be okay. Then Ciro told me he was going to show me some stuff from the series he was filming in Mexico, “they’re for your eyes only,” he said. Hector had been calling me, but Ciro frowned whenever I looked at my cell phone, so I never answered. I thought, “everything is going to be alright, I have everything under control. Nothing is going to happen.” 

That’s the toughest part and what got me thinking later: his manipulation. I didn’t know what was happening, but I was in a position of weakness where Ciro offered things. Still, in reality, he was letting me know he had power over me and power to screw me over. It’s very confusing because he toys with professional issues and messes with your head. I didn’t realize how serious this was and how he was intimidating me with his words and also how he was intimidating me physically. I think I had been at his place for 45 minutes, and that’s when things started getting ugly. He got up to the bathroom constantly, and the last time he came back from the toilet was when he got on top of me. The first thing I did, and I judge myself for it, was to tell him, “Look, Ciro, not right now, you know I’m in a relationship, I think you’re a very attractive man, but now is not the time.” I was trying for things to end up well between us because I still thought I had to have a cordial relationship with him. He’s a very large man, and he was on top of me, and the only thing I could say was, “no, not now.” 

I feel terrible about that, but he’s a fat, big guy, and I thought it would be best not to be rude, I was also scared about what he might do to me. He kissed me, and I didn’t respond, but I also didn’t push him. I just leaned away, that’s all I did. Then there was another kiss, and I returned that one because I thought he might calm down after that, and he would let me go, but I kept telling him this was a bad idea and why. He placed me on top of him and started licking me. I thought everything that was happening was so horrible that I didn’t understand how this was happening to me. I didn’t know what to do, and my hand was on his forehead holding him back. Then I got up from the sofa gently, and he took my pants off. I didn’t know what to do, and so I didn’t do anything, but I kept saying I didn’t want this. Ciro got up, he had on some tropical electronic music and started dancing in front of me. I leaned back and fell on the sofa; he got on top of me again. Since he was on top of me, I was able to get my cell phone and unblock it. It opened to Hector’s chat, and I sent him voice notes of what was happening. I told him I didn’t want this, and he said, “come on, come on.” I said, “don’t do this, let’s think about it,” but he kept saying that there was nothing to think about, that he was leaving in three days

He started unzipping his pants, and he said, “I just want to look, let me look at you,” while I said, “No, stop, really, I don’t want this anymore.” He pulled me by my arm and tried to kiss me; by that point, I was no longer in a conciliatory mood. That’s when he dragged me into his room. I felt as if I were on autopilot, in my underwear and he said, “Just for a little while, I am not an idiot like Hector, nothing is going to happen.” I kept saying, “please, no, please, I don’t want this.” I didn’t react with anger, I didn’t yell “you son of a bitch,” because I was scared, but I became tense and didn’t let him touch me anymore. He looked at me lustfully, and he put his finger inside my vagina. He kept saying, “just a little, just a little.” Then he grabbed my hand and put it on his dick, I felt like what was happening wasn’t real, my arm was doing it, but it’s as if that arm didn’t belong to me, it wasn’t mine. I felt a strange sensation on my chest, similar to the one you feel when you are being mugged.

At that point, I thought, “that’s it; what else can I do?” He cornered me against the wall across from the bed. He kept saying that everything was going to be okay, that nothing was going to happen to me, he said, “let’s just cuddle for a little while.” I was silent, and I remember other things, but I have memory gaps. I can remember vividly when he put my hand on his dick. I remember him telling me he just wanted to look at me, and I remember feeling imprisoned by him on his bed, feeling the weight of his body. At one point, I tried to resist, but he grabbed me by the head violently. Everything is very recent and feels very vivid, and I don’t feel capable of saying anything more about it. That’s why I’ve been so reluctant to share this story. I don’t want to relive it, and I don’t want to remember it, I don’t want to answer questions or feel like I have to explain what happened.

I don’t know how much time went by before the interphone rang. Ciro got very unsettled, got up, and said, “Who is it? What happened?” and I kept telling him it was just a friend who had come to pick me up. I looked out the window and saw Hector and his friend sitting in the car with the door open. Ciro kept asking who it was, and I kept saying, “I’ll tell him to leave, let me go down, and I’ll tell him to leave, and I’ll come back.” He asked, “what do you mean?” and I kept saying, “everything is fine, nothing is going on, just let me go, I’ll tell my friend to leave, and I’ll come back.” He didn’t want to give me the key to the building gate, and I kept asking him for the key and telling him that I promised I was just going to tell my friend to leave, and I would come back. Finally, he gave me the key, and he grabbed my face, pressing on my cheeks, he looked at me and said, “But you will come back!” and he yelled again, “you will come back!”.

I got my cell phone, jacket, and pants, but I left my sweater, my shirt, underwear, and bra, and ran downstairs. Hector was waiting for me at the building’s front door. I opened the door as best I could. I hugged him and told him we should leave. I also remember I told him I had to give back the keys, but Hector said, “What do you mean?”, he wanted to go upstairs, but I told him not to. We threw the key on the floor and got in the car. Hector’s friend Katia was waiting for us in the car, I didn’t know her, but I know she could tell that something was wrong. 

I’m not sure how long it was from when I sent the voice note to the time Hector arrived. I don’t even know how much time went by when he undressed me and dragged me into his room. Hector was desperate and had called to all of the apartments in the building from the gate’s interphone. He also called Ciro at 11:20, and since he didn’t answer, he left a missed call.

When we were in the car, Hector told me, “let’s go and report him,” but I didn’t want to. I just wanted to leave that situation and come back home. I asked him to stop at a drugstore, and I bought a small bottle of whiskey. We got to the apartment, went into our room, I had a drink, we took a shower, I still didn’t really understand what was happening, but I couldn’t stop crying. We hugged each other. I think we’d never cried like that. I had suicidal thoughts, like wanting to jump out of the window. 

That night I left more than half of my things at Ciro’s place, I didn’t come back upstairs, I threw the key on the ground, but he didn’t call me after or looked for me. The next morning he called Hector and asked him why he had called him the night before. Hector said it had been a mistake because we still didn’t know what we were going to do.

Two days later, I had stayed by myself in the apartment, because Hector had to run some errands when I received a call from an unknown number. It was Ciro who was asking me why I had left that night, and I answered, “because I had to go.” He asked me, “was that Hector, the friend that was waiting for you downstairs?” I insisted it was another friend. He basically called me to intimidate me and to make sure that things with Hector would be okay. He said, “this is going to be our secret; I hope it will be.” I said it would be because I was scared of what he could do to me professionally.

Hector

We talked about it several times that day: should she text Ciro back, or would it be better never to see him again? On the day of the assault, we had been together, but she left to get changed, and we texted the whole time she was there. As soon as I picked up my friend Katia from the airport, we agreed that I would pick her up. I told her I didn’t think anything was going to happen. I said I had known Ciro for a long time. It must have been around 9:45 pm9:45 pm when Adriana sent me a voice note letting me know she had just arrived at Ciro’s place. I did think that perhaps there was something strange going on. My friend took very long to come out of the airport and meanwhile Adriana was texting me. I called her a couple of times to check up on her, and at one point, I remember her telling me that he had turned off the lights.

When my friend Katia was finally with me, I decided that the best thing was to go over to Ciro’s and wait for Adriana, I knew where he lived. As soon as I got to his place, Adriana sent me a message saying that everything was fine and that she would leave in half an hour. I told her that I was waiting for her downstairs, and while I was waiting, Adriana sent me some voice notes. As soon as I heard them, I went running to the gate of his building and started ringing at every apartment. I knew he lived on the fourth floor. I frantically rang every apartment in the building. A man finally answered, and I told him I was looking for Ciro. I talked to several people, and two minutes later, Adriana came down. In my head, it hadn’t taken longer than ten minutes.

Adriana was very upset; she could hardly breathe; she was panicking, crying, and trembling. She couldn’t get the key in the lock, and she dropped it twice. When she came out, I hugged her, touched her back, and noticed that she was only wearing her jacket, no bra, and no underwear. She couldn’t even speak, I hugged her and understood what had happened. I wanted to go upstairs, but she stopped me. I didn’t go up there because she was terrified, and I thought I had to protect her more than I needed to punch him. She kept on saying, “I have to go up there; I have to go back.” She was worried about the keys, but I told her we could just drop them on the floor inside the gate. We closed the door and jumped in the car. Seeing her like that was very strange because she was fragile and tense, she cried, then she calmed down and then she would be angry. 

We got to the apartment and locked ourselves in our bedroom, we talked for a while, and she wasn’t doing great, she babbled, and I couldn’t understand what she said, her gaze would turn blank all of a sudden. We went to the bathroom. She had moments where she was just absent. I tried to bring her back by pouring water over her, and that’s when she started scrubbing very hard, like cleaning herself deeply. She came out of the shower; we cried; we cried for a very long time. We hugged again, and she passed out momentarily, she fell, and I was able to hold her. Then we had a drink. She said that she wanted to jump out of the window a few times. When she moved, I saw that she had a bruise on her thigh. 

We went to bed, and she finally fell asleep. I stayed awake thinking about what we should do. The next day we decided to go to a psychologist, and we told him what had happened. We didn’t know if we were going to report him, but it wasn’t easy for Adriana to talk about what had happened, she felt like it was happening all over again, which is why, with the guidance of the psychologist, we decided it was more important for her to be well and that she found reasons to keep on living. Ciro called me several times that weekend. I finally answered on Saturday, but I played dumb.

I talked to a lawyer specialized in sexual violence, and I told him about our case. He told me that if we had witnesses, chats, voice notes, and the neighbors’ testimonies, plus the calls Ciro made, we had a solid case that was easy to prove. He could go to jail for several years. We thought about suing him, but Adriana and I didn’t want to relive everything. For now, as long as he doesn’t do anything else, we have decided not to take legal actions.

Katia

It was my first night in Bogotá, and I had just arrived, when Hector, who was picking me up, asked me if we could go pick up Adriana and wait for her to finish a work meeting. He told me he felt something was off, and he would rather go and wait for her. So we drove to a building, and Hector told me he was going to text Adriana, “she shouldn’t be long,” he said. He suggested that we have a drink while she came down, but then he got some texts from her that worried him, and he said he’d rather wait there while she came down. When we were on our way, he mentioned that this was a “Harvey-Weinstein-like” situation. Even though he was joking at first, his description became very real.

We had a drink and waited for her. At first, we thought that if we were there, being near her, then everything would be fine. We thought: Adriana is a strong woman and nothing was going to happen until all of a sudden, Hector ran out of the car and started ringing on every doorbell of every apartment in the building (since my Spanish isn’t great, I didn’t really understand what had happened). I didn’t know what was going on, and while he came back-and-forth, he explained that he had received some voice notes from Adriana that were very troubling and serious. Hector knew that something was wrong. He played them for me and then translated: she was in danger. He continued to ring on every apartment, more than 15 minutes went by, because he didn’t know which apartment was Ciro’s, so he tried all of them.

Meanwhile, I looked at the windows to see if I saw something or if they turned on any light. Then Adriana came running out of the building; she was crying and shivering; she was very emotional. Hector hugged her for a long time, and even though I didn’t understand how she had left the situation, I felt relieved to see that she was safe. 

I hadn’t met Adriana before that day, but I told her that I was very sorry for what happened to her, I told her to take her time and that I was there for anything she needed. The whole situation was very intense, and Hector was very nervous, anxious, and upset because he didn’t know what to do. She kept crying; it was like a nightmare. Then we went to their apartment, and from my room, I could hear her crying, she cried for a long time. It was the next morning when I really understood what had happened. At first, not even Hector understood the magnitude of what had happened. Since I don’t speak Spanish, I didn’t understand either. When we talked the next day, she told me: “He abused me.”

Adriana’s testimony is the most serious out of all of the testimonies gathered in this article. It’s supported by two witness testimonies that confirmed her story, which observed all possible signs frequent in victims of sexual violence. She had bruises; she was in a poor emotional and mental state when Hector and Katia picked her up; she had a fixation with showering or cleaning herself. Also, the fact that Adriana came out from the building running and crying without her underwear on, are all signs of a non consented sexual assault. These things are not normal when there is a consented sexual relation. This case also follows the patterns of those narrated before, the use of professional prestige to intimidate, the work opportunities offered, the denigrating comments about the victims’ romantic partners and the most relevant one: the use of force to kiss or touch the victims in a sexual way and, in this particular case, to abuse a woman sexually. All of this takes place despite the clear rejection and negative of the victims. 

We want to point out some essential things of this case: he used a work-related pretext to get the victim to his house; Adriana was scared and felt in danger before the encounter took place (to the point that she felt the need to have an emergency back-up plan with Hector in case she faced a situation of abuse); and that during the assault she sent voice notes to Hector. We also see possible signs of Guerra’s premeditated actions, like the fact that he wasn’t wearing any underwear or the fact that he recognized that what he did was wrong and a few days later told Adriana that this had to remain “their secret.”

Another critical point is that Adriana felt frightened and intimidated by Guerra’s size and strength, which has also been mentioned by other victims, and that plays in his favor when attempting to assault women.

Fourth case

Eliana: Harassment at Doorway in ParkWay Street

Bogotá, 2016

I know Ciro from the International Film Festival of Cartagena. I traveled to many festivals with my movie, just like he did with Los Viajes del Viento. He also went to see me at the theater a couple of times, and when we met, it was at Casa Ensamble. I was with a friend called Miguel, we were sort of dating at the time, and we ran into Ciro who was with a friend of his. I live nearby Casa Ensamble, and since I didn’t have to wake up early the next morning, Ciro said: “stay, and we’ll have a drink, I’ll buy you a Martini.” And I said: “Okay, cool.” So we sat at a table and started talking about the Oscar; about an email Johnny Deep had written to him; and the emotions of going from being a regular movie director to such a renowned one. 

I drank the martini, and he had had like two beers, and I said: “Okay, I’m going home.” And he said: “I’ll go with you.” I said yes, I lived very close by. We went out, and Ciro’s friend came right behind, Ciro told him: “take a cab,” to which he answered he’d rather walk for a while, but Ciro insisted and said, “you better take a cab.” At that point, I remember thinking, “poor guy, he wanted to walk with us,” but he ended up taking a cab, and Ciro and I started walking. When we got to the door of my building, I opened it, and he pushed me against the wall that is up the staircase, there he groped me: he pushed his hand inside my pants and my shirt. I don’t remember him trying to kiss me, but he was enormous, he is very big and heavy, and he was on top of me with his hands inside my pants and shirt. I work out a lot though, I am strong, so I was able to push him out of the building and close the door behind him.     

Afterward, I ran into him at La Maldita Vanidad (a bar in Bogotá). I got really nervous, but he didn’t come near me until the Cartagena Film Festival of 2018, at Caracol’s party (Caracol is a Colombian media outlet and production house). He asked me to dance, I had been drinking a little, so we started dancing, and I told him: “you owe me an apology,” and he said “why?” so I answered: “because you harassed me, what do you mean why? You threw yourself at me and pushed your hand inside my shirt.” And he said: “I don’t remember that” and seeing my reaction he added: “I do remember I tried to kiss you and you didn’t want to” so I answered: “That wasn’t the case. You threw me against a wall and pushed your hands into my shirt and pants,” and he said: “I am sorry if I offended you. I had just separated from Cristina and didn’t know how to approach women. I have always admired you; I think you are a good looking woman. I’ve always thought you are cute and, well, I am sorry, I respect you a lot.” And I remember thinking: “Okay, maybe it was the clumsiness of having just separated from his wife.” I didn’t even remember winking at him, I had never liked him like that, and I didn’t understand what he could have misinterpreted, but okay. I said I forgave him, we hugged, and that was that. And for me, that was worked out until Daniela called me.

The day after the harassment, I called Miguel and told him what had happened. Ciro knew that Miguel and I had something, and later on, talking to Camila and Daniela, we realized that Ciro harasses women who are dating his colleagues. I didn’t speak about this for four years, and I am sure there have been many more cases since mine, that was in 2016, and the most recent one I know of was in 2019.

Miguel

It was one night at a party in Casa Ensamble, I left early, and Eliana stayed with another group of people. The next day she told me that, when they arrived at her place, as she opened the door of her building because there was no doorkeeper, Ciro threw himself at her, trying to kiss her very violently. She had to push him to get him to stay off.

In Eliana’s case, which was first mentioned in Camila’s testimony, we can trace the same pattern. He uses his fame and influence in the industry to impress and intimidate, in this particular case, his nomination to the Oscars. And the use of force to touch them and kiss them despite their clear and reiterated “No.” It is also important to note that Eliana’s case happened in 2016, four years ago, which extends the timeline of these testimonies. It also shows how, with the passing of time and the growth of Guerra’s prestige, the graveness of the aggressions escalated.  

Fifth case

Carolina: Sexual Harassment on Set  

2018, Colombia

I was very excited because it was the first time I had such an important role at a big production. It was weird because I barely crossed paths with Ciro in Bogotá. At that time, he gave me a feeling of importance: “he is the guy who isn’t here because he is with Johnny Depp doing more important things.” I had met him once at a party, and he had said one or two things to me. I thought: “I finally get to meet him. I really hope that he likes me!”

He arrived late at the town where production was held, and we started without him. He arrived two days before we started filming. Even though I had many questions to ask him, he answered nothing; he only spoke to me about Birds of summer and how “cool” the film was.

On Friday, before we started filming, there was a party. We were all at the party, all the actors, the whole crew and my other bosses. Ciro was tipsy and started dancing uncomfortably to one of my crewmates, and they all commented, “what a disgusting dude.” I was somewhere else, then they closed the establishment, and we went to another club, where we were like ten people. Ciro is apparently shy, but when he drinks alcohol and someone talks to him about sex and women, he gets excited and loosens up, and that night that was what he was talking about. At the party, he came to me and said: “let’s dance!” We started dancing, and he laid his hand on my ass, outside of my pants, but groped me very deeply, close to my crotch, and I got very frightened, so I stepped aside and went to sit down. The next day I told my girlfriends from the makeup team what happened to me and asked them what had happened to them; they said: “he is a pig.” But I didn’t want to cause any trouble, he was the star, and at that time I didn’t want to start any rumors or gossip, and I didn’t want him to know we had been talking about him.

A week later, we got together at the hotel pool at night. There, Ciro sat next to me. He was smoking a cigar and drinking a super special whiskey he had brought with him. He poured me some of his whiskey and told me about his relationships with super famous people. Then he started asking me to tell him about my sex life. He put his hand on my leg and told me: “Okay, Carolina, I need you to tell me something, which movie directors have you fucked?  And I was like: “well, what do you mean? None”, and he kept saying: “I don’t believe you, tell me more.” He told me he had a girlfriend that was arriving the next day, but that night he was alone. He started talking about sex in a very graphic way: the things that he liked to do, and so on; I felt very uncomfortable and started talking to someone else. Then I stood up and started talking to other people, and I think he got tired and went to his room.

None of these things felt that bad at the beginning. Similar things had happened to me with men at other sets. Still, when I mentioned it to my girl colleagues, I realized it wasn’t something we should normalize. When I got back to Bogotá, I found out there were some rumors about Ciro. I decided to talk to my bosses from the production. Several months had gone by after we finished shooting. Still, they supported me and offered me legal counseling, but I didn’t want to start any problems. So I said no, even though they insisted.

Julia  

We had a party at the beginning of the shooting. There was a pregame party before that one, but I couldn’t go because I had to make some adjustments for shooting the next day, so I arrived late. I had a very good relationship with Carolina since we met because we had to work together at times, so we really got along. At the party, there was a point where Ciro had “too much to drink,” which seems like a pattern of his because what happened usually happens when he drinks. He uses it as an excuse, but he was tipsy, and he grabbed Carolina’s butt.  We were watching them dance, and he was dancing at her from behind; I didn’t see precisely how he grabbed her butt, though I did see him sliding his hands down her back. Carolina immediately looked at me with a face that said “help!”, she opened her eyes very wide. She moved away, and that was when she told me that Ciro had grabbed her butt.

Then I saw, I don’t remember the order of the events, but I saw how he started flirting with my assistant, Raquel. It happened at that same party. He started dancing at her, talking in her ear, and for her, it wasn’t anything more than just flirting, she wasn’t going to reciprocate. That was at the first party when I saw what happened to Carolina and she told me. At the second party, he flirted and danced at my assistant again. That was it. Afterward, my assistant and I continued working together on other projects, and we didn’t hear from Ciro again. Then she told me that a year ago, a year after we finished shooting, he wrote to her on Facebook to say “hi” to her. He uses a profile with a fake name; it has the name of a character from a movie, I think, it’s very different. He has never been very into technology, in fact, he didn’t have a smartphone with apps or anything, but he did have a profile with the name “Ignacio” something. From that profile, he wrote to my assistant, and I told her “that wasn’t normal, he is a much older guy who doesn’t insist on reaching you, that is harassment. He is taking advantage of the situation to have something with you, and that isn’t right.” Then, when I told her about this interview, she told me I was right. That she hadn’t seen it like that at the time and nothing had happened, because she didn’t pay attention to him, but he did approach her three times. My assistant is twenty years old, and I tried to protect her, I never sent her to do scenes with him.

I remember that Carolina told me what happened to her during the party, and then after, and I remember with disgust how he danced at her. During makeup, she told me how, during the very few rehearsals they had, he always stood very close to her and made her feel uncomfortable and disgusted. We spoke about it many times that week. Ciro was never “into me,” and the difference in how he treats the women he likes and the ones he doesn’t is evident. You can tell when he likes someone because his attitude transforms.   

In this case, there is a new element to be added to his pattern: the work environment where Guerra finds himself in a clear position of power over the woman who he harassed. During the sexual harassment to Carolina, Guerra maintained a working relationship with her, and everything happened in a working environment. We can see how even though there is a hierarchical work relationship, Guerra chose to make sexually charged comments, inappropriate and uncomfortable, some even aggressive, like assuming that Carolina had had sex with other film directors.

It is essential to underline that in the film industries and the cultural industry in general, many work relationships are formed during parties and at parties, which makes them seem like informal scenarios, but they are of great professional importance. Besides, most of the industry’s projects include parties: movies, documentaries, and TV festivals; the premieres of big and small productions, amongst other public events. Not attending to these events has an impact and a high cost on the public relationships, and work relationships, of members of the industry.

We spoke to several people hired for this production. They confirm that the producers in charge of this project conducted a workshop on the prevention of sexual harassment for all contractors, and Ciro Guerra didn’t show up.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault in the film industry

Although sexual harassment and violence against women happen in all fields and industries, it has been particularly evident in the film industry since its beginning. Until recently, it was a normalized situation, but the #MeToo movement in the US prompted a complaint that served as a turning point in the conversation about harassment in this industry. On February 24, 2020, a jury found billionaire producer Harvey Weinstein guilty of third-degree rape. It cleared him of two other charges, including rape. Weinstein was convicted of a criminal sexual act in the first degree against production assistant Mimi Haley in 2006; of rape in the third degree against aspiring actress Jessica Mann in 2013 and was sentenced in March to twenty-three years in prison.

The allegations against Weinstein began to go public in 2017. They sparked a conversation about how sexual harassment and sexual violence became, over the years, a “requirement” imposed on many women to continue their careers as actresses, producers, assistants, and in any industry position. This ruling is decisive because it condemns one of the most powerful people in the film industry on the planet, so much that he seemed untouchable. It also sends a message to the whole world: the abuse of power to sexually harass and violate women is unacceptable. Nonetheless, the message is not enough to eradicate these problems in the film industry, which is extremely hierarchical and concentrates much of the power and money in a few men. This substantial inequality, characteristic of this industry, is one of the factors that facilitate sexual harassment and violence.

A few months ago, the RecSisters collective was formed in Colombia. They began to collect information on harassment and gender violence in the industry. RecSisters defines itself as “a collective for women who work in the media industry in Colombia that seeks to improve, dignify and achieve equality in workspaces, and create a healthy and trustworthy work environment, free from all types of harassment and/or violence.” At first, four women wondered how to help one of them, a camera assistant, who was facing a sexual harassment case. It had happened two years ago, and she had reported. They started to bring together the women from the industry’s photography departments. They began to talk about harassment at work to protect each other through sorority and the need for protection.

So they decided to survey to have a broader picture of the reality regarding harassment, and the result was an infographic they did after receiving 147 responses that came from women working in production and art. The survey showed that:

  • 81% of the women surveyed have suffered sexual harassment at work.
  • Typical behaviors include leering, suggestive facial gestures, disrespectful verbal expressions, unwanted physical contact, compliments, jokes, and teasing.
  • Other conducts reported in the survey included pressure to accept invitations, threats, attempted rape, and rape.
  • 84% of the respondents decided not to report. One of them stated: “When the producers found out, they only told me to get used to it, that I couldn’t go around complaining about it.”
  • Among those who did denounce faced mockery, layoffs, and labor repercussions such as re-victimization, being judged as problematic, veto and exclusion in the industry, worsening work environment, threats, and increased harassment. Others stated that there were no changes, and a few felt supported.
  • The most serious abuses and violations are usually not reported for fear of being fired or excluded.

The highest amount of harassment reported in this survey came from the camera and photography department. Two factors can explain this result: first, that the majority of the respondents worked in that area; and second, that it is much easier to report aggressors who do not have as much power as a director, actor or executive producer (there were no more than three cases in the survey of actresses who reported sexual harassment by management positions.) The survey showed that, depending on their position, the aggressors have different behaviors and forms of harassment. The scope of this depends on the power of the aggressor. Other harassment spaces mentioned repeatedly in the survey are production parties, where there is usually use of force, which is later justified by saying they had been drunk. Another finding was that for the respondents, there is no general agreement on the definition of sexual harassment and, consequently, harassed women know that they have experienced an uncomfortable, violent, or incorrect situation, but they do not necessarily say that they have been harassed.

Part of the problem lies in a repeated phrase in audiovisual schools: “Cinema is made with friends.” And it is true. Semi-permanent work teams based on affinities and bonds of friendship are often assembled, making it very easy to veto a woman who reported. This buddy-buddy attitude fosters secrecy, exclusion, and loyalties between silent aggressors and accomplices.

Other cases

In this section, we have grouped the cases of Fabiana, Teresa, and Gabriela. They are the oldest cases in this report, and they are also the shortest stories. They are all cases of sexual harassment, showing how this behavior has been occurring systematically for several years, and that violence has increased with time.

Fabiana

Cartagena, 2013

I am a costume designer, and it all happened at the Cartagena Film Festival in February 2013. I did not know Ciro but had heard of him; my best friend worked in academia, and the two of them did know each other. I was with her at the Festival, and we went to parties together with another friend, and Ciro always joined us. I never really spoke to him.

At one of the last parties at Europa Bar, celebrating the birthday of a friend from the industry, I was dancing, and I went to the bathroom. He chased me into the bathroom, and he forced himself into a kiss, I pulled away and said: “What’s wrong with you?!”. He told me, “Don’t say anything, don’t say anything.” Then he came up to me again and said, “You are never going to tell anyone.” I told my friend Patricia what happened.

Patricia 

This was at the 2013 International Film Festival of Cartagena. I was there on business, but I went with my friends too, one of them was Fabiana. I spent a lot of time with her. The one who knew Ciro was me because, in 2010, I worked with him in the academic field. We have always had a very cordial relationship, but not close either; we are not like friends who go to parties every night. At the Festival we met him at several events. I remember a night when we were not at a festival party, but in a bar called Havanna, in Getsemaní, and Ciro arrived. I remember clearly that when we danced, he was after Fabiana a lot like he was standing behind her. He danced and danced at her, and Fabiana was a little uncomfortable, like saying, “I don’t like this guy, and that’s it, it’s nothing more than that.” Let’s say that night we ended up saying, “Ugh, I think Ciro likes you, he’s after you, he’s bothering you.” He was at various moments of the Festival, like trying to talk to us more than usual, and it’s not like he was my best friend for him to be talking to my friends, but you knew he had some interest. But it was not mutual; on Fabiana’s side, there was no interest.

On the last day of the Festival, we went to a bar called Europa, for a party that was being organized by a friend of ours who was celebrating his birthday. It was like a kind of brothel, but there were only people from the industry, it was a semi-private party. And that night as well, Ciro danced behind her and was after her all the time. She was very uncomfortable. She went to the bathroom, and there was like a curtain between the bathroom and the entrance. She was waiting to enter when he came and tried to kiss her forcefully. She did not let him and he said to her like: “Do not tell anyone”. She left there and looked for me, told me what happened and we left. I remember that we were outraged when we got out because Ciro’s wife was sitting outside smoking with other people. Fabiana was super uncomfortable, and she never wanted to see Ciro again or talk to him.

Teresa

Bogotá, 2014

The crazy thing was that a friend had warned me. I did a course with him in 2014, an undergraduate degree in audiovisual. I remember that there was going to be a concert. Several of us from the class left the classroom with those going to the concert. Ciro said: “No, why go now, better have a beer first”, and since I wasn’t going to the concert I stayed with him to have my beer. As soon as we were alone, we had barely sat. Suddenly, he threw himself to kiss me, without me giving him any signs, so I got up and bought the beer to keep him away, and when I sat down again, he tried to kiss me. So, I left, and nothing else happened. When I was going to do the course with him, a friend who is also from the industry said to me: “Be careful, because he is very sleazy!” Sometime later, I ran into him, and he told me that he had seen my work, and then he threw himself at me again, and I said to him: “No, what’s wrong with you, I have a boyfriend.” Later, at the 2018 Cartagena Film Festival, I thought it was shitty because he was going to do a series with Netflix and he said to me: “Hey, I already got you in that team”, and he brought that up to me at parties when he would ask me to dance as if saying to me: “You have to pay me the favor.”

Gabriela

Berlín, 2013

I met Ciro in April or May 2013, when the Colombian embassy in Germany invited him to some events with his film Los Viajes del VientoHe had several occasions in which he tried to cross the line with the embassy’s female interns. I remember an intern, Susana, with whom he was even more abusive. They went out for a drink, and I think it ended up being in a very uncomfortable situation for her.

Although nothing “serious” happened to me, I did feel disgusted and displeasure in his treatment. I was an intern at the embassy in Berlin and was in charge of seeing that the guests were fine. I had the opportunity to approach him in the embassy’s garden, where they were having an event. I told him about my university thesis, which was about audiovisual. I told him that I had not done very well in the thesis, and I told him details, and he seemed to be very interested. I thought: “What a great opportunity to be talking to this Colombian filmmaker who has made such good films. How lucky I am to tell him this, and maybe job opportunities will open up.” I thought of everything that one can think of at the age of twenty-four, recently graduated and with professional illusions, and I approached him with much admiration. And at some point, something happened that sounds stupid, but it is not: he touched my shoulder and reached down to my hand, and I thought it was a very strange gesture, which made me feel uncomfortable. It is very shocking to remember those moments nowadays. Back then, I did not understand that this gesture was not okay, and it did not impact me as much, but now I understand that it was a way to make me feel important and then invite me out.

The embassy has three floors, and on the third floor, there is an inner garden with a corridor in which I met him again. He asked me again what I was going to do. He said that we should go to a party, and at that moment it was very strange to me, because I was working, and that invitation was not related to work. He told me: “You are very pretty, how old are you”, and I felt like an idiot who thought my work interested him if nothing else. I felt very naive, and it made me very angry; I was in a situation where I felt that it was impossible for me to say NO. I couldn’t say no, because he was the guest and I had to attend to him, and what if I was missing a possible job opportunity. But when he started to get more flirtatious, I felt terrible and distressed. I went to my boyfriend and told him: “Please, don’t leave me alone with him” because I felt absolutely reduced with his way of relating to me and his way of talking. I thought it was not fair, that a person who knows that has power takes advantage of that. It gave me a lot of helplessness to feel that he was aware of the power he had, and it made me sick, and I felt all that during those two days.

We went out to have a drink with the interns, and Susana was there. I felt so uncomfortable that as soon as my boss left, I also left. And I don’t remember the details of what happened to Susana, but I remember that it was a problem we spoke about at the embassy for a while. The guy was very abusive.

Teresa’s case shows the same pattern of behavior that we have seen in the others: making professional promises to make women feel obliged and approaching to kiss them without them giving signs of consent. Fabiana’s harassment case lengthens the timeline of this report to 2013. It has another film festival, the Cartagena festival, as its setting. Gabriela’s case also dates from that year and, although it does not get more serious, it shows the sense of alertness, fear, and discomfort that he generates in the younger women in his environment. It also adds Germany to the list of international scenarios, such as Mexico City and New York, where he has committed these acts. An indicator of the vast scope of these harassment cases.

Ciro Guerra 

On Wednesday, June 24, 2020, we spoke to Ciro Guerra to hear his response to these accusations and allow him to tell his side of the story in this report. Here is a direct transcript of the call:

Have you ever taken any kind of sexual harassment awareness workshop?

Yes, when we did the Netflix seminar, the Netflix production asked us to do a workshop about it.

Have you made sexual advances to coworkers who were neither invited nor welcome?

To coworkers, no.

Have you ever made sexual advances to acquaintances, in party settings that were openly rejected?

Well, I mean, this is an interview that is going to be published? All men have approached a woman at some point, and it is her decision if… I mean, one understands whether it is welcome or not, but the truth is that if one feels that a woman does not agree or respond, one cannot go ahead.

Have you sexually harassed women at film festivals such as the Colombian Film Festival, the Cartagena International Film Festival, or Cannes?

No.

Have you insinuated the exchange of professional favors in exchange for sexual favors?

No.

Have you used force to kiss and grope women?

No.

Have you ever been confronted by a woman for sexually harassing her?

No. 

Have you sexually abused any women?

Never.

What I do want to clarify is that they threatened me that they would want to make those kinds of accusations. By the time I gave my support to the national strike [a series of protests against Colombia’s government in November 2019], I had received messages saying that there were people who were going to want to destroy me and that they were going to want to make those kinds of accusations. I did receive those kinds of messages. I cannot say if they are related or not, but the first time I heard of something similar was that time, but not really. It was something I let pass, to which I did not pay attention. Well, obviously, without knowing the complaints, and without knowing who they are talking about and who they are coming from…

Is there anyone saying that I raped her?

Yes, there is a complaint of sexual abuse.

What type?

There is only one type of sexual abuse: sexual abuse.

I mean, rape is not the same as a threat or a text… Are they pressing criminal charges? I have to be prepared to defend myself because it is a severe accusation, and it is also not true.

Public complaint

The eight women who were sexually assaulted, at different levels of severity and whose testimonies we collect in this report wanted to tell these stories. They came to us so that, through journalistic investigation tools, we would help them publicly denounce the Colombian film director Ciro Guerra, who has used physical force and the power that his professional prestige gives him to attack them. All the testimonies show the same pattern of harassment and abuse, even though the incidents occurred independently and in different settings.

The complainants do not intend to make a criminal complaint, because they do not want to go through a process of re-victimization in the hands of the justice system, questioning, or public scorn. Telling these stories publicly is a way to regain agency about what happened and alert the public about the severe normalization of sexual violence in the Colombian film industry, which hinders the professional development of women and affects them physically and emotionally. We hope that these complaints against Ciro Guerra will serve for him to take responsibility for his acts and not to commit this type of aggression with other women again. We also hope that these allegations are a message to other harassers and assailants of the industry and that they spark an urgent conversation about sexual harassment and abuse in other fields.

Given that Guerra’s sexual assaults follow a pattern, it seems highly probable that there are other cases and that, upon learning this report, other women want to tell their stories. Therefore, if so, we are open to making a second installment. You can send an email to volcanicasperiodismofeminista@gmail.com, an account that only those who signed this report have access to. You can also find us through our networks: @matildemilagros and @catalinapordios on Instagram, @matildeymilagro, and @catalinapordios on Twitter, or through the Volcánicas Instagram account: @VolcanicasRevistaFeminista. We will put our abilities as journalists at your service. We will keep strict confidentiality about your identity through the protection of sources.

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