We had the good fortune of connecting with Federico Ahumada and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Federico, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I think anything someone really wants to achieve in their life will involve risk at one point or the other. Risk is always there, we can minimize it, but we can’t avoid it. And with risk, fear also rises, because you don’t know what the outcome will be and then you start asking yourself “What if this doesn’t work?” or “What if I fail?”. These things can freeze someone up and stop them from doing what they really want to do or from achieving a particular goal in their lives they want to achieve.
In my case, I’ve been taking all kinds of risks since I chose my career in filmmaking; artistic paths are always seen as being non-stable, difficult to keep and grow, with no guarantees that things will work out, just expecting that practice and talent will do their miracle, sometimes working for free for “exposition”, and I think we’ve all gone through all that when we choose an artistic career. Just taking that step that has been shaping my life since then, was a huge risk that I had to take at the time. But I did it, not because I emptily threw myself into it, but because I truly felt, believed, and knew deep within me, that this was the path that was going to make me happy, because this was the work that I love.
Then things don’t get any easier, I think we just become stronger when we face risks and, whatever the outcome is, we learn from it. Failure is always going to be there; the difference is how we react to it. We can either go to bed, put our heads under the pillow, and cry, or we can do that but then afterwards, we stand up, we think and meditate on what went wrong, and on what went well, and take action from there. I think success comes after many failures, but we learn from them, move on, and go for our goals with new experience and new tools.
When I started making my documentary “Las Gardenias”, I was told many times that it was a film with no potential, that I had to change my vision somehow in order for it to fit in whatever this other people thought the film should be. I applied to all the funding and developing programs that I could and didn’t make it to any of them. There were also people that supported me and told me this was a good story, and those were the words that I hold myself to. But the most important thing was that I truly believe in my heart that this was a story that needed to be told, that it wasn´t just about me, that there was a group of women that had gone through things that most people might think are unbelievable, yet they survived, and they moved on with their life´s in the face of war, tyranny, and oppression.
That feeling grew to a point in which the small team that was helping me finish the film, soon catch my passion for it, and they could understand my vision, and why to tell this story was so important not only for our country but for the world, even if we didn’t win anything in the process. Boom! At this point, we didn’t even care about the result, and failure and risk were something that we just had passed through, and we just had to keep going because there was no turning back.
Months later, when the film was finished, and now it has made it into more that 20 international film festivals and has been awarded in at least 7 of them. My career changed from there, opportunities started to rise, new projects appear in the horizon even while I´m still finishing distribution and trying to sell this one. New risks will appear? Of course! But like I said before, risk will always be there, we just get more experienced, identify them, really measure, and see it they´re worth taking or not, and understand that failure is something we can´t avoid, and will also be there to teach us how to succeed.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Filmmaking is a though and competitive business. There are tons of people making their films now, creating content, and with all the types of cameras and editing software available in the market, even someone with a smart phone can make a film today. You also have all types of platforms coming out, where people can show their work and share it, so the whole world is overflowed with audiovisual content. So, what do you do to stand out? It´s a hard question, but the first thing that I think of is “don’t do the same everyone else is doing”. Or in another words, “find your own voice”. I think as an artist, this is the most important thing to achieve, because it will differentiate your work from other people’s work. Now this also means you must become aware of who your audience is too, otherwise, you can end up doing a quite unique work but that nobody will ever see. So, it´s important to know the audience and how to reach them, then your voice can resonate with them, and you can do something special that people will see.
My process with “Las Gardenias” documentary taught me that; I wasn´t only talking about the armed conflict in in Colombia, I was taking a particular point of view on it, in this case that of an American young drama-therapist doing social work in Colombia and helping these older women, who suffered forced displacement due to war, with their mental health issues. I think that perspective is what has made people all over the world to connect with the story.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I think for them to fall in love with this city, the first place to visit would be the Rocky Mountains National Park. The beauty, scenery, and space of all the possible hikes there are just mesmerizing, and something not easily found anywhere else in the world and impossible to forget. Then, to take a break and refresh, I´d take them to the Historic Lower Downtown to share a beer at one of the local breweries, or better to take a tour and try them all! Taking the chance in downtown, I’d take them to this shop called Overland Sheepskin Co, that has the most beautifully crafted western leather clothing I’ve ever seen, from hats and belts to boots and jackets, everything you need to look like a real cowboy. There’s also a nice restaurant downtown called The Capital Grille, they shouldn´t miss that one, and for dessert a little visit to the Rocky Mountains Chocolate Factory. A scape to Colorado Springs would be nice too, and before leaving I’d take them to something I missed but will definitely do in the future: the Denver Indoor Skydiving Experience!. I think after all that, they can go back home and talk about the trip for the rest of their lives.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My big Family, all of them, always believed and supported me even during the hardest times, they know who they are, and there are too many people to mention them all here. My crew on this one: sound mixer Henry Burgos who was there shooting this with me from the very beginning, assistant director Carmen Barvo and her willing to learn something new from the ground for it to succeed even if it was her first time doing it, editor and fellow filmmaker Andres Echeverria, who got so much into the story that shared with me all the laughter and the tears that came from making this dream come true. Colleagues like Beto Rosero, Monica Taboada, Maria Paola Guzmán, and Diego Cañizal, their concepts, words of encouragement, and example through their own work was really important to me during that time.
For the main and first photo from the group (me with beret and glasses), credit to Stephen Glass. For the one smiling with the Colombian hat in front of the monitor, credit to Nicolas Sastoque. For the screenshot of the documentary (women with closed eyes) the credit to Federico Ahumada. For the banner design credit for Efren Lopez. And for the last two photos, credit to Diego Insignares.