• Festivals

Golden Shell Winner – San Sebastian: “The Kings of the World”: A Poetic Journey to Reclaim a Place in the World

Laura Mora’s second feature, The Kings of The World, which recently won the top prizes in San Sebastian and Zurich, is a film about having (or not having) a safe place in the world.

It follows the 19-year-old Ra (Carlos Andres Castaneda), who lives and hustles in the streets of Medellin. One day, he gets the news that he will finally get back the land that was taken from his family by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Having been separated from his family since the displacement, Ra lives homeless on the streets of Medellin, where he has created a bond with fellow street boys. They are: Sere (Davison Florez), Nano (Brahian Acevedo), Winny (Cristian Campana), and Culebro (Cristian David). They all decide to follow Ra on his more than 350-kilometer trip to rural Colombia to reclaim the land. Their goal is to create a home for themselves. We follow the five street kids as they undertake the dangerous road journey to follow their dreams of having a safe place in the world.


We spoke to Laura Mora via Zoom from her house in Columbia.

What inspired you to make this film about the five young street boys traveling more than 350 kilometers to reclaim their family’s land?

Creating my first feature Killing Jesus, which is very autobiographical because it has to do with my dad’s killing when I was 21 years old, was such a liberating process. My father was a professor, a lawyer and a human rights defender. The film was about a girl who is 21, who meets the young man who killed her dad. Without him knowing who she is, she follows him with the intent to kill him. But when she starts spending time with him, she realizes that he too is a victim of the violence and the situation in the country.

When I was shooting that film, I also worked with actors who were not trained actors. Very young men. They all spoke about just wanting a place in the world. Either a house or just a space where they could exist and be safe.

After shooting Killing Jesus, I went on the same trip that the five young boys in the film take – from Medellin to the coast. Suddenly this piece of landscape that has always been under dispute gave me the idea. Our main conflicts have to do with the land because a lot of people have been displaced from their land. I just started seeing images of these young men trying to claim a piece of land and find a safe place in the world for themselves. I started writing very randomly and freestyle. I wrote that the kids are taking poetic revenge on the world.

What kind of research did you do? How well did you know the boys’ environment before writing about it?

I have been very curious about the street boys and street culture since I was very young. I was always hanging out with them and interested in their culture in a city that was very divided socially. These young men always fascinated me. They are victims who are also capable of being killers. I was always amazed by this contradiction. They were able to be nice and generous but they were also able to kill. I have known many of the kids who are in my films since they were very young. I have spent a lot of time with them. I have tried to understand this history of violence.

You talk about the issue of reclaiming land, which was a big issue in Colombia. Can you explain to people who are not aware of what has happened in your country?

Because of the richness of the land, paramilitary groups that have worked either with mafia lords or the big industries have pushed people away from their land in a violent way. They have taken control of the land. Colombia has the largest amount of displaced migrants on the planet. They have traveled from the rural areas into the cities. It started in the 1940s. It peaked in the 1990s. The armed groups took control of the territories. In 2016 there was a peace agreement and one of the things that was agreed upon was to give the land back to the people who were displaced. In the film, the boys receive a letter from the land restitution office saying that they will finally get back the land that belonged to the grandmother.

What was it like shooting the film in the Columbian hinterland? Was it, at times, a bit rough?

It was! It felt like a miracle that it happened. We were shooting a film in a very hostile area and people warned me that it would be really hard. We just felt one hundred percent sure we would be okay. When we entered the territory we did it with respect for the people and we never experienced a hostile situation. We did preproduction during the social riots in Colombia – people took to the streets. So we did this during a very tense period in the country. It was hard to work in this atmosphere. But we did it.

Are street kids a big social issue in Colombia? And, because you focus on young boys in the film, is it mainly an issue related to young males?

Yes — not just because of an economic problem. Many are fleeing from home because of violence in their households and in their neighborhoods. As a woman, I am very intrigued by the male world. I am 40 years old and I have never experienced peace in my country. This conflict is led by men. The victims are, largely, young men from poor areas. Sometimes they are defending a powerful man. I am curious about the history of violence, which is such a masculine issue. But these men are fragile and tender too. I can show them in a light that is different from how they are usually portrayed.

The boys create a sense of having a family with each other. Did the boys that you cast know each other?

Some of them knew each other from the streets. Some got to know each other at the rehearsals. They related to each other very well because they come from similar backgrounds. My casting process is very long. I spend a lot of time in the streets talking and watching the boys and building really strong relationships with the boys so that they feel they can trust me. They also showed me how tender they can be. The script was not as tender as I think the film ended up being. That was because of the boys; it just came naturally to them.

The young actors watched the film with you at the world premiere at the film festival in San Sebastian. What was that experience like?

In the beginning, it was terrible because they were so excited that they were talking loudly. Then they focused on the film. When the lights came back on, they were crying. One of them hugged me and said ‘Your mind is so amazing’ – what more can you wish for? They were really happy and touched by the film.

You have won several awards recently. You won the Golden Shell award for best film in San Sebastian, in Spain, and the Golden Eye award for best feature at a prestigious film event in Switzerland. What does it mean to you to win these awards?

It was a surprise. For me, just to be in the selection of A-list festivals is outstanding. There was a standing ovation for us at the world premiere. For the kids to experience it, that was amazing. They went on a plane for the first time. They saw a film for the first time. They saw the ocean for the first time. It was a lot and it was very beautiful. So, to receive the news that we won the award – and hear the comments from the audience and the jury – was amazing. I was worried that it was a very local conflict and that people would not connect in a real way, but the audience’s reactions were so deep. I was so honored and very happy because it has been a long and tough journey.