Esperanza Sánchez Espitia
Colombia / Regina
In 2021, Cecilia Araneda spoke with Esperanza Sánchez Espitia as part of a multi-year curatorial research project on Latin Canadian cinema. This is a brief extract of her research.
Esperanza Sánchez Espitia is a Colombian-Canadian filmmaker and multidisciplinary visual artist who came to Canada as a political refugee. She holds a BFA in Journalism, Media, and Television from INPAHU in Colombia. Sánchez spent 18 years engaged in self-financed research work in Colombia documenting the life and cultural practices of 84 Indigenous communities in Colombia, creating a body of work to contribute to the protection of cultural knowledge. This work, however, made Sánchez a political target and resulted in her needing to escape the country. Sánchez’s photographic work has been exhibited in Canada, South Africa, Geneva, New York, Paris, and the USA, among other countries. She is currently enrolled in the University of Regina’s film production MFA program.
“In Colombia, you either live very well, or you live violently”
When I asked Esperanza Sánchez Espitia to comment on how Colombian-Canadian filmmaker Pablo Álvarez-Mesa had described life in Colombia to me, this broke everything open.
Until that moment, all I knew about Sánchez was from the very brief introduction she had given in an online workshop on DIY darkroom practices given by Lightproof Collective in January 2021. She was not on my original list of Latin-Canadian filmmakers to interview and she does not yet have a body of work. However, for this project I was very interested in learning more about filmmakers who live outside of the Toronto/Montreal corridor, and so I was finally able to follow up with her several months later just as I was finishing up this project.
To be frank, most of the Latin Canadian filmmakers I’ve met through this project come from varying degrees of wealth, at least by continental standards. Several even come from oligarchical families – known in Latin America as the elite. Understanding the social class to which a Latin Canadian filmmaker belongs is important context to understanding Latin Canadian cinema, for what it represents in comparison to what it is perceived to represent, as there can at times be a dichotomy between these two things.
In Latin America, social class is unlike anything experienced in Canada. It is often connected to wealth, but not always; many members of the elite are not explicitly wealthy, but still gain special opportunities that are not available to those from other social classes who might have similar financial means, solely based on their family name and connections. The power of social class can, in fact, not just transcend wealth but also political leanings. Belonging to the right social class in Latin America can be somewhat like being born into different branches of royalty. And because historically in Latin America it is only the elite who have been able to narrate the experience of Latin America in professional art practices, understanding an artist’s social class is an important element to understanding the lens they bring as an artist. Because Canada tends to package all Latin Americans into one bundle, as immigrants and people of colour, the role and function of social class within their artistic lens is something that is rarely, if ever, examined.
In the context of Álvarez-Mesa’s explanation of life in Colombia to me, Sánchez is not among those who lived very well.
Sánchez arrived in Canada in 2002, after having worked for nearly two decades engaged in photography documenting Indigenous communities in Colombia as a community worker, seeking to assist First Nations in preserving their culture. She arrived in Canada with her two children as a single mother, sponsored as a refugee by an Anglican Church community in Sydney, BC, where she lived for her first year in Canada. She would later move to Quebec, where she lived for 12 years. Her more recent move to Regina was precipitated by her desire to stay close to her children after they moved as adults. In Regina, she was able to upgrade her university education and then finally enroll in the film production MFA program at the University of Regina, studying under thesis advisor Mike Rollo, a well-known Canadian experimental filmmaker.
Originally from Bogotá, Sánchez grew up in poverty and lived a life of violence starting at an early age. She was, however, able to overcome her early circumstances and obtain a university degree in journalism, which led to her work in documentary photojournalism. This work, however, would come to place her in the path of danger again, this time by paramilitary groups. Eventually, after a direct attack and under the threat of death, she came under the protection of international NGOs working in Colombia, who moved her from one makeshift safe house to another for more than a year in an effort to keep her alive. Finally, these NGOs were able to secure her safe passage to Canada.
Sánchez did not carry her photography practice to Canada. She instead dedicated herself here to raising her children. She describes her life in Canada as one mostly lived in silence, with her voice and her art packaged into boxes after she left Colombia for fear they could endanger the family left behind. After having fled Colombia, Sánchez’s art practice became something that she felt she could practice only in private, at least until only very recently. Her public reemergence as an artist decades later has not been an inevitable or easy thing for her to do.
Sánchez is currently researching a film production pathway to start to speak about her life story in film through diary cinema and social justice filmmaking approaches.
Since mid 2021, Sánchez has also participated in Mujer Artista, a Winnipeg-based multidisciplinary group of Latin women artists from the prairies working through collective professional development and networking.
Learn more about Sánchez’s work in the Toronto Film Magazine.