TRAILER: Doc ‘Carta a una sombra’ Explores Life and Death of a Dirty War-Era Colombian Activist

It’s easy to forget that behind every martyr for the cause of social justice, there’s a grieving family coping with wounds that never seem to heal. Over the last few years, a number of filmmakers have begun to personalize these experiences through documentary filmmaking. Just this year, we witnessed the buzz around the Cannes premiere of Allende mi abuelo Allende, a film about the family legacy of Latin America’s first democratically-elected socialist president. Now with the documentary Carta a una sombra (Letter to a Shadow), first-time Colombian filmmaker Daniela Abad decided to honor her family’s legacy by carrying on the memory of her grandfather, Héctor Abad Gómez.

A victim of Colombia’s notorious Dirty War against the left, Héctor Abad was a doctor and tireless fighter for human rights and public health. After founding the first school of public health in the country, his energies turned toward political and social activism. He became an outspoken champion of various causes – a vocation that ultimately led to his tragic death at the hands of paramilitary forces linked to the government. His legacy was cemented in a novel written by his own son (and Daniela’s father), Héctor Abad Faciolince, entitled El olvido que seremos, which garnered critical acclaim along with a number of important international awards.

Yet Daniela’s contribution is clearly distinct from that of her father, not only because it’s audiovisual, but also because the focus is shifted from her grandfather’s legacy to the lingering impact of his loss on her family. The trailer offers a good sense of how Daniela and co-director Miguel Salazar approach the topic, giving a space for historical context through archival footage, photos, and newspaper clippings, then bringing more intimate familial voices into the narrative.

In the end, we see a debate erupt among family members about the importance of finding out who exactly was responsible for the murder of their patriarch, and while some may feel closure in knowing, Letter to a Shadow is a testament to the fact that what’s truly important is remembering.