This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the sold-out premiere of a penetrating film called “Bolivar’s Heart” at the Dallas International Film Festival. An adaptation of author Margaret Donnelly’s historical novel by the same name, the film was an artistic collaboration between actor/director Leonel Gonzalez, Alma Productions, and the actors including Alan Ciangherotti, Amellali Santana, and Andrés Bermea.
While “Bolivar’s Heart” is set in current times, the historical story of Simon Bolivar is interwoven throughout the film. Simon Bolivar was a revolutionary known as “The Liberator” because he was instrumental in leading the South American continent’s overthrow of the colonial Spanish empire in the 1800s. Characters in “Bolivar’s Heart” lead us through the mystery of what happened to Bolivar on his death and explain why this information is important to indigenous Peruvians, and, perhaps, to indigenous peoples around the world.
Against this backdrop, “Bolivar’s Heart” covers multiple topics harvested from the real world, including the human impacts of a flawed U.S. immigration system, the extermination of indigenous power and inheritance in Peru, and the problem of cross-border human trafficking. But the theme that drives the drama in this production is the problem of forcibly separated families.
In the film, secret military forces are after Peruvian siblings Isabel and Antonio Condorcanqui because they are family members of Andean revolutionary José Gabriel Condorcanqui aka Tupac Amaru II. Antonio is a present-day rebel who tries to follow Simón Bolívar’s doctrine of setting oppressed towns free, but Isabel becomes a victim of human trafficking at the hands of the deep state. Attorney David Levin and his assistant, Gloria Dolii Garcia, come to Isabel’s defense to protect her from being deported from the United States, where she has found safety from her pursuers. So, not only do human traffickers initially separate the siblings, Isabel and Antonio, during their teenage years in Peru, but the U.S. immigration system threatens to keep them apart decades later after Isabel has finally been liberated from her captors.
The heart-rending tragedy of forced family separation is a thematic focus that echoes throughout all of Margaret Donnelly’s various modes of work, from her role at the helm of an immigration law practice that focuses on keeping families together, as an author of multiple books, and, now, as a filmmaker who reveals to us what it must feel like when family members are not permitted to cross borders to see each other. One of Ms. Donnelly’s goals is to unite such families, and she has dedicated her life’s work to changing the way we think about and understand the political systems that perpetrate such evils.
Overall, the film is both enthralling and challenging, presenting the audience member with a tug-of-war between their brain and their heart. One moment, the film requires the audience member to think deeply, to ponder, to question, to figure out the puzzle that is the characters’ lives. The next moment, it engages the heart and the spirit, involving the audience member in the intense joy of romance and the anger and sadness resulting from plot lines involving human trafficking and family separation.
Donnelly has carved out a niche at the intersection of art and public policy. Her unique perspective as a Venezuelan-born U.S. immigration attorney empowers her to convey through richly imagined storylines the connections in terms of world history, politics, and policy that many of us with different life experiences would otherwise miss. Because Donnelly is the only writer-filmmaker creating books and films centering on Venezuela and, in the case of Bolivar’s Heart, the current plight of Peruvian Incas, she stands in a league of her own.