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"Biblioburro" follows Luis Soriano as he teaches his regular class of children on a Friday in the village of La Gloria, Magdalena Province, in northern Colombia, "in the heart of the conflict zone between leftist guerrillas and paramilitaries." He rides a burro as he travels to villages to loan books to children.
He asks the children to draw pictures of the bad things that have happened in their lives, then share their stories with the class. He asks them, "Where are we going to leave these bad things?" The answer is, "Behind us."
Soriano builds up the children by telling them they are the ones who will save the country. He is preaching the gospel of education as the way they will overcome the killing and poverty in the region, and his love and care for them shines through in the up-close-and-personal filmography directed by Carlos Rendon Zipagauta.
Zipagauta's award-winning film, in Spanish with English subtitles, has all the elements that make the viewer care: children who have faced terrible events, open-air classrooms where real learning takes place and Soriano himself, who has spent a decade living his faith in education.
On Friday night, Soriano has his children help him load two homemade containers with books for his Saturday "job." He rises at dawn, puts the books on Alpha, one of his burros, and climbs on Beto, the other burro. He sets out on a daylong journey, stopping to say a prayer that he and his burros will be safe. He knows that safety is not guaranteed, because on one trip he was stopped by gunmen and tied up for a while before being let go. But he presses on through mud and woodlands and crosses a river with rising water.
When he reaches the designated spot, children are already arriving by foot and on horseback. They gather on wooden benches and listen intently as he asks the children for their homework from the previous Saturday: They were to write stories about bad things that had happened to them. The stories are of violence and killing. He asks this group, "Where are we going to put these bad stories?"