Carolina Valencia is a Colombian documentary maker by origin, who spent most of her life as Carlos. She worked as a freelancer and, also in 2006, made the documentary “The Two Cubas”, about two gay friends in communist Cuba under Castro. During the making of that documentary she came into contact with Santeria. This religion is mainly practiced in Cuba and Puerto Rico. As a result, her struggle with her identity, sexuality and her body accelerated, of which this documentary is the report.
Carolina’s personal story is intriguing enough for a compelling documentary. Yet “Voodoo Woman” has become an unbalanced movie. The balance between her personal development and her initiation into the rituals of Santeria has not been worked out properly. Maybe she should have told these two stories separately. And perhaps it would have been better to have someone else make her own story. As a documentary maker her work is less interesting here than as the subject of the documentary. The motivation to become a Santeria priestess (hence the English title “Voodoo Woman”) is clearly set up, but when the shift to her transition to so-called transgender takes place halfway through, the – expected – common thread sometimes gets a bit lost. She is committed to the position of other transgender people and to more tolerance and respect, which is not quite parallel with her desire to become a priestess. In this way, the whole almost comes across as a chronologically filmed documentary that was created through improvisation, which was not edited enough afterwards. The themes thus linger in good intentions.
Still, “Voodoo Woman” is undeniably a genuine and authentic work. After all, Carolina’s story is intensely personal, in which the documentary maker herself is central to an autobiographical and sometimes painful portrait. For any member of an aristocratic lineage with illustrious ancestors, it can sometimes be difficult to live up to high expectations, let alone if you still have to face yourself. Technically speaking, “Voodoo Woman” often rattles. The camerawork looks nervous and is at times just as unbalanced as the content. The voice-over from Valencia itself sometimes overlaps the dialogue in the documentary, so it is not always clear what is the most important spoken word to follow. Valencia does, however, lard up her story with photos of her childhood, videos (including her wedding – as Carlos) and a number of beautiful animations. The Spanish conversations are subtitled in English. In terms of topics – both Carolina’s personal struggles and the Sangeria religion – well worth it, despite the narrative and technical imperfection. A word of caution: in the Sangeria religion it is customary to perform animal sacrifices (as stated in the docu, the blood sacrifice is the highest imaginable sacrifice) and not everyone will be charmed by a few shots showing this.