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Doctoral graduate shares her passion for Colombian cinema

Fall 2020 doctoral graduate Cindy Bonilla-Cirocco stands in front of an old brick building. She is wearing her graduation regalia, including a maroon and black gown, blue hood, and black cap.

Fall 2020 graduate Cindy Bonilla-Cirocco will be receiving her PhD in Latin American literature and culture in December. Earlier this year, she successfully defended her dissertation on the Caliwood movement of the 1970s in Colombian cinema.

November 30, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Fall 2020 graduate Cindy Bonilla-Cirocco says her peers should always keep an open mind about their studies and career path. 

“I would encourage students not to limit themselves and to do their research about what other options are out there,” said Bonilla-Cirocco, who will be receiving her PhD in Latin American literature and culture. “You never know when you may find a great opportunity you weren’t expecting if you keep yourself open to it!” 

Luckily, Bonilla-Cirocco took her own advice. 

Midway through the process of researching and writing her dissertation, she enrolled in a Latin American film course taught by Spanish Professor Cynthia Tompkins that changed the course of her doctoral studies. After writing a paper about the 2015 documentary film "Todo comenzó por el fin (It All Started at the End)" by Colombian director Luis Ospina, Bonilla-Cirocco switched her dissertation topic from Latin American graphic novels to Colombian cinema. 

“I was immediately drawn to his work and wanted to know more,” she said. “It was a drastic change, and I had to essentially learn all about Latin American cinema, as well as Colombian cinema, on the fly as I wrote my dissertation.”  

With Tompkins’ assistance, Bonilla-Cirocco published her paper about “It All Started at the End” in the academic journal Confluencia from the University of Northern Colorado. She then developed it into her dissertation by including additional research and analysis on Ospina and other members of the “young and subversive” Caliwood filmmaking collective that he was a part of in the 1970s, including Carlos Mayolo. 

“Bonilla-Cirocco succeeds in highlighting the political commitment of these filmmakers, who risked international success by rejecting and lampooning the Colombian ‘pornomiseria’ movies of the time that profited from showing the most sordid aspects of the third world, both in terms of the production of a movie as well as penning a manifesto of their own,” said Tompkins, who also served as Bonilla-Cirocco's dissertation committee chair. 

Bonilla-Cirocco said she was determined to convey her newly discovered passion for Colombian cinema in her dissertation, which she successfully defended in October. 

“This was a challenging task, and at times I felt overwhelmed, but I knew what my end goal was and I refused to let so many years of hard work and intellectual growth go to waste,” Bonilla-Cirocco said. “Finishing my dissertation is one of the proudest moments of my life.” 

During her time at ASU, Bonilla-Cirocco volunteered at various events, such as the School of International Letters and CulturesLanguage Fair and Homecoming, where she represented SILC’s Spanish Department. She also was a member of the organizing committee for ASU’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, which involved connecting with Spanish-speaking communities around the Valley to showcase various cultures. Bonilla-Cirocco, who was raised in Colombia, served as a liaison to the local Colombian community in particular. 

“Cindy has an incredible work ethic. She is unassuming, diligent, always well prepared and very professional,” said Associate Professor of Spanish Jesús Rosales. “I believe that Cindy is a socially concerned scholar who is committed to sharing her knowledge, not only with fellow academics, but also with underprivileged communities unable to receive a university education.” 

Bonilla-Cirocco chose to complete her doctoral studies at ASU after first earning her bachelor’s degree due to the distinguished reputation of the Spanish program. Doing so allowed her to accept a position as a teaching assistant for Spanish courses at all levels, as well as working as a research assistant for Regents Professor of Spanish David William Foster. 

Foster was the original chair of Bonilla-Cirocco's dissertation committee before he died earlier this year, and he had served as a mentor to her for many years. 

“There was no better example of a person who was deeply committed to and passionate about his work and his students,” Bonilla-Cirocco said. “I am honored to have known and worked under him, and I learned things from him that I will remember for the rest of my life." 

Bonilla-Cirocco is grateful that Tompkins, who was a member of her dissertation committee at the time, was able to step up into the role of chair and guide her to completing her dissertation and graduating this fall. 

“While the dissertation is a tribute to the Caliwood movement in general, Bonilla-Cirocco's work is essential in filling a gap in Colombian national cinema,” Tompkins said. “I’m happy to report that Cindy managed to convey her project to Ospina,” one of the directors she wrote about, prior to his death in 2019. 

After graduating in December, Bonilla-Cirocco hopes to pursue a job in the Foreign Service with the U.S. Department of State. She’s also considering work in academia. 

“When I entered (the School of International Letters and Cultures) as a graduate student, a professor told me that these would be the best years of my life. I can say now, without a shadow of doubt, that these years here at (ASU) have been the most memorable so far,” Bonilla-Cirocco said. “During my time at (the school), I grew as an individual, as an intellectual and as an educator.”

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