2005 duPont Award Winners: ‘The Kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt’

Jan 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The duPont Award-winning HBO film “The Kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt” was produced by two women who had never before made a documentary on their own.

Victoria Bruce is a science writer and Karin Hayes had served as an associate producer for a number of TLC documentaries. They were transfixed by the story of the abduction of Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in 2002 and the struggle of her family to both free her and keep alive in her absence her campaign against drug cartels and political corruption.

Though Ms. Bruce and Ms. Hayes had never made their own film before, they invested at least $75,000 in the production, a risk that was later alleviated when HBO came on board.

Ms. Bruce had written a book on a volcano tragedy in Colombia and met the candidate because Ms. Betancourt had the same publisher for her memoirs. “She had just turned 40 and had been in Colombian politics and had death threats against her and was standing up against the corrupt political regime, and she took all of these risks,” Ms. Bruce said. “But I hadn’t done anything for TV before, so that’s where Karin comes in.”

The pair had met previously, Ms. Hayes said. “I get a call from her and she said, ‘You’re the only person I know who does documentaries, and will you go to Colombia with me? I have no money, and no experience, but read [Ingrid Betancourt’s] book,'” Ms. Hayes said.

They planned to follow Ms. Betancourt on the campaign trail, but when she was kidnapped by guerrillas in February 2002, the filmmakers flew to Colombia immediately to begin shooting.

The kidnapping jump-started the story but posed a structural problem: how to make viewers care about a character who was not there. The film used five different U.S. radio interviews of Ms. Betancourt for the opening narration, allowing Ms. Betancourt to tell her own story. “The first act of the film is Ingrid … and we realized it had become the story of a family going through a kidnapping,” Ms. Bruce said.

Ms. Betancourt, who is still in captivity and believed to be alive, came in fifth in the May 2002 elections. There are about 3,000 kidnappings in Colombia each year.