Colombia is a South American country rich in jungle and mountain, animal and bird life - a country that touches both the Caribbean and the Pacific and that shares the headwaters of the Amazon River with five other countries. But what do we know of it besides the stereotypical images of coffee and drug lords? "We hear only the bad news," says Langdale resident Diego Samper who, with his wife Marlene Samper, hopes to change that negative outlook on their native country. For years, the couple have been publishing many full colour, coffee table books with educational text and hundreds of original photos by Samper that describe the natural history, the native traditions and culture in Colombia. Though most have appeared in Spanish, one of the more recent ones, Makuna, Portrait of an Amazonian People, was published in English by the Smithsonian Institute Press. Diego will show slides and speak about Colombia following a film from the Sunshine Coast Film Society, Plan Colombia: Cashing in on the Drug War Failure, on Jan. 13 at the Heritage Playhouse in Gibsons. Through interviews with U.S. politicians and activists, including Noam Chomsky, the film explores the U.S.-backed war on drugs and how it may be a cover to protect American business and dollars in a country full of natural resources that is so ripe for exploitation. It's not a simple problem, Samper says, that can be encapsulated in a film or talk. "Society thinks all Colombians are involved in drugs or thinking about drugs," Marlene says. "I've never seen cocaine in my life." Instead, the two seek to educate about the artistic strengths of the country and its amazing biodiversity. They are horrified by the environmental destruction wrought in recent years by the poisonous spraying of coca leaves and also by rural farmers who plant only one cash crop, coca plants, because they can sell them for more money than a food crop such as bananas. From 1979 to 1986, Diego, a student of anthropology and biology, allowed his curiosity to know wild places to impel him into an isolated area of Colombian jungle, where he farmed and lived from the land. Fifteen years ago, he and Marlene abandoned the farm because even in its isolation - it could be reached only by boat or plane - they saw the signs of impending violence caused by the drug wars. After a time in Bogota where their children attended school, they moved to Canada. "We have goals. We wanted to live quietly and close to nature," says Marlene. "We also want a future for our children." The couple love the Sunshine Coast and both are determined to carry on with their art, their education and their desire to show Colombia in its best light. The art of Diego Samper reflects his love of nature: aerial shots from planes over the Amazon, close up photos of native people, the micro landscapes of rocks and bark, the reflection of light on water. There are hundreds of photographs, many of them published in over 30 books. At his Langdale home, Samper's paintings and installations echo his photographs - an oil on board painting is not so much an abstract but a close-up of the earth, reworking the natural process of sedimentation using layers of built-up pigment, then erosion. You can touch it, play with it, as you can other three-dimensional creations. Among the artworks are his series of books made from animal skins and bark fibre, a show that will appear at the DeLeon White Gallery in Toronto in a few weeks. Other work was part of a travelling exhibition, At the Heart of the World, that recently closed at the UBC Museum of Anthropology but now moves to the Biodome in Montreal. On Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m., Diego will show his slides at the Heritage Playhouse and exhibit some of the spectacular natural beauty of Colombia. Marlene will offer fairly traded goods from the Amazon for sale at the show: baskets, canes, jewellery and embroidery. This is a special event for the Film Society and co-producer black.cat, so tickets are $7.50 for members, $10 for non-members. For details and reservations call 604-886-1579.