Monday, March 20, 2006

Ariel Dorfman reviews four films that chronicle the fight for human rights in Latin America

For anyone intrigued by these questions, four compelling films presented at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival provide some tentative answers. For starters, there is The Dignity of the Nobodies, by the eminent Argentinian film-maker Fernando "Pino" Solanas. Less stylistically provocative than his incendiary Hour of the Furnaces (1968), this film explores in 10 heartbreaking vignettes the ways in which his compatriots have managed to survive the unprecedented economic and social catastrophe that recently engulfed an Argentina reeling under the colossal failure of the neo-liberal "shock therapy" strategy.

In Memoria del Saqueo (2004) he denounced the way in which previous governments, allied with the multinationals and the International Monetary Fund, had looted land that was once the bread-basket of the world and now could not feed its own people. Many of the "nobodies" documented by Solanas endure an existence on the outer margins of destitution, where hunger and unemployment are the recurring spectres and communal soup kitchens the solution. (...)

It is true that the one assassination depicted in The Dignity of the Nobodies - Darío, a young activist - creates such a public furore that the officers responsible are put on trial. And it is a delight to watch those unarmed women farmers flummox their adversaries by belting out the national anthem while the police stand by indecisively. Yes, the military is discredited and weakened and cannot massacre those who dare to rebel. But the rebels themselves know all too well that the terror of the past can easily return, that this terror, in fact, is not really in the past as long as it can be remembered.

State of Fear shows all too clearly how terror can contaminate a country. This timely film by Pamela Yates, Paco de Onís and Peter Kinoy crisply recounts how the Peruvian struggle against terrorists (in this case the messianic sect known as Shining Path, responsible for the death of 30,000 indigenous peasants, in the name of the oppressed Indians of the Andes) eventually degenerated into state genocide and the destruction of the democracy supposedly being defended. As if trapped in a suspense film, we are forced to follow this escalation of violence step by tragic step, slowly understanding how so many Peruvians were poisoned by this maelstrom of madness and cruelty.

You can find the review here

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