the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

October 9, 2005

Innocent Voices


Occasionally, you get an unexpected treat.

Tonight, for instance, I went to the Amnesty International Film Festival at the National Geographic Center, not expecting to see an important film based on Oscar Torres’s experience as a child evading the death squads of El Salvador.

I confess I was there for less auspicious reasons. First, I was there for what we called in my college years “face time.” I don’t know if the expression still exists in modern terms, but the basic idea is that if you fall, but if MSNBC, PBS and the major blogs aren’t there to see you fall, then you don’t exist. Second, I got a free pass.

Now, before talking about the film and the general experience of the evening, I wanted to emphasize how good the independent film scene is in DC. It’s good not just because the best stuff comes here, but because the artists also want to come here and talk about their work.

I was active on the independent film scene in Boston, from where I’m recently transplanted. A lot of that experience involved what I’ll call a kind of tribal warfare. You may be shocked to know that within very progressive organizations, nasty fights can break out, and while this might serve some kind of Social Darwinistic ends, careers and people get hurt in the process.

Some of my experiences might serve as a good yarn on a foul weather day, but right now, I’d rather not name names. Back to the film.

The principle action of Innocent Voices is set in the Regan years, when government-sponsored death squads terrorized small villages of El Salvador. They fight a guerilla movement, allegedly Communist, but more to the point of the film, rebelling against the military dictatorship. Explained during the discussion afterwards was that the guerilla movement was cast as Communist to attract funding and military assistance from the Regan administration.

The crucial plot point is that all males, as soon as they became 12, were inducted in the army. Since most sensible 12-year-olds don’t want to actually fight in actual combat, the problem is how can they hide from the “recruitment.” We watch the real-life story of Oscar Torres, who calls himself “Chava” in the screenplay, how he defies the military occupation, falls in love, and ultimately survives.

At the discussion after the film tonight was Oscar Torres, director Luis Mandoki, and one of the stars of the film (not in the notes, so I’ll update as soon as I get her name). Now, I’ve been to a lot of after-screening discussions. People, tonight, were on the edge of their seat wanting to know more. Why were we in El Salvador? Apparently, because the threat of Communism, made a lot of people fat, happy and rich. How could they allow recuitment of 12-year-olds? For the same reason that we allow 14-year-olds to be courted by army recruiters. Why does this remind me of Iraq? Because while the film was about one’s persons experience, the problem of state-sponsored military intervention is a universal one.

Innocent Voices will open at the Landmark Theaters, E Street and Bethesda, as well as Loewe’s Georgetown over the next week.

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DCDL is a blog by Washington, DC-area members of Drinking Liberally. Opinions expressed are the writers’, not those of Drinking Liberally, which provides no funding or other support for this blog.

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