El Salvador documentaries

El Salvador documentaries February 15, 2010

Some readers of this blog are probably aware of my interest in El Salvador. It’s an interest that is quite personal, as an uncle of mine is a priest who has been living and working there since the 1980s. This “personal connection” is indeed what sparked my interest in Latin America and, eventually, in liberation theologies, especially the work of Salvadoran theologians Ignacio Ellacuria and Jon Sobrino.

So I’m always interested when new documentaries about El Salvador are made. And there are a few new interesting ones to highlight. The first is Return to El Salvador which comes from Jamie Moffett and the folks behind the very good film The Ordinary Radicals. A summary of the film is here and you can view the first seven minutes of the film here:

Tim’s El Salvador Blog has alerted us about two shorter films on the water crisis in El Salvador: Until the Last Drop: Tales from the Battle for El Salvador’s Water and Chronic Neglect: The Water Crisis in El Salvador. Trailers for those films can be seen at Tim’s blog.

In reading about these new films, I was reminded of Esther Cassidy’s 2001 documentary Enemies of War which remains one of the strongest films on El Salvador that I have seen. I first saw it at the Ignatian Family Teach-In at the annual protest at the School of the Americas in 2001. After years of trying to track down the film — to my knowledge it’s available for sale only to institutions and not for private viewing — I finally acquired a copy and reviewed it a few weeks ago.

What is unique about the film is the way Cassidy’s narration of the history and context of El Salvador’s civil war focuses strongly on the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. She interviews U.S. officials regarding U.S. funding of the “anti-Communist” Salvadoran government despite their known human rights abuses. Also interviewed are U.S. Congressmen Joe Moakley and James McGovern who led a task force to investigate the murder of the Jesuits and their companions, Fr. Jon Sobrino who survived the killings and whose experience fuels his theological writings, and American Jesuit Fr. Dean Brackley who relocated to El Salvador to take over the teaching position of one of the murdered Jesuits. Perhaps most penetrating are interviews with ordinary Salvadorans who describe the atrocities that became commonplace during the conflict. The film concludes with an examination of the 1992 peace accords and the work of the U.N. Truth Commission on El Salvador. The result is a succinct but in depth overview of the particulars of recent Salvadoran history that also leads to a deeper, more general understanding of Latin American-U.S. relations and the role of faith in political struggle.

I know of no other film that so effectively brings together the political context, the religious dimension, and the perspective of everyday people to tell the story of El Salvador’s civil war and the involvement of the United States government in it. I would recommend the film for use in courses on Latin American liberation theology, faith and politics, Catholic social thought, and the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century. And fortunately Cassidy has promised further updates in film on life in El Salvador since the peace accords.

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  • I would also recommend “A Question of conscience the murder of the Jesuit priests in El Salvador.”

  • Tony de New York

    I was in el Salvador 2 years ago and i saw little change outside the capital, hopefully with President Funes changes will come.

  • Kevin McManus

    Thanks for posting this Michael