But the former U.S. foreign policy mastermind and the Argentine-born Los Angeles attorney both play intertwined, supporting roles in Juan Mandelbaum's haunting and disturbing documentary "Our Disappeared" (Nuestros Desaparecidos), one of 132 films that will be screened during the 12th annual Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, which starts tonight.
Our Disappeared (Nuestros Desaparecidos)
Like an archaeologist looking for a lost civilization, filmmaker Juan Mandelbaum searches for hints and stories of victims of Argentina's bloody mid-'70s era in the sensitively rendered "Our Disappeared." While it may lean a bit too much toward a PBS-style documentary -- the pic is slated for the public network's "Independent Lens" in spring 2009 -- it reflects Mandelbaum's personal quest to come to terms with his country's most reckless and violent era. As an entry point for viewers unaware or vague on the details and political background, this is a fine primer, and looks ideal for top doc-related fests.
As Mandelbaum explains in his gentle narration, he is a survivor of Argentina's "dirty war," the sad, tragic period between 1976 and 1983, when a military junta sought out, tortured and killed countless left-wing activists, supporters and insurgents.
Though as a student he allied himself with leftist causes and socialist politics, Mandelbaum was not a radical, and, unlike several of his friends, resisted the call for violent revolution against the military. When things become so hot he sensed imminent arrest, however, he fled to the U.S., where he continues to live and work.
"Our Disappeared" chronicles his temporary return home after 30 years' absence, and his search for his close friend Patricia Dixon, who was among the disappeared. In his university's sociology department -- where many of his fellow students were radicalized -- Mandelbaum finds one of his first indicators of Dixon's fate, on a wall-length roll call of names of disappeared alum.
The Boston Globe
Many a man has spent a movie searching for a lost love. Few have wound up telling the story of revolutionary South America in the process. But when Juan Mandelbaum went looking for an old college girlfriend back in Buenos Aires, he came back with "Our Disappeared," a tender documentary that recalls how a decade of political upheaval wrecked families, friendships, and whatever was holding Argentina together socio-economically.
Mandelbaum begins the film with a dolorous almost sentimental mission to find Patricia Dixon, an activist he hasn't seen since the early 1970s.
His gauzy personal essay is too luxuriant for the story her vanishing leads him to. The film expands into something altogether more compelling, without forsaking the wistfulness and nostalgia that made him jaunt from his home in Brookline back to his native Argentina, where he reunites with her old friends and his, and with children and parents of old friends. Those friends are missing. They were radicals and activists who, along with thousands of others, were kidnapped, tortured, and never heard from again during the militarist government's anti-leftist campaign.
The film, which was shot on video, deftly weaves the continent's ongoing political upheavals - particularly Argentina's own roiling cauldron of extremism, coups, and corruption - with the recollections of people mourning the missing. The men and women Mandelbaum finds seem comfortably ensconced in today's bourgeoisie, but their memories, angry and sad, demand that their youthful commitment to change be taken seriously. For better and worse, they were once seriously committed to returning the government to the people. Now they, along with Mandelbaum's narration, bring that period of an exiled Juan Peron, deadly military juntas, and tremendous political uncertainty to vivid life.
The filmmaker tours a torture facility or two, but somehow that's not as upsetting as his use of personal photographs and archival images to create a full sense of these disappeared men and women. The movie catches up with Rafael Belaustegui, a conservative businessman, who managed to raise three leftists, each of whom disappeared. Several times the camera pulls up to a single picture of the three kids and on each occasion, after another newly revealed detail - of their relationships with each other, their radical group, and their father - I saw something fresh in the portrait.
"Our Disappeared" precedes "Che," Steven Soderbergh's upcoming film about the Cuban revolution that, among other things, is selectively built around the personality of Che Guevara. Both movies wonder in different ways about radicalism's efficacy, even as the older, wiser leftists in Mandelbaum's film still speak admiringly of Guevara. But something is changed in them now. Not only did the junta take the comrades they love, it stole their fiery idealism.
Nuestros desaparecidos, documental escrito, producido y dirigido por Juan Mandelbaum, es el más serio candidato para quedarse con el premio al Mejor Documental del festival Docúpolis 2009. Hermoso, emotivo, desgarrador, Mandelbaum narra con maestría las historias de los seres queridos que dejó cuando viajó a los Estados Unidos.
Por José-Christian Páez
No es un documental más sobre uno de los períodos más oscuros de la historia argentina. Nuestros desaparecidos es un filme imprescindible para quienes deseen acercarse desde una visión mesurada, pero profunda, para conocer, para comprender. Dotado de una línea histórica paralela a la historia central y a las historias que de ella derivan, da las pinceladas justas para ambientar las vidas que se nos cuentan. Estamos ante un guión y una dirección inteligentes, que engarzan los testimonios y los hechos históricos, con las imágenes necesarias para acercarnos poco a poco al nudo central de la obra. Hay aquí un gran trabajo de investigación, una criba larga, y una producción perseverante para conseguir imágenes de época. La música de Gustavo Moretto, nos acerca más al corazón de esta obra.
Los golpes de Estado parecían parte de la cotidianeidad histórica, hasta que el 24 de marzo de 1976, el general Jorge Rafael Videla inició un período (1976-1983) que será recordado de manera tétrica por los más de 30 mil desaparecidos. Ese 24 de marzo, para Mandelbaum y los suyos, comenzaba una nueva pesadilla, este nuevo golpe pareció un despropósito de la vida, una equivocación más de la historia. El hogar seguro, el refugio que había sido la Argentina para ellos que habían escapado de la barbarie nazi, se tornaba a una cueva hostil, fría y oscura.
Le había antecedido una época de ideología candente, en la cual, para los grupos de izquierda, la opción de la violencia aparecía como una vía aceptable con tal de alcanzar los ideales de igualdad social. Mandelbaum expresa que, por su experiencia, la suya y la de su familia, rechazó siempre esa vía, y optó por el trabajo social con los niños, por los campamentos de verano, por ofrecerles la oportunidad de una nueva vida, por abrirles nuevas ventanas a sus ojos.
Pero ese golpe militar provocó una escisión en sus vidas, un nuevo antes y un nuevo después. Mandelbaum, sabiéndose inseguro, buscó un nuevo hogar y viajó a los Estados Unidos. Dejó una vida, dejó ese trabajo con los chicos, su desamparo era el desamparo de muchos. Treinta años después busca el rastro de su ex-novia, Patricia Dixon y descubre con dolor que es una de esos 30 mil desaparecidos. El shock es total. Se decide a saber la verdad de cómo esta mujer sensible, delicada, pasó a formar parte de esa lista infame.
A través de la huella de los amigos de ella y de sus propios amigos y conocidos, va entretejiendo esa parte de la historia que conectará ese pasado con su presente. Jorge Luis Chinetti, María “Mini” Adelaida Viñas, Carlos Goldenberg, los hermanos Beláustegui (Valeria, Rafael José, y Martín), Marcelo Weisz y su esposa Susana, son nombres que acompañan nuestras lágrimas. La historia se va armando con los testimonios de quienes les conocieron. Vamos comprendiendo porqué se hicieron montoneros o se integraron al Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo. Están aquí también las traiciones que padecieron de parte de los dirigentes y de los políticos de la época.
La vida hoy
Los únicos que no traicionan son sus amigos vivos, porque aunque ellos no están, permanecen vivos por el recuerdo de sus familias, de sus amigos y de sus conocidos. Porque como dice Ruth Weisz, la mayor maldición que conoce la tradición judía “es la de que te olviden”. Profundamente emotiva, Nuestros desaparecidos mantiene el equilibrio de la emoción recordada en la tranquilidad (sigo a Wordsworth), lo cual le confiere una atmósfera poética, no obstante la tragedia y lo escabroso de los hechos que aquí se narran. En este documental no cabe la palabra olvido, ni la palabra odio, sólo cabe la palabra amor, porque esta obra es un flujo y reflujo para sentir y para comprender. No hay reproche. No hay ánimo de venganza. Hay meditación y un hombre que observa desde una sensibilidad que defiende el derecho a la vida.
El año 1992, la hermana de Patricia, Alejandra, escribió un poema y lo publicó en Página 12/ como recordatorio de sus hermanos: ella, Tete y Guillermo:
A Patricia L. Dixon
Secuestrada el 5 de septiembre de 1977
Hoy que todavía falta
lo que faltaba hace tiempo
aún nos queda la memoria
aunque prefiera el silencio.
Aunque ya no esté de moda
aunque parezca vencida
sigue esperando serena
y se lame las heridas.
Duerme en medio del naufragio
y sueña que se despierta
en el corazón de un hombre
que se sacude la pena.
(Publicado en Página 12, sábado 5 de septiembre de 1992)
Mandelbaum pareciera ser ese hombre “que se sacude la pena”, pero puede ser cualquier hombre, o cualquier mujer, que descorre un velo con tanta suavidad que todo aquello nos parece un sueño, un mal sueño que no se debe olvidar. Porque historias como la de este período, en cualesquiera de los lugares donde acaecieron, suelen ser material fácil para la morbosidad.
Sin embargo, Nuestros desaparecidos no es un documental más por eso, porque es un continuo ejercicio de amor escrito desde el amor, en tiempos en los cuales el amor es tan difícil conservarlo. Y no sólo es una reivindicación y una salvación para quienes padecieron los horrores de lo más bajo del instinto humano, es también una luz para todos nosotros.
The Los Angeles Times
There's no body of written evidence, no realpolitik smoking gun, to directly connect Henry Kissinger with Ines Kuperschmit.Advertisement
Kissinger, who was secretary of State at the time, appears very briefly in "Our Disappeared" in a late-1970s Buenos Aires television news clip, declaring U.S. support for Jorge Rafael Videla, head of the brutal right-wing military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 until 1983. Although several of the military leaders were put on trial after democracy was restored, those years remain a dark chapter in the nation's history that many Argentines still refuse to confront.
"The task of remembering is not easy," said Mandelbaum, who has lived in the United States for decades and owns a documentary production company in Boston. "I think countries are more tempted to leave things behind than dealing with them."
Although Kuperschmit's personal story is only one of those recounted in the movie, it's as unsettling and emblematic as any other.
Born in 1975, Kuperschmit was only an infant when the coup took place. But her parents, both members of the radical left-wing Montoneros group, were among thousands of Argentine students, trade unionists, opposition politicians and others who were rounded up by the military and "disappeared," a euphemism for torture and murder.
When Kuperschmit's mother saw government agents approaching her while strolling with Ines through the Buenos Aires zoo, she instantly abandoned her daughter and walked straight toward the agents so that Ines wouldn't be "disappeared" along with her. An elderly couple later found the baby girl lying on the grass and crying.
Although the aunt who adopted her never talked about what happened, Kuperschmit said that even as a child she guessed the truth.
"I was never tortured, I was never detained, I don't know what it's like to have a cold gun against my head," she said, switching between Spanish and English during an interview at her midcity Los Angeles home. "But I have the consciousness."
Kuperschmit was one of numerous Argentine children who were orphaned when their parents were arrested during the "Dirty War." She was raised by relatives in Virginia before eventually settling in Southern California.
Now a U.S. citizen and director of legal services for the Learning Rights Law Center, where she provides counsel to families of foster and delinquent youth, Kuperschmit said that when she was growing up stateside, most American acquaintances didn't know where Argentina was; some thought it was part of Europe.Advertisement
That changed a bit after the movie musical "Evita," starring Madonna, came out, Kuperschmit said with a laugh. But in politically stable countries such as the United States, she observes, "People have the luxury of not knowing what's going on."
Kuperschmit's personal twist of fate underscores the significant, if at times subterranean, ways in which Latin America is politically linked to its powerful northern neighbor. In parallel fashion, movies such as "Our Disappeared" and others in the film festival illustrate the proliferating cultural links between Los Angeles and the rest of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking hemisphere.
Since its inception, the festival, which is co-sponsored by The Times, has been drawing a larger share of non-Spanish-speaking audiences, reflecting the surging quality of Latin American and Latino movies, says Edward James Olmos, co-founder of the festival with Marlene Dermer and the late George Hernandez.
"I'll tell you right now," Olmos said, the "first-time directors coming out of Latin America are much stronger than the first-time directors coming out of the United States of America."
"Our Disappeared," which will be screened Tuesday and Thursday, is one of several festival movies that offer a highly personalized take on political and social themes. Mandelbaum says the project took wing a few years ago when he made contact with the family of his former girlfriend, who was among the coup's victims. He started tracking down other missing friends, and the idea for a documentary gradually took shape. "I just felt a very big responsibility toward the story," he said.
While the documentary's sympathies clearly reside with his leftist friends, Mandelbaum said he wanted the movie to fairly depict the violent acts that were committed by both sides.
"In a sense, the dreams were defeated, but the dreams weren't the wrong dreams," Mandelbaum said. "It was the methods, perhaps, that were wrong."
Even though the political circumstances may seem far removed to most U.S. viewers, Mandelbaum hopes that his movie will prompt audiences here to reflect on possible parallels between what happened in Argentina three decades ago and what's happening in the world today. He and Kuperschmit agree that it's possible even for stable democracies to suffer sudden dramatic reversals in human rights.
It's hard for Kuperschmit to think about the role of the U.S. government in eroding human rights in her homeland. "Nevertheless," she said, "I still believe in the American dream. And I would rather be a part of this government and try to change it from within than sit on the sideline and criticize."
The Boston Globe
About four years ago in an idle moment at work, Brookline filmmaker Juan Mandelbaum decided to Google an old girlfriend from his university days in Argentina. He was curious to know what had happened to her: He guessed she was a teacher, or maybe a psychologist. He typed her name - Patricia Dixon - but nothing came up. He added "Argentina" and tried again. When her name did appear on the screen, Mandelbaum could only stare, frozen, in horror.
Dixon's name was on a list of "desaparecidos," one of thousands of people abducted, tortured, and "disappeared" by the military during the brutal right-wing military dictatorship in Argentina between 1976 and 1983. The last time he saw her they were both sociology students at the University of Buenos Aires. She was a cute, spirited young woman with a warm smile and bright, dark eyes who once gave him a rabbit for a birthday present.
"I was completely shocked, incredulous," says Mandelbaum. "It didn't jibe with my last image of her."
They'd only dated for a few months, and he was now an American citizen with a family and a successful film business, but he knew he needed to find out what had happened to her, as well as to other friends and acquaintances who had disappeared. "I realized how little I knew about what had happened to them," said Mandelbaum who is president of Geovision, a Watertown-based film production company.
Ever the visual artist, he envisioned his quest as a film - a "personal search for the souls of friends who disappeared in Argentina," as he wrote in an early film treatment. Over the next three years he traveled to Argentina six times to conduct interviews and document his search, a task that grew more disturbing as he uncovered details of the disappearances of Dixon and 11 others - classmates, co-workers at a summer camp, children of family friends - who had once been at the center or periphery of his life. His documentary, "Our Disappeared" ("Nuestros Desaparecidos") opens in Boston Thursday at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Mandelbaum grew up in Buenos Aires, the son of German immigrants who fled Germany to escape World War II; his father was an executive in a grain-trading company. The Buenos Aires of his youth was a vibrant city where "the level of sophistication was very, very high," says Mandelbaum, 57, who developed a passion for photography and film at a young age. (He still has vivid memories of the movies he saw as a teen: "French new wave, Italian neo-realism, Polish, Czech . . .")
It was also a time of intense political fervor, inspired in part by the Cuban revolution ("Che Guevara was our martyred hero"), driven by demands for social justice and equality. "It was incredibly easy to be a revolutionary," said Mandelbaum, who was in a radicalized sociology program of the University of Buenos Aires where he read only Marxist authors, and where radical groups of all stripes were recruiting students into their ranks, most successfully followers of exiled president Juan Perón. "It was such an exciting time. You had the feeling we were going to change the country."
Still, as someone whose family had been touched by violence in Nazi Germany - he'd lost two grandparents to that war - he was something of a skeptic. "I thought Peronism sounded fine, and the revolution sounded fine, and making things more equal sounded like what I wanted," said Mandelbaum. "But I was not comfortable with the glorification of violence . . . I was more like an observer."
He opted for quieter ways to effect social change, working in a Buenos Aires slum in the early 1970s where he coordinated a weekly film series; working in a summer camp for poor children in Patagonia. But some of his friends took a harder line. Mini Viñas, who also worked at the summer camp, joined the Montoneros, a radical Peronist group which had urban guerilla units. Jorge Chinetti, another camp colleague and a physical education teacher, became active in a teachers' union. Though Mandelbaum was unaware at the time, his former girlfriend Patricia Dixon dropped out of school and also joined the Montoneros.
Perón returned to power in 1973, died a year later, and was replaced by his wife, Isabel. On March 24, 1976, the Perón government was overthrown by a military junta and "things got really bad, really quickly," Mandelbaum said. There were killings every day, part of a strategy to eliminate leftist opposition. People were dragged from their schools or workplaces to detention centers where they were interrogated and brutally tortured. Hundreds of their children were given up for adoption to military families. Death squads were a dark and constant presence: "You'd see a Ford Falcon with no license plates and if you'd look really carefully maybe you'd see the barrel of a shotgun," he said. "And maybe there was someone in the trunk."
About 250 of Mandelbaum's schoolmates were among the disappeared. His friend Viñas vanished. So did Chinetti. A colleague of Mandelbaum's father lost his three oldest children, including a pregnant daughter. A close friend of Mandelbaum's mother lost her son. "I knew about [the deaths] but not the details," said Mandelbaum. "It's something no one would talk about. You heard it once and that was it." Mandelbaum himself was stopped several times and searched by soldiers with machine guns. Finally, weary of the violence, he decided to leave Argentina in 1977 with his new girlfriend, now his wife, Clara Sandler, a voice teacher at New England Conservatory.
He studied at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, then moved to Boston to work as a film producer. In 1989 he founded Geovision, a multifaceted company that produces documentaries and works in the public sector, including health education, specializing in work for Latino, African American, and Portuguese communities.
But recently much of his energy has been devoted to the Argentina film. When he discovered Dixon's name on the list of disappeared people, "he was whacked by it," said David Carnochan, the film's editor and co-producer. "This was not a subtle event for him. It was like showing up to a funeral, 30 years late."
Mandelbaum was worried, at first, that friends and family members of the victims would be reluctant to talk to him, but for the most part "everyone was surprisingly open and trusting," he said. In fact, despite his long absence they still felt a strong connection to him. Patricia Dixon's sister still cherished photographs Mandelbaum had taken of her sister and had used one of them in a remembrance notice in a newspaper on the anniversary of Dixon's death.
Mandelbaum, who narrates the film in his characteristic gentle, unembellished manner, says he tried to minimize his own role in the story. "I was concerned about not upstaging their stories. I would have been mortified if my little stories were in any sense compared to the others," said Mandelbaum, who still has the black ringed daybooks he used in Argentina where he recorded his dates with Dixon, reminded himself of her birthday, even jotted notes about a dream he had about her.
In the course of making the film and interviewing friends and family of the disappeared, he got some of the answers he wanted. He learned that Dixon, who had gone underground, was snatched from her apartment on Sept. 5, 1977 and never seen again. Chinetti was dragged from the school where he was a teacher. Viñas was captured at a zoo where she'd gone with her 8-month-old daughter, Inés. When she saw military officers coming for her, she bravely walked toward them and left her baby on the grass, so she wouldn't be taken too. (A Swiss couple found the baby crying, and Inés eventually was reunited with relatives. She is now a lawyer living in Los Angeles.)
"Giving voice to these stories is a way of honoring the memories of these people," Mandelbaum said. "Their dream was what my dream was too. It's not such a bad thing to dream of a fairer society."
Educational Media Reviews Online
In many cultures one of the worst things that can happen to someone is to be forgotten after death. One survivor quoted St. Augustine “The dead are invisible beings, they are not absent.” This film is about remembering the many thousands of young people in Argentina who disappeared between 1976 and 1982. It is hard to imagine anything like this happening on such a scale in our country. Juan Mandelbaum went back to Argentina looking to see what happened to a former classmate and friend of his, Patricia Dixon. What he finds and reveals to us are stories about the horrors of “the dirty war” when military regimes were responsible for the torture and death of thousands. Mandelbaum himself was an activist in his college years but left the country before the real troubles began. He tracks down his lost friends and their families and gets them to tell the story of the son, daughter, brother or sister that disappeared because of their political involvement. Each story is different except for the commonality of being young and trying to bring change to the country they loved. It mattered not that they were peaceful and non-aggressive. If they expressed leftist ideas or aided in the movement they were targeted for disappearance.
In 1987 the Argentinean government passed a law granting amnesty to over three hundred military officers involved in the persecution on the basis that they were presumed to be acting under orders. In 2005 the Argentina Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional and nullified. Since March 2006, the thirtieth anniversary of the beginning of the dirty war, the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice has been commemorated.
There is English narration with Spanish dialogue subtitled. Recommended, especially for human rights studies.