Buried underground but present in the collective memory, the secrets of the brutal Guatemalan Civil War remained unspoken until a group of brave men and woman, many of whom were also searching for or mourning a loved one, took it upon themselves to begin the grueling quest for truth. Inspired by the trial that resulted from the testimony of a survivor, director Ryan Suffern set out to reconstruct the story of the Dos Erres massacre, (one of the most notorious operations during the conflict), by contrasting the accounts of those directly affected in the mystery-like narrative of his film Finding Oscar.
On December 6, 1982, following an incident in which the guerrillas had killed 21 soldiers, the US-backed government of Efraín Ríos Montt sent a special forces unit, known as the Kaibiles, to murder the entire population of the Dos Erres village, claiming they were guerrilla supporters. The viciousness with which children and women met their death set this incident apart in a horrifying manner. Unexpectedly, two young boys, likely because of their lighter skin and colored eyes, were taken by two of the perpetrators and adopted as their own. One of them, Oscar Ramirez, would become the key piece to bring visibility to the case and, at the very least, partial justice.
— Finding Oscar (@FindingOscarDoc) March 25, 2017
Suffern imbues the documentary with tension by visiting pivotal locations in Dos Erres, such as the well where most of the bodies were found, and scoring these images with interviews with two of the Kaibales who witnessed and participated in the massacre. Among these are Aura Elena Farfán, who founded FAMDEGUA, an organization dedicated to finding the remains of the deceased in order to keep their memory alive; prosecutor Sara Romero, who pursued the case relentlessly for years, and even the boys, now men, themselves. An added badge of honor for the film is that Steven Spielberg got on board as Executive Producer.
Although the events observed in Finding Oscar are undeniably unspeakable, they were not the exception but the norm across Central America during the 80s and 90s, as El Salvador, Nicaragua, and, of course, Guatemala, endured devastating civil wars often worsened by the United States’ intervention. To provide a wider perspective of these conflicts, we created a list of films by country that can serve as cinematic timeline of the events. You might notice that most of the movies were made by filmmakers from other countries, which reflects the fact that these recent wars hindered the development of a significant film industry in the region, until very recently with Central American films now a regular part of film festival programs.
Finding Oscar opens in New York theaters on April 14 and in Los Angeles on April 21, followed by additional cities.