Remember when the United States invaded Panama back in ‘89? No? Admittedly it’s hard to keep track of all the U.S. invasions carried out in Latin America over the years. From Mexico on down to Chile, the Land of the Free has tended to treat its neighbors to the south as mere chess pieces in a self-serving game of international politics. But few invasions have been as thoroughly erased from the collective memory as George H.W. Bush’s “Operation Just Cause,” which ultimately led to the demise of Panama’s kleptomaniac narco-dictator Manuel Noriega after U.S. troops spent several days blasting heavy metal through speakers outside his house (yes, that happened).
Indeed, Panama’s first ever entry into the Oscar Foreign Language category — the documentary Invasión by filmmaker Abner Benaim — shows us that most Panamanians have vague if any memories of the 2 week ordeal, which was denounced by the United Nations as a flagrant violation of international law. The film has clearly struck a nerve in its native country, where it took home the award for Best Central American or Caribbean Film as well as Best Documentary at the Panama International Film Festival. Admittedly, Panama isn’t exactly a powerhouse of film production, but for this to be their first ever submission for Academy Awards consideration is a sign that Benaim is on to something.
Much like last year’s Best Documentary Academy Award winner, The Act of Killing, Invasión explores themes of trauma and historical amnesia through first hand recollections and cinematic recreations, eschewing the typical archival footage route preferred by the likes of the History Channel in favor of a more ambiguous approach.
While documentaries haven’t typically made the Foreign Language short list, we can only hope that, in addition to shining light on an obscure past, Invasión is a sign of a bright future for Panamanian cinema.
Invasión opened in theaters in Panama on September 18.