This week, Global Voices brings you Our Disappeared/Nuestros Desaparecidos by filmmaker Juan Mandelbaum, who provided us an update from the film. The documentary is director Juan Mandelbaum’s personal search for the souls of friends and loved ones who were caught in the vise of the military and “disappeared” in his native Argentina during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The documentary airs Sunday, September 23 on the WORLD Channel.
On September 5th, 35 years ago, Patricia Dixon was kidnapped from her apartment and never seen again. She became a desaparecida. Last March, we laid a tile in her memory on the sidewalk in front of the building from where she was taken. There was music and dancing, and many recalled stories ranging from her early childhood through her last days. In preparation for this event, Alejandra (Patricia’s sister) and I met with two people from the group Barrios por la Memoria (Neighborhoods for Memory), who help family and friends of the disappeared manufacture and place the tiles. At the end of our meeting, Ale suggested that they see my film, but asked them not to copy it because an older woman who appears in the film still harbors some fears and doesn’t want the film widely distributed in Argentina. Mauro, one of the organizers, asked her name. “Ruth Weisz,” I replied. His face went white. He had been the best man in her disappeared son Marcelo’s wedding!
While I was working on the film, I was taking tango lessons with a lovely Argentine teacher, Fernanda. When she turned 30, she had a party and after talking with her, I learned that her father had disappeared. Since then, I have always had a soft spot for her. When we were getting ready to premiere the film I encouraged her to come. “Of course” she said, “where can I buy tickets?” I sent her to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts website, which had used some of our publicity photos, including one I had taken in 2005 on the anniversary of the military coup. That day, there were over 30,000 people marching and I took three photos of the march. One in particular always drew my attention, a woman holding a huge banner with the pictures of the disappeared. In the middle of the photo is a woman, about six feet away from me, looking at the camera.
Fernanda saw that photo on the MFA tickets page. To her shock and surprise she recognized the woman looking at me. It was her mother! During the making and screening of Our Disappeared/Nuestros Desaparecidos, any number of these mysterious “coincidences” happened, each one as unlikely as the next. It s as if a much greater force is at work. We have now screened the film at more than 30 festivals worldwide and audiences have related to the universality of the stories. In Mumbai, India, there was no scheduled Q&A after the screening, so I hung outside the theatre to meet people and chat with them. A number of people came forward to greet me, held my hands while looking me in the eye, and moved on, not saying a word. An Indian friend told me that this was a sign of deep respect. I was incredibly moved.
After the film was finished, Julio Simón, aka “Turco Julián”, the former guard who brags about torturing militants in the film, was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Former president Videla is in jail, unrepentant. He was sentenced for the theft of 34 babies. Unfortunately one of the most sinister characters, Admiral Massera, became senile and died unpunished. Hundreds of cases are currently in process, but 250 repressors have been convicted. Every day there is a new case in the newspapers. Of the more than 500 babies who were kidnapped or born in captivity, 105 have been identified and reunited with their natural families, thanks to the relentless work of the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The children of the disappeared whose stories I told in the film could have all been stolen. Two of them were taken from their parents and then returned to the families. One of the most powerful and beautiful developments is that now they are all parents themselves. Juan Manuel Weisz had Marcelito, the baby that appears in the film. Natalia Chinetti had a baby girl. Antonio Belaustegui has a baby boy, Mariano. Tania Weisberg had twins two years ago, Sasha and Stuart. And on September 5th of this year, on the anniversary of Patricia’s disappearance, Ines Kuperschmit gave birth to her third boy, Santiago, brother of Lorenzo and Emilio. As Juan Manuel says in the film, “Life wins in the end.”
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