El Equipo (The Team)

An unlikely collaboration between a forensic scientist from Texas and a group of Latin American students changes the course of forensic science and international human rights.

Picture of a group of students
Funding Initiative
Open Call
filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz
Director

Bernardo Ruiz

Bernardo Ruiz is a two-time Emmy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker. He has directed and produced four feature documentaries, including The Infinite Race (ESPN’s 30 for 30, 2020), Harvest Season (Independent Lens, 2019), Kingdom of Shadows (Participant Media, 2015) and Reportero (POV, 2013) as well as a host of nonfiction programming. 

Producer

Gabriela Alcalde

Gabriela Alcalde is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. She has worked on the producing teams of the Emmy Award-nominated documentaries, The Forever Prisoner (HBO, 2021) and Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes (A&E, 2017). She collaborated with Ruiz on Latino Vote: Dispatches from the Battleground (PBS, 2020).

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The Film

Beginning and ending at the U.S.-Mexico border as scientists search for the remains of missing migrants, El Equipo delves into the dramatic story of a team of scientists who have worked to challenge the official cover-ups of killer regimes across the globe, revolutionizing the use of forensic science in the process; a team nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for their “commitment to the applied sciences and victim justice.”

In 1984, Dr. Clyde Snow, a legendary U.S. anthropologist known for his work identifying the remains of Auschwitz physician Josef Mengele and the victims of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, traveled to Argentina to help uncover the fates of the estimated 30,000 people who were forcibly disappeared during the 1970s dictatorship. Unwilling to work with many of the established scientists who had collaborated with the apparatus of the dictatorship, Snow set about to train a new group in the use of forensic anthropology. He eventually met a group of medical and anthropology students – some as young as 19 – and the team was soon digging up an unmarked grave on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The group, which included Mercedes (Mimi) Doretti, Patricia Bernardi, and Luis Fondebrieder, would go on to not only help establish accountability for the crimes committed under the Argentine military junta, but to initiate a decades-long relationship with investigative journalists working on parallel tracks to create a fact-based accounting of massacres and state-sponsored crimes in over 30 countries.

After Argentina in the 1980s, the film follows the story of Mimi Doretti and fellow co-founder Patricia Bernardi as they traveled to El Salvador in the early 1990s to investigate the 1981 El Mozote massacre. Then from El Salvador to the team’s 1997 discovery and exhumation in Bolivia of the remains of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, whose whereabouts had been a mystery since his killing 30 years earlier. And finally to Mexico, where the team investigates the 2014 forced disappearance of 43 students in the town of Ayotzinapa. Ending where the film begins, El Equipo examines the contemporary efforts of the team as they cross reference genetic samples from the relatives of those missing from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Throughout these cases, we see this unique investigative team doggedly working behind the scenes to establish the facts for the families of the victims in the face of intense political opposition and as their work becomes increasingly difficult and more dangerous with each dig.

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