Silverdocs Movie Review: La Isla
Uli Stelzner’s film, LA ISLA – ARCHIVES OF A TRAGEDY, is in the probably unusual position of being nominated for both the Witness Award (for docs about human rights violations) and the Cinematic Vision Award. It is a deserving nominee for both awards. Exposing the secret archives of former Guatemalan dictatorships, LA ISLA gives a voice to those who were “disappeared” by combining the power of visual images with the words from the archived files.
Stelzner uses archive footage from the different time periods under consideration, all of which had only existed outside of Guatemala. The footage is projected onto the walls of the bunker where the archived files were found, as the workers continue going through the notes and scanning them so that surviving relatives can find out, maybe, what happened to their family. It is as if the walls of the bunker are talking, telling the history of what happened. The country has been repressing the memory of the “disappearances,” in an attempt to move on (or to avoid charges). In a cinematic twist, the archives were revealed through an accidental explosion; what we repress will find a way to come to light, and in this case, it was a literal explosion.
The main part of the film, though, is the young workers who are preserving and digitizing the archives. Working in the half-demolished bunker, they wear surgical garb to protect them from the dust (and also because the government wouldn’t allow their faces to be shown on film). The clothes match the mood, that of a cultural autopsy. The workers share with us the stories of their own families who had suffered under the former government. And as they work, in the middle of the training grounds for the police force, they here the rifle shots and marching chants of new young recruits. And we are left to wonder, will the country be able to face its past and heal itself?
— Post by WIFV – DC