One of the key reasons for living in a larger city is having access to amazing film, food and friends. Last week I went to San Francisco’s Latin American Film Festival at the behest of my boss. I actually had no idea what I was going to watch since I trust her judgment. To round out the evening we gorged ourselves on pupusas and conversation getting to know one another and entertaining eachother with stories of our travels to Central America. My boss explained that we were going to watch a film, "Fusilemos La Noche!" a film by Tina Leisch, about the life and work of Roque Dalton an iconic Salvadoran poet and militant during the civil war years. My boss is Salvadoran and Roque Dalton loomed large since her family and network were activists of the time.
Below is a trailer of the film.
Over the last week I have been reflecting deeply over my relationship to El Salvador. A small Central American nation dotted with volcanoes and imbued with lush forests. El Salvador has suffered its fair share of torment not unlike its neighbor to the west Guatemala. I became poilitizced studing Liberation Theology and the preferential option for the poor that radicalized whole sectors of the Catholic Church in Latin America and the campesinos they ministered. El Salvador was no different as base communities fomented activism and a militant response to the increasing sins of the successive military dictatorships.
Largely attributed with founding Liberation Theology Peruvian Priest and theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez notes that
“In the final analysis, poverty means death: lack of food and housing, the inability to attend properly to health and education needs, the exploitation of workers, permanent unemployment, the lack of respect for one's human dignity, and unjust limitations placed on personal freedom in the areas of self-expression, politics, and religion.”
Liberation Theology challenged the church to face the reality of its parishioners. Thousands of catechists fanned all over the hillsides and milpas of the poor masses of lovely El Salvador preaching the gospel message of justice, speaking of Jesus Christ’s challenge to the Roman Empire. In considering the life of Christ campesinos saw their own struggles against the families and the military officers controlling the nation and also the mingling of the United States as the tactics of the state intensified under the guidance of US military advisors. Through the gospel of message of justice campesinos spoke and the church listened. Inspired, many priests took up arms and supported the organizing of thousands of campesinos. It was a time of possibility a people inspired by the Cuban revolution to be the subjects of history rather then the objects. Within this milieu of agitation and radicalization emerges Roque Dalton.
The film is a compelling portrait of his life and work told through the reflections of those that new him along with everyday people remembering his poetry and reading aloud selected readings. Hilariously, the film maker has what looks to be a 8 foot cutout of Dalton paraded around the world to where Dalton had spent time. The cardboard sometimes is animated adding depth to the experience but most importantly it serves as a focal point for whomever is reflecting about Dalton, in a very simple and elegant way the cutout speaks to how even when someone has left us for years they are still present in our thoughts and reflections. The film is honest devoting considerable time to his less then savery habits such as spending what seemed like countless hours at a brothel in San Salvador. At his relationship with a 14 year old when he was married in his early 20s. The filmmaker treats the female sex workers with incredible dignity. For many in the audience the revelation of the 14 year was a bit uncomfortable but what was interesting is that in the interview you could tell she is clearly still in love with Roque.
Noted novelist Hector Tobar writing for the LA times in a May 2013 articles noted that, “The death of Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton in 1975 is one of the great tragedies of Latin American literature and of the Latin American left. And it was a tragedy the left inflicted on itself.” In weaving the impact of Dalton for the audience we eventually find ourselves faced with the controversy surrounding his assassination. The film argues that Dalton was the victim of opportunists with the armed left. His killers featured in a press conference escaping persecution for their crimes due to legal technicalities.
Here is a poem of Dalton's
Like you (Como tu)
I, like you,
love love, life, the sweet delight
of things, the blue
landscape of January days.
Also my blood bubbles over
laughing through my eyes
which have known the rush of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful,
that poetry is, like bread, for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
countryside and bread,
poetry for everyone.
What is clear about the film is that Dalton is regarded as an innovator for his use of the language of the every day and enshrining his words with the experience of the masses. In his words I find hope in his words I find love.