Children of Memory

2012
Distributed by Women Make Movies, 115 W. 29th Street, Suite 1200,New York, NY, 10001; 212-925-0606
Produced by Kathryn Smith Pyle & Maria Teresa Rodriguez
Directed by Maria Teresa Rodriguez
DVD , color, 64 min.
Sr. High - General Adult
Adoption, Central American Studies, Children, Ethics, History, International Relations, Latin American Studies, Law, Political Science, Women’s Studies


Reviewed by Jennifer Dean, Graduate of the CUNY Graduate Center MALS program with thesis on female filmmakers.

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 8/1/2013

A civil war raged in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992 and left thousands dead and many children lost but not forgotten by their families. Children of Memory follows three subjects all struggling to find their loved ones – Margarita Zamora as she attempts to reunite families even as she is unable to find her own siblings lost in the war, Salvador who knows his wife and one daughter were killed but still searches for his daughter Cristibal, and Jamie, a young woman born in El Salvador and adopted by a US family during the conflict who yearns to find out what happened to her biological family. The film restores the memory of these children even though the people it profiles are unable to find those they lost during the war in the course of the film.

Margarita fought as a guerilla during the conflict and continues to fight for records to be released by the military so that the people of El Salvador can find out the fate of children stolen and often sold to adoption agencies. With the organization Pro-Búsqueda, Margarita travels the country meeting with people in search of connections. Collecting DNA samples, available records and interviews she reconstructs memories in an attempt to make connections that will lead to resolution. Sometimes it seems futile. She asks for a physical description of the lost family member who has not been seen in twenty-plus years. The numbers of missing and the area to search are immense (adoptions of stolen children occurred by families in France, the United States and elsewhere). Nonetheless the film points out her efforts are far from futile. She has been successful in finding connections and the mere act of keeping the memory alive has its own value. Director Maria Teresa Rodriguez compiles a series of excerpts from interviews (fractured audio segments accompanied by pictures and footage of families) which make it clear that the recollections are as important to reconstructing memory as they are to the physical process of family reunification.

Salvador who lost his entire family during the war recounts the gruesome killing of his wife and the death and rape of his daughter but truly breaks down when he tells us of his desire to find his missing daughter Cristibal who could be anywhere in the world, alive or dead. He has not given up hope that they will find each other. Jamie, the young woman from the United States travels to El Salvador to meet with Margarita in hopes of finding her family. Unlike Salvador, Jamie has none of the devastating memories of the war but she too longs to find family even though she loves her American adopted family. In the perfect world of narrative filmmaking I could not help but think the audience would discover that Jamie is in fact Cristibal and the film would end with a beautiful scene of reunification. In reality the documentary is unable to give us that resolution. All of the characters at the conclusion of the film are still searching for their loved ones but that is part of what makes the film so successful. Resolution is as evasive as memory.

Children of Memory is a densely packed film elucidating the basic elements of the El Salvadorian conflict and touching on the US involvement but more fully delving into the aftermath of loss and reconciliation, adeptly looking at the tragedy of the disappeared through three distinct perspectives. At one point Margarita tells Jamie, “this is the beginning of an ongoing process,” of course referring to her case but the statement has meaning on multiple levels and applies to the tragedy on a mass scale.

Awards

  • Award of Merit, Latin American Studies Association