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Latin American film series to show faculty-inspired film highlighting untold stories of Salvadoran women

October 13, 2023

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx Studies Program (LACLaS) at Bowdoin, the department hosted a film series this fall titled “Cine Hoy: A Fresh Look at Contemporary Latin Films,” featuring screenings of six films throughout September and October. The final film, “AÑIL,” surrounds the work of Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx Studies Paula Cuellar Cuellar.

The film series was made possible by sponsorship from the PRAGDA Spanish Film Club, which works to showcase Spanish and Latin American films that may otherwise not reach American mainstream media. The organization provided partial funding for the series, and Cuellar Cuellar selected the films—all which share themes with her current class, From Conflict to Peace? Transitional Justice in Latin America.

The films preceding “AÑIL” in the series involved issues such as the armed conflicts in Guatemala, Colombia and El Salvador; the impacts of immigration and war on Latin American children and families; forced recruitment of children into guerrilla forces and transitional justice following periods of violence and armed conflict.

Cuellar Cuellar emphasized that the issues highlighted in these films often are not heavily publicized in the United States, which led her students to want to discuss and learn more about the conflicts following the screenings.

“I always like to use a lot of visual aids or alternative methods or resources to the written text because, for example, with films, you can see what these people look like [and] you can see what conditions … they live in,” Cuellar Cuellar said. “I think [students] are learning about a reality that they didn’t know, but it’s not because they didn’t want to. It’s because nobody had told them before.”

Director of the Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx Studies Program Margaret Boyle echoed this sentiment in light of 25 years of LACLaS at the College.

“The demographics of Bowdoin, both faculty and students, have changed dramatically since the start of this program,” Boyle wrote in an email to the Orient. “We are proud to organize a series of events that does justice to the language, heritage and cultures of Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx people across the US.”

FILM FORAY: "AÑIL" was directed by Julio López Fernández and inspired by the work of CFD Postdoctoral Fellow in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies Paula Cuellar Cuellar. The film's title, which translates to 'indigo,' alludes to the cloth used to protect the identities of the women featured in the film.

Cuellar Cuellar’s film AÑIL, or Indigo, discusses security and guerilla forces’ rape of women in El Salvador amid armed conflict. She completed her doctoral dissertation on the subject, and the film surrounds two testimonies of women she recorded in her research.

While she did not originally intend to make a film, Cuellar Cuellar changed her mind when her initial quantitative survey approach to her research in El Salvador was ineffective. She set out to survey women about their experiences in armed conflict and their views on the neglect of rape in the Truth Commission Report in El Salvador. However, despite previously believing that the guerilla forces were making efforts to increase accessibility to education, she found that the majority of the women she was surveying could not read or write.

“Then I started thinking of ways of giving the findings of my research back to these people in a way that was accessible for them,” Cuellar Cuellar said. “I think [film director Julio López Fernández] was really able to create these horrific testimonies in a very artistic way, which honors the testimonies of the two women.… On the one hand, it didn’t sugarcoat what happened, but on the other hand it didn’t shy away the audience.”

The title “AÑIL,” which translates to indigo, is representative of the indigo cloth used to shroud the women’s faces and protect their privacy. Cuellar Cuellar was inspired by the Sepur Zarco case in Guatemala, in which women testified against military members who forced them into sex slavery with their faces covered by indigenous textiles.

“She was a victim of rape from both the security forces and the guerilla forces,” Cuellar Cuellar said of one of the women testifying in her film. “What she didn’t [expect] was getting raped by one of her comrades and basically a family member…. So she was not ready to show her face.”

Cuellar Cuellar noted that “AÑIL” is important in dismantling myths about the guerilla forces in El Salvador and highlights undiscovered stories.

“The film is fact breaking. It’s the fact that nobody has talked openly about rape perpetrated by the guerilla forces against their own female comrades,” Cuellar Cuellar said. “I think this is very general in Latin America, and that it’s also supported by the people who were in the solidarity movement in the US during the Cold War, that there is a tendency to romanticize the guerilla forces and especially the relationships of camaraderie or love among their members.”

Cuellar Cuellar hopes that her film generates debate amongst viewers and causes them to consider issues from multiple perspectives. Her goal is to give viewers a wide scope of information and allow them to formulate their own opinions. She noted that the feedback to the films and interest in Latin American issues from students and the Brunswick community has given her hope.

“There is a path that we are breaking,” Cuellar Cuellar said. “But I hope [ progress] will just keep growing.”

“AÑIL” will show in Brunswick at the Eveningstar Cinema at 7 p.m. tonight followed by a discussion with Cuellar Cuellar, Boyle and Fernández. The event is free and open to the public, and availability is first come, first served.


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