Grave Undertaking

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Cloutier started working at Segura Publishing as a part-time sales representative. She later became associate producer for Encanto Films, a spin-off film company that Segura envisions will produce other art-related films.

"As I was on the plane going to the 1999 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, which had accepted the film, I was reading a book about what to do at film festivals because I had never been to one," Cloutier admits.

Segura and company have learned the hard way about "postproduction costs." Segura estimates it will cost another $22,000 to make a Spanish language version of the film for distribution in Latin America and to convert the video to film so that it can be entered in many more film festivals that accept only a film print.

They also want to lengthen the film to an hour, a move that could greatly improve the chance it will be picked up by distribution companies and television channels like PBS and HBO.

They hope to add footage from Price's recent trip to El Salvador. She and Luís Bohorquez, a cinematographer and Pasa Un Angel's postproduction advisor, spent a week there, shooting, on both film and video, on-camera interviews with survivor Rufina Amaya Marquez and members of the Argentine forensic team, as well as footage of exhumations that are ongoing. Price and Bohorquez also filmed people -- many of whom survived massacres in the surrounding villages -- keeping daily vigil over the progress of the exhumation.

In typical indie fashion, the crew didn't have any official funds for the trip and ended up putting the tab on their personal credit cards.

A new El Salvadoran government has reopened the investigation of human rights violations at El Mozote and nearby villages, inviting the Argentine forensic team back to continue its somber assignment, says Penelope Price, who returned to Phoenix two weeks ago from her sobering visit.

"The concept [behind the army operation]," explains Price, "was you get rid of the water and the fish will die, so they decided to massacre this whole area."

Renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle, Price and Bohorquez met up with Bernardi and the team at El Mozote by driving on what is called "The Black Highway." When they could go no farther by automobile, the duo backpacked into mountains near the Honduran border, laden with camera equipment. From there, they hiked into dense, steamy jungle that was once a guerilla stronghold.

"The landscape is gorgeous," notes Price. "There's a magnetic quality to that area. The colors are so rich; the clouds roll in every day and it rains every afternoon. You just feel like you're in enchanted jungle."

It took some doing -- Price had to go door-to-door to locate her -- but the film crew finally met and interviewed Rufina Amaya Marquez. Rufina was 38 years old when the army overran her village. Though she's considered famous throughout El Salvador, Rufina still finds it very painful to talk about what occurred in her village, says Price.

"It was the closest thing to a modern pilgrimage I've experienced," Price says, likening her trip to a cross between Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness and the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now.

Though the "darkness is still there, in the memory of the violence, the burnt hillsides, the bomb shell balanced on a stump which the kids use for a drum, the graves," she wrote in a diary she kept of the trip, she and Bohorquez had arrived at a very different time.

"The difference is that the darkness had already occurred," she says. "We were coming at a time of rebirth and beauty."

Price also interviewed Pedro Chicas Romero, whom she refers to as José Chicas. Chicas is the contact man for the forensic team and is himself a survivor of a massacre that wiped out the neighboring village of La Joya. He knows where graves are hidden, Price points out, because he was one of the people who sneaked back into his village at night to bury the dead, including his wife, children and other relatives.

Chicas is also the person who in October 1990 filed the initial criminal complaint against the Atlacatl Battalion; that complaint triggered investigations into the murders committed in El Mozote and surrounding villages.

"Every single person you talked to had a story and had lost somebody," says Price.

Still, she says, the massacre is only a part of what has happened in El Mozote and neighboring communities, which are slowly rebuilding themselves as residents move back. "One of the things we concentrated on was not only filming the Argentine forensic team and their work, but also we did a lot of shooting of the community as it's rebuilding." Price says.

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Kathleen Vanesian