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Reviews

Winter 2003

FILMS

In Chile, a New Generation Revisits Haunted Space

By Alex Wilde

Even before the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, the 11th of September was a date with somber resonance. It was on September 11, 1973, that the Chilean military bombed the country's presidential palace and overthrew the government of Salvador Allende, whose body was carried from the ruins. Allende's brief experiment in democratic socialism (1970-73) had aroused support and hostility well beyond Chile's borders. His martyrdom on that 11th of September and the military's violence over the following months against the civilian population fixed symbols of Chile in international consciousness for a generation, through the 17-year dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-90).

Within hours of launching its coup in 1973, the military began filling the national soccer stadium with political prisoners. Between September 11 and November 7, some 12,000 people were held in this urban concentration camp. The vast majority were supporters of the Allende government. They included more than a thousand foreigners (among them the American, Charles Horman, whose fate was the subject of the film "Missing"). Although their plight was known at the time through the news media, they were effectively beyond the reach of law. Many were savagely tortured and hundreds were murdered. During the first week of November, most of those remaining in the stadium were released. Some 900 were transferred to Chacabuco and other centers of detention.

A new documentary, "Estadio Nacional," made by a Chilean investigative journalist, Carmen Luz Parot, tells the powerful story of this place and time. Although the film will interest broader audiences, Parot, 34, has chosen to address her own contemporaries in Chile. Since childhood, her generation has been urged to turn away from the country's conflictive past in the name of "national reconciliation." For Parot it is therefore especially important to establish the facts of that past and tell a story that was never really reported. As she notes, "you cannot forget until you [first] know something that can be forgotten."

The film, in Spanish, is her second investigative documentary, following her earlier "El Derecho de Vivir en Paz," about the legendary folk singer V�ctor Jara, who died while in custody in the national stadium in September 1973. Both films have received repeated recognition at international festivals.

For Parot it is important to establish the facts of the past and a story that was never really reported.

"Estadio Nacional" is based on a series of interviews with some 30 survivors who were in the stadium during those two months--mostly now middle-aged male professionals, but also women and, notably, several from the military. They speak about what they remember--what happened in this room or on that day, what they smelled or ate or felt--and these interviews are intercut with period footage, much of it in grainy black and white, that helps place their memories in historical context.

The film depicts a camp that became a world unto itself, tethered tenuously to its surroundings. Former prisoners recall the families that gathered outside the fences, the loudspeakers in nearby streets that broadcast Beatles music to mask the screams of torture victims. They gradually recount the camp's daily routines, which were punctuated by internal events of its own peculiar history: the first visit of the Red Cross, the press conferences by its commandant, and a musical show given by the prisoners and filmed by the authorities to illustrate supposedly humane conditions in the camp. They recall the early visit of Cardinal Ra�l Silva Henr�quez, who tells them that they are not forgotten outside (the cardinal would become the dictatorship's most formidable opponent on human rights). They remember the bizarre soccer match of October 21, when Chile was supposed to face the U.S.S.R. in a World Cup qualifying round. Because the stadium still held thousands of prisoners, the Soviet team refused to show, and the Chilean team took the field--alone--and "won" the match through a symbolic goal into an empty net.

As a documentary, "Estadio Nacional" is spare. The 90-minute film has no narration; brief lines of text appear only occasionally to set images or incidents in context. Parot does not insert herself into the interviews in the manner of Claude Lanzmann in "Shoah" but keeps the focus on her direct witnesses, their words amplified by images of specific places, as they look now and as they appeared then. Complementing this back-and-forth rhythm through time, her camera moves through the physical spaces of the stadium complex--the bright light of the soccer field and stands, the darkness of the interior rooms where prisoners were held, the separate area for women detainees, the fence where families came for news of their loved ones, the bicycle velodrome that was used for the worst interrogations and most loathsome tortures.

The austerity of Parot's approach reinforces her intent. The political conflicts and ideologies that have framed the memories of older generations--and their iconic figures, Allende and Pinochet--are absent from her film. So, too, is any footage from the 1990 inauguration ceremonies held in the stadium for President Patricio Aylwin, marking Chile's return to elected government.

Instead, Parot chooses images of other recent events in the stadium that may speak more eloquently to her own generation. One is of a night-time rock concert there on the 25th anniversary of the 1973 coup, concluding with spectators lighting candles for its victims. Another is the sequence with which she ends the film, the creation on March 27, 2001, of an evanescent work of art in the name of those who had suffered. With a rock anthem about prisoners who disappeared on the sound track, young people help an old artist, Enrico Bucci, lay down scores of large paintings of flowers on the stadium floor. As the credits roll we see that they form a bright gigantic cross against the vivid green grass of the field. It is an exorcism and affirmation.

Alex Wilde is the Ford Foundation's vice president for communications. He was the foundation's representative in Santiago, Chile, from 1993 to 1999.

"Estadio Nacional" (2001) received primary funding from the Chilean government through its Fund for the Development of the Arts (FONDART). To promote public awareness on civic issues and strengthen historical memory, the Ford Foundation provided support for subtitling and distribution through its office for the Andes and Southern Cone in Santiago, Chile. The film has been seen by audiences throughout Chile in universities, schools and youth organizations. It has not yet been broadcast on Chilean television. Subtitled versions in English and in French will be available for international distribution. For information e-mail clparot@hotmail.com.


FILMS

Navajo Hoop Dreams

By Aseem Chhabra

Sam Henriques
Chris Hensen/Courtesy Farmington Daily News

Toward the middle of "Rocks With Wings," Rick Derby's documentary about a girls' high school basketball team in a depressed New Mexico Navajo reservation town, the players decide to confront their coach, Jerry Richardson. It is the night before the 1987 state championship and the Lady Chieftains of Shiprock High are set to play against their traditional rival, the Kirtland Broncos, a predominantly white high school team, 17 miles outside the reservation.

In his efforts to motivate the Lady Chieftains, a team that had never won a state championship, Richardson, an African-American from Texas, had often been harsh with the girls, and they have reached a point where they cannot take any more criticism.

"He was never satisfied, as if we were never good enough," one player says. Another girl adds, "We are Navajos. Our feelings can be hurt very easily."

The discussion goes late into the night and eventually results in an understanding between Richardson and the team. The players and Richardson come to realize that they should all be working toward a common goal. Before retiring that night, they all join hands in prayer.

The next day the Lady Chieftains lose the tournament by one point, but it is clear that the team has changed. It feels united for the first time, and Richardson tells them that no matter how they perform, he will appreciate their efforts. The following year, in 1988, the team wins the state championship. Richardson then leads the Lady Chieftains to three more consecutive state championships.

'I see Rocks With Wings as a contemporary creation story.'

"I see 'Rocks With Wings' as a contemporary creation story," says Derby. Both the team and Richardson recognized that "you can create anew." Derby adds that despite the years of indifference, neglect and the one-point loss in 1987, the Lady Chieftains began to realize that success was within their reach.

When Richardson arrived in 1980 to coach the Shiprock High School girls' basketball team, the town had a 50 percent unemployment rate. Half the families lived below the poverty level and nearly half the homes had no telephones or running water. With the town and the school mostly focused on the boys' teams, Richardson says in the film, the girls viewed basketball as "just something to do." Many were simply biding their time. "I want to go away from here," says one of the Lady Chieftain players in the film. "It is really stuffy here. I just want to get away."

Richardson found a dispirited team that did not seem to care when they lost a game. "I had to change a lot of attitudes," he says. "I pushed them, because I wanted the best for them. But I also expect the best."

"It took three to fours years before I could get the players to trust me and do some of the things I wanted them to do," Richardson adds. "They fought me. They fought the system. They fought success."

"When Jerry first arrives, the Navajos are boxed in this mindset and Jerry is himself boxed in," Derby says. To explain Richardson's efforts, Derby refers to the motif of a "spirit line" found in Navajo rugs--the combination of a straight line and an irregular weave that enables the creative spirit to avoid getting trapped inside and find a way out.

After graduation, the Lady Chieftains moved on with their lives and started careers. Some joined the U.S. Armed Forces; others began working with computers, in accounting or even coaching local basketball teams. Richardson moved on to a job coaching college basketball in Florida, where he died in a car crash in 1996.

Shiprock is the name for a large volcanic rock located in the four corners area of the U.S. Southwest where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet at right angles. From any distance the rock resembles a ship stranded in the desert. But for Navajos who believe that they came to earth on the wings of a large bird that fell to earth in New Mexico, one wing of the bird extends from the earth toward the sky. The film's title alludes to the Navajo name for the outcropping, "the rock with wings."

Thirteen years in the making, "Rocks With Wings," which has received support from the Ford Foundation, is a rare picture of Native American life. It has been featured at many film festivals, including the Slamdance Film Festival, Taos Talking Pictures Festival, USA Film Festival, First Peoples' Festival in Montreal, Urban World Film Festival where it won the HBO Documentary Feature Prize, Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe, Silver Lake Film Festival and Williamstown Film Festival. "Rocks With Wings" will be shown on Public Broadcasting Service stations in December 2002. For more information visit www.pbs.org.

Aseem Chhabra is a freelance writer based in New York.


BOOKS

Of Stereotypes and Stark Realities

By Helen Zia

Asian American Women: Issues, Concerns, and Responsive Human and Civil Rights Advocacy Lora Jo Foo

A widely held myth holds that Asian American women are part of a "model minority" and therefore have few or no social and economic needs or concerns. A new report deflates that idea with an impressive array of new data and research, thorough analysis and thoughtful recommendations.

Lora Jo Foo, author of Asian American Women: Issues, Concerns, and Responsive Human and Civil Rights Advocacy, refutes the notion that Asian Americans are all the same. Numbering 11.4 million, they include 40 distinct nationalities and ethnic groups ranging from the more numerous Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese and Filipino to the less well-known Hmong, Lao, Sri Lankan and Indonesian. A substantial majority reside in just 10 states. Foo points out that Asian Americans are more likely than whites to have a college degree, but they are also more likely to have less than a ninth-grade education. One-third of Asian American families earn more than $75,000 per year, one-fifth earn less than $25,000 per year, and some subgroups have poverty rates as high as 63 percent--far above the overall Asian American poverty rate of 10.7 percent.

Using meticulous research from survey data and scores of interviews, Foo breaks new ground by identifying the groups that are most at risk and least considered. The book's preface notes that although Asian Americans represent 4 percent of the U.S. population only 0.2 percent of U.S. foundations' funds have gone to organizations specifically addressing Asian American and Pacific Islander concerns. The result is that they have a much weaker national infrastructure and smaller budgets than those of other U.S. minority organizations.

The report analyzes the impact of welfare reform on Asian immigrant women and their families and shows how budget cuts have placed a great burden on them. Yet few policy discussions on poverty include Asian Americans.

The report analyzes the impact of welfare reform on Asian immigrant women and their families and shows how budget cuts have placed a great burden on them. Yet few policy discussions on poverty include Asian Americans. Foo says that many Asian women have been denied public benefits because they cannot speak English and government agencies failed to provide interpreters or translate documents. Others were confused about eligibility or worried they would be reported to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. A large number of Asian women are pushed into dead-end workfare jobs where they learn no skills and are denied the option of English-language training. The result has been an increase in hunger and illness among Asian immigrant women and their families.

The study also details the trafficking and abuse of about 30,000 women each year who are brought to the United States from the most impoverished countries of Asia. They are forced into prostitution, bonded sweatshop labor or domestic servitude. Criminal groups lure women with false promises of jobs, and wealthy �migr�s, diplomats and international bureaucrats bring Asian women to America to work as their domestic help, often under deplorable conditions. In addition, private agencies, brokers and "penpal" services bring thousands of women, mostly Filipinas, to the United States as mail-order brides. Many end up in battered women's shelters; there have been several high-profile cases of such brides being killed by their husbands.

Other chapters examine health and reproductive issues, the prevalence of domestic violence, sexual assault and diseases like Hepatitis B and cervical cancer among Vietnamese American women and suicides of Chinese American women at rates that far exceed any other U.S. racial or ethnic group. The report also takes a close look at some of the least visible groups of Asian Americans: lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, Hmongs and native Hawaiians. Foo also cites models of social change, as with a case study of Chinese immigrant home-care aides who were key to winning Service Employees International Union representation for 74,000 fellow workers.

Asian American Women sets the benchmark for what is known--and what needs to be known--about women in these diverse communities.

Asian American Women not only discusses these issues, but also offers a guide to advocacy and a call to action. Each chapter identifies the key nongovernmental organizations involved in serving the groups and assesses the needs of the people involved. The recommendations for action at the end of each chapter range from the specific (for example, develop language-appropriate services and provide training to law enforcement personnel) to the broad (for example, foster global networks and coalitions and educate local, state and federal governments and ethnic communities). One consistent theme throughout the study is the need for additional research on the problems and concerns of specific Asian American and Pacific Islander groups.

Asian American Women sets the benchmark for what is known--and what needs to be known--about women in these diverse communities. By giving voice to them the book makes an important contribution to efforts to ensure a broader framework of social justice and a stronger democracy.

For a copy of the book, which was funded by the Ford Foundation's Human Rights unit, e-mail the Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy at aapip@aapip.org or download it at www.aapip.org/jag.html. A.A.P.I.P. is conducting a book tour to the 10 states with the largest number of Asian Americans: California, New York, Hawaii, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Washington, Florida, Virginia and Massachusetts. For more information about the events, which will be hosted by local advocacy groups, contact A.A.P.I.P.

Helen Zia's latest book, Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, is published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Recent Publications
From the Ford Foundation

The following publications are available free of charge from the Office of Communications, Dept. R, 320 East 43rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10017. They may also be ordered at www.fordfound.org.

Knowledge, Creativity and Freedom Program: Advancing Achievement and Understanding
An announcement of the change of the Ford Foundation's Education, Media, Arts and Culture Program to the Knowledge, Creativity and Freedom Program highlights the program's focus on building knowledge, encouraging creativity and securing greater freedom of expression for all people-especially the poor, women and minorities.

Sustainable Solutions: Building Assets for Empowerment and Sustainable Development
Highlights 14 initiatives that illustrate the growing global network for social equity, environmental justice and sustainable development.

Building Assets to Reduce Poverty and Injustice
An introduction to the ideas that form the framework for the Asset Building and Community Development Program.

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