Almudena Carracedo, Director Of 'The Silence Of Others'
An interview with the award-winning director
When documentary makers Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar moved to Spain to work on their latest documentary about the struggle for justice for the victims of Franco’s regime, they expected to be there for a short time. Instead, the project grew into a seven-year odyssey through one of modern Spain’s darkest times and into the light of a pursuit for justice that is changing Spain’s present. The result, “The Silence of Others,” was short-listed for the 2019 Oscars for Best Documentary, and is now in theatrical release around the U.S.
For Carracedo, “The Silence of Others” is a labor of love and also a labor of necessity. She had just finished “Made In L.A.,” (2007) an award-winning documentary about Latina immigrants working in the garment district, when she started thinking about what would be next.
“I was making a film about the dignity of others, why not a film about dignity (of the victims of the Franco regime) in my own country (of origin)?" she said.
By the time Carracedo and her documentary partner/husband had their first daughter in 2010, the nagging feeling that this was the next film had become a certainty, “a film from my heart,” said Carracedo who had long been baffled by the code of silence that hung over the bitter legacy of Spain’s Francoist past which has left Spain dotted with mass graves and hundreds of thousands of lives overturned by arrests, torture and disappearance.
“As new parents, we were (in New York) reading about babies stolen by the Spanish government (during the 40-year Franco era) and it became obvious that this would be the next film,” said Carraceda.
So, she and Bahar, baby in tow, took off for Spain to scout the story. They came back, determined to return to Spain for one-and-a-half to two years, said Carracedo.
Two years became seven as Carracedo and Bahar started following the Argentine Lawsuit movement, then in its infancy, as its members began to pursue Franco’s officials through the courts of Argentina.
As with her first documentary, Carracedo took her time getting to know the various characters and recording the pain and small victories the group experienced.
“We chose some of the characters,” said Carracedo. And “some chose us.”
One such character is Asuncion whose testimony about her desire to find and bury her father brought her story and its unexpected resolution to the fore.
By working so closely with the group said, Carracedo, she was able to create an unusual intimacy with those featured.
“When they told their stories,” she said, no matter how tragic or difficult, “they became conversations with friends.”
It is a story, Carracedo said, that “is very much in the present-the legacy of the past- the present struggle. It talks to us in the present day and asks, what is my responsibility?”
Carracedo is not unmindful of the irony of trying the cases in an Argentine court. "Ironic at the very least," she said.
According to Carracedo, Spain was a pioneer in the concept of Universal Jurisdiction, that holds, in part, that all countries may call a person or entity to justice for crimes against humanity. Spain was instrumental in pursuing Chile's notorious Pinochet and sentencing at least one person involved in Argentina's "Dirty War," in which over 30,000 Argentines were disappeared.
But Spain interpreted the pact of forgetting, established after Franco's death in 1975, as forbidding pursuing the matter in the courts and the Spanish judge who had been so successful against Pinochet, Baltasar Garzon, was disbarred.
So, lawyers working with the survivors, convinced Argentina to hear the case.
"It's interesting to see Human Rights role reversed, " said Carracedo, noting the case flips the usual situation of a First World country accusing a Third World country of abuses. "It is important to see the North/South reversal," she added. Observing that the right to speak about human rights abuse should be universal.
“I was born near the end of Franco’s regime,” said Carracedo, whose parents were avid opponents of Franco’s government. But still “there was a lot (in the story) that that was new to me."
According to Carracedo, one of the biggest challenges with more than 400 hours of footage was how to shape the story.
One issue was “to understand the struggle — who is the protagonist, who is the antagonist.” The protagonists were easy, the victims of Franco’s reign of terror.
“The antagonist is the whole country,” said Carracedo.
As one of her characters points out, Franco’s ideas on how to control the people seeped into the very fabric of the country from the institutions to the neighbors.
In addition, as Carracedo makes clear, there was a huge push to prioritize forgetting the Franco era after Franco’s death in 1975, including an amnesty act in 1977 that brought the exilees back, forgave all crimes, including torture, and promoted a national silence that today threatens to erase both the acts and culpability of the perpetrators.
According to Carracedo, this film is an attempt to open up that silence. It is, after all, she said, a film about memory and how it hangs over the present.
“The film is a reminder that the pain (of the era) passes on through the next generation. The pain is inherited, the trauma inherited.”
“The film has powerful montages, the idea is to develop layers of complexity- it’s important to show division, uncertainty, etc.," said Carracedo. “It’s important to reach good-hearted people- who say we must forget, etc. If we could bring the truth, the stories of these people- into their hearts- then it could have an impact.”
Carracedo and Bahar debuted their film not in Spain, but in Berlin at the Berlinale, sure the film would be underscreened in Spain and then condemned to obscurity. In Berlin, they would win the first two of 32 major prizes, a fact that still thrills Carracedo.
Eventually, they would screen the film in Spain.
“On November 18 (2018), four days before Franco’s birthday, (we) opened on 19 screens and had the third best showing in theaters."
The film ran for two-and-a-half months and this year, won the prestigious Goya award, Spain's equivalent of the Oscar. Carracedo and Bahar soon found themselves on Spanish TV, with the main characters in the film, talking about the need to remember the abuses of the Franco era and about the film.
This April, the film was broadcast on Spanish TV.
Carracedo still is amazed by what happened next.
“We woke up the next day to find out that by 8 a.m. The hashtag associated with the film, #AmnestyLaw1977 became the second trending tweet and the Spanish president had tweeted everyone should see the film!”
It was, said Carracedo, the right film at the right time.
Today, certain parts of the Argentine Lawsuit still need to be resolved, but Carracedo feels the film has helped encourage Spaniards to think about how to face their country’s history more openly and honestly.
Carracedo remains amazed by the international relevance of the film in light of the rise of the extreme right in Europe and the issue of immigrant child separations at the US/Mexico border.
As for Carracedo and Bahar, what’s next is a retreat, “definitely a retreat to think about what we want to do next, “said Carracedo.
“Well, after our college tour in the U.S.," she said, “but definitely a retreat!”
Rebecca Romani is a guest blogger for Cinema Junkie.