Awakening From Sorrow: Buenos Aires 1997
Production Notes

Young man

Produced by John Knoop, Susanna Munoz, Karina Epperlein
Directed & edited by John Knoop & Karina Epperlein

On the day in 1995 when news broke of a book about dumping Argentine dissidents from Naval planes into the South Atlantic, Susana Munoz and John Knoop left the same message on each other’s answering machines: “It’s time for a new film about the ‘Dirty War’.”

By the spring of ’97, with a grant from the Soros Documentary Fund, Knoop and Munoz were in Buenos Aires filming a series of interviews documenting the emergence of strong young voices beginning a movement for social justice called H.I.J.O.S, a people’s movement that soon spread throughout Latin America and beyond. The filmmakers also interviewed several key adults who supported and encouraged the youth: Nobel Prize winner Perez Esquivel, history professor Osvaldo Bayer, who organized a public presentation by the hijos at his Philosophy & Letters faculty at Buenos Aires University; death camp survivor Graciela Deleo; a citizen who regrets his detachment during the repression; and a guilt-ridden representative for the perpetrators: the infamous Captain Adolpho Scilingo who admitted in the book—El Vuelo, by Horacio Verbitsky—that he had been ordered to drop thirty drugged dissidents from a naval cargo plane.

From this footage Knoop made a report with Elizabeth Farnsworth for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Further progress got stalled by Knoop’s need to recover from a bicycle accident that broke his neck and back, and Susana Munoz’s withdrawal from the project and return to Argentina in 1998.

In the fall of 2008 Knoop edited the 34 hours down to a two-hour rough cut and then compressed that to a 30-minute cut with subtitles. When he showed it to Karina Epperlein (Phoenix Dance) she responded strongly with a clear vision of what artistic elements could help to deepen this precise witnessing and questioning of the atrocities and help the viewer to come away with a universal and hopeful story. Knoop asked her to join him as co-director/producer and co-editor. They had worked together before, and Knoop knew Karina’s commitment and refined ability to look for the light in difficult and dark themes. The result of their collaborative effort is Awakening from Sorrow: Buenos Aires 1997.

On the twentieth anniversary of the coup H.I.J.O.S released a book of drawings under the title “20 Years: 361 Images Against the Crimes of Yesterday and Today”. These vivid, at times unbearably poignant black and white drawings reminded Karina of woodcuts from German Expressionism, and she envisioned them – together with a live music score by local composer/cellist Beth Vandervennet – to become a character of its own. Standing in for the missing generation of 30,000 disappeared parents – who themselves were children of the famous “madres” – drawings and music together describe the unimaginable. They allow the viewer to stay emotionally connected and take in the tragedy on a personal level.  After viewing Awakening from Sorrow Farnsworth called it a “symphonic poem”.

When the young adults who represent the legacy of the victims describe memories of their parents, their helplessness pierces us. Precisely this personal level of suffering propels the hijos into action. We see them on their radio station, naming a former torturer and giving his address and phone number; we see them paint banners, make puppets and torches, and go on public marches demanding justice for their parents. At the end we learn of their current involvements. HIJOS are still marching in 2009.

Awakening from Sorrow: Buenos Aires 1997 is a “fabric of remembrance” woven with human voices, old and young, speaking in words, feelings, music, art, and actions - remembering a better future for all of us.

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