Friday, November 16, 2018

¡LAS SANDINISTAS! -- Jenny Murray's stirring and informative documentary of Nicaraguan history, machismo and feminism

What an eye-opener is ¡LAS SANDINISTAS!, the first full-length documentary from actress-turned-director Jenny Murray. Those of us alive and aware of international politics/revolutions back in the 1970s would have known of the Sandinistas, the young revolutionaries set on deposing the corrupt and dictatorial tyrant Anastasio Somoza DeBayle (best-known as simply Somoza), who ruled the Central American country of Nicaragua from 1967 through 1979, whose family had been in power there since 1936. We might even have been aware, from the occasional photo or news story, that women were a part of that revolutionary group. But we could hardly have known just how important -- how utterly vital -- women were, at both that time and now, to the betterment of Nicaragua.

What Ms Murray, shown at right, gives us -- via a terrific interweaving of archival footage, photos and information with present-day interviews with some of the most important of those women -- combines to form a brief but compelling history of Nicaragua, as well as one of the strongest feminist movies you will have yet experienced. The documentary, without ever shouting or insisting, simply shows and tells us what these women accomplished at the time and how they have had to keep fighting ever since then for the justice and equality that ought to have long ago been granted.

The film begins (and returns again and again) to a woman named Dora María Téllez, who rose to the (unofficial) rank of top woman in the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), whom we see in her youth (above, center) as a resistance fighter and now, in her senior years (below), still fighting for Nicaragua and its citizens.

Ms Téllez and her ideas are so strong and right, and though the woman speaks quietly, what she has to say will stay with you. There are a half dozen other women we see and hear from, all worth our time and caring.

One of these is Daisy Zamora, shown at left in her younger days and below these days. Together, they paint a picture of the emerging Sandinistas that is a light year away from what our own despicable President Ronald Reagan would have had us believe about the group and what it was supposedly doing to its home country. We see that lying and demented sleazeball during the time he and his cohorts were illegally, treasonously funding the "Contras," and we finally hear, via these women, what this was like as experienced by "the other side."

In addition to Reagan, we also get a look at a much younger Bernie Sanders, who -- of course -- came out on the right side of justice, suggesting that more politicians should come to Nicaragua and simply see what the Sandinistas were achieving.

The documentary makes us aware of how these women did not simply bear arms and fight along with the men; they were also expected to perform the usual "women's chores" -- from cooking and laundry to all the rest. (One women explains the difficulties of having to give birth and tend to a her infant during the revolution.)

Most shocking of all comes as we learn how the women were betrayed, compromised and kept completely out of power, once the revolution had been won.

We've heard and seen over the years countless examples of Latin American "machismo." The extreme downside of this is on full display here. ("They're even prettier when they're fighting" explains one male soldier about his female counterparts.)

When we're finally told that many of these women left their husbands during or after the revolution was won, this may not come as much of a surprise.

The film is full of history that we seldom received word of up north (or may not readily remember): the 1972 earthquake that leveled much of the city of Managua (instead of helping his people cope, Somoza preferred to have his army shoot the looters); the Castle House Raid of 1974, after which the dictator cracked down with even more intense repression; the National Palace Raid of 1978 (Somoza billed the conflict as a fight between the usual "Communist Menace" and Democracy); and finally, July of 1979, as the dictator was ousted and the battle for freedom appeared to have finally been won.

The second half of the documentary covers the post-revolution period, right up to recent times, as we learn how women's place in Nicaragua has actually devolved. It's not pretty. Yet hearing and seeing how the woman continue to work so tirelessly in every possible manner to achieve whatever they can is uplifting rather than depressing. By the time we view the country's own Me2 movement -- with one woman actually taking a stand against revolutionary leader and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega by outing him as a rapist -- speaks volumes about entrenched male power and the difficulties of anything approaching real change.

In one of the film's penultimate scenes, above, we see a grandmother and her grandchild together, just sitting quietly and answering a question or two. This is oddly and remarkably moving. And then we're back to Ms Téllez (shown below with rifle, just left of center) and her quietly bracing, intelligent words. ¡Las Sandinistas! proves itself a major work. It is difficult to imagine any woman, or any man who actually cares about women, not embracing it with pleasure and gratitude. I hope it is shown in every Latin American country -- where it is most needed.

From Film Sales Co. and running 96 minutes, the documentary opens in its U.S theatrical premiere this Wednesday, November 21, at New York City's Film Forum for a two-week run. It is also scheduled to open in Chicago on November 30 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and then later in Santa Fe at the Jean Cocteau Cinema. To keep abreast of further screenings as they are scheduled, click here.

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