So strong are the perceived parallels between the Peruvian situation described in “State of Fear” and the sociopolitical dynamics of the current U.S. war on terror that filmmakers have trouble, in post-screening Q&As, returning the discussion to the historical subject at hand. Filmmakers Pamela Yates, Paco de Onis and Peter Kinoy follow in the footsteps of the groundbreaking Peruvian Truth Commission, concisely detailing the violence visited upon the nation’s people and its democratic institutions by a 20-year campaign of terror and counter-repression. Pic, which has been garnering praise and prizes at festivals, could parlay its relevancy into limited release.
Taking full advantage of the formidable archive materials preserved by the Truth Commission, docu sets out to trace two decades of Peru’s history that claimed 70,000 lives.
Venturing into the Andes, filmmakers first detail the terror and intimidation visited on the countryside by Abimael Guzman’s Mao-inspired Shining Path guerrillas, who sought to either kill or forcibly convert any villagers who did not rally to their cause. The government’s reaction to the guerrillas was equally blind and bloody: Not conversant with the language and disdaining the indigenous population, the government saw all the villagers as potential insurgents, and the military unleashed wholesale destruction upon villages.
Against breathtaking mountains and llama-filled fields, a woman tells of her grandmother being burnt alive in her house by Shining Path radicals, while a photographer revisits the site of a military attack against a bridal party, sharing with survivors the photos she took of the terrible aftermath.
In the dense vegetation of the jungle, an ex-terrorist speaks of being recruited with his brother at the age of 8 and being taught to kill. That brother was in turn murdered when he sought to leave the fanatical army.
When Guzman took the revolution to the urban population of Lima, however, it galvanized the middle- and upper-classes who were hitherto largely uninterested in the slaughter of peasants in the countryside. They responded by famously electing Alberto Fujimori, impressed by his platform of strong-arm anti-terrorism.
To document the more public happenings in Lima, filmmakers exploit docu’s video format to foreground a superimposed commentator over increasingly government-manipulated television and newsreel clips.
The non-military police, deploying old-fashioned methods of surveillance and intelligence, captured Guzman fairly quickly and jailed or disbanded his followers.
But Fujimura, far from restoring democratic institutions, rekindled fears of widespread “terrorism” to continue to exert absolute power, running a government rife with corruption and branding anyone who dared stand up to him a terrorist or traitor. The now familiar sight of small photographs and candles marks the thousands of innocent citizens who “disappeared” during this period.
Among docu’s talking-head activists, journalists and historians, one upper-class woman lawyer confesses her tacit collusion in dictatorship, repression and corruption. A member of the Truth Commission, she tearfully apologizes to the victims and to the country for her ignorance after days and weeks of hearing about the atrocities that occurred right under her nose.
High-res tech credits are excellent. Various post-modern distancing techniques intermarry old and new footage bringing a changed perspective to past events.