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Enemies of War

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Film Crew
Crew filmming in El Salvador
by Producer/Director Esther Cassidy

Deborah Shaffer, Rob Kuhns, Bill Kavanagh and I struggled for almost six years to produce ENEMIES OF WAR. But I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life when we landed in El Salvador for our first shoot in 1992. With no explanation two Salvadoran soldiers armed with Uzi's grabbed Michael Phillips, our sound engineer, and half-dragged him into a room a few hundred feet away. Field Producer Bill Kavanagh and Director of Photography Michael (Mikey) Harlow hurried after the soldiers taking Michael away, while I stayed with the Betacam equipment and our luggage in the baggage area. Stony-faced soldiers put their Uzis in my colleagues' faces, keeping Bill and Mikey at least a hundred feet away from the room where they held Michael. From time to time the door would open and occasionally, they would catch a glimpse of a cool and calm Michael sitting against a wall surrounded by more soldiers.

Meanwhile at the baggage area, the heat was oppressive. Soon dozens of children came up to me, begging for money and food. We waited for over an hour, me with the children and the baggage, and Mikey and Bill attempting to communicate with the soldiers, who responded by pushing them with their Uzis. Bill ran over to tell me that he had seen the soldiers confiscate Michael's passport. I was afraid the soldiers would remove Michael, put him in a truck, and he would disappear like so many others had in El Salvador. I wondered what I was thinking when I brought my film crew to this war-torn country: I had put them in real danger.

Bill and I decided to call the American Embassy. Suddenly, without any explanation, we saw the soldiers releasing Michael in the distance. As soon as we were all together again, I wanted to get on a plane and return to the United States. But Michael, Mikey and Bill would not leave. They picked up the equipment and luggage and - bantering and complaining - headed for the airport taxi stand. First on their agenda: a nice cold beer.

film crew in El Salvador
Five crew members and film equipment fit into this 4x4 truck
Not all our shoots in El Salvador were as frightening or as dramatic as the first. Often we had to deal with power outages, phones that were out of service, and bad roads - or no roads, where we had to carry our equipment up hills and down paths in the tropical heat. We could only travel during the day, because at night the country roads in El Salvador were controlled by banditos, who would stop your car, rob and kill you. Many say these banditos are soldiers who take off their uniforms for their night work.

As we worked on the film, our storytelling struggle was connecting the many tales of personal courage that unfolded. The Jesuits were murdered because they told the truth during a time when El Salvador was torn apart by violence and deception. Congressman Joe Moakley and his then aide (now Congressman) Jim McGovern faced death threats in El Salvador and intense political pressure at home for their investigation of the truth of the murders. Salvadorans like Margarita and Rigoberto risked their lives fighting for democracy and justice during the civil war. Later they showed an equally important kind of courage as they rebuilt their lives. American priest Dean Brackley immediately rose to the challenge of replacing one of the Jesuits who had been brutally killed. Father Brackley is still there today teaching at the University of Central America, firmly insisting that El Salvador continue on the road to peace. The varied emotional stories we encountered made the history and politics come alive.

ENEMIES OF WAR also benefits from the archival film and videotape material shot, directed and produced by courageous storytellers who took risks to bring news of El Salvador's civil war to the world. They include Frank Diamond, Don North, Diego de la Tierra, Epigmenio Ibarra, Glenn Silber, Ilan Ziv, Richard O'Regan, Frank Christopher, Robert Richter, Bernie Stone and Anna Carrigan, among others. Producers and camera operators for PBS's Frontline, ABC-TV, NBC-TV and the BBC also provided excellent footage.

The United States was involved in El Salvador's long and devastating civil war. Our money paid for it, our society was divided by it, and American churchwomen, Jesuit priests, soldiers and military advisors lost their lives in it. People - ordinary and extraordinary - halted U.S. involvement, and a small country began generating peace instead of war. And for that we should be forever grateful.

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