POV: What is your motivation as a filmmaker? Why did you choose documentary in this case?
Patricia Flynn: Filmmaking, for me, is a way to interpret the human condition. Having worked in other media, I know that film has the power to touch people deeply, to give viewers new insights and even to change the way they look at the world. So for me, film is all about expanding people’s consciousness. I work in documentary because there is nothing more powerful than a true story. Ultimately, my goal in creating social documentaries is both to inspire audiences to reflect on what they have seen, but also hopefully to inspire them to act.
POV: What generally inspires your interest?
Flynn: As a filmmaker, I’m interested in telling stories about issues that are too often ignored in the mass media and about people whose voices are not usually heard. I am particularly inspired by personal stories that also convey a social message.
POV: What inspired you to make Discovering Dominga?
Flynn: It is not often that a filmmaker encounters a true story as compelling as Denese Becker’s, and one that also has so much potential to reveal history and politics. I had been considering several documentary topics when I read the newspaper article my colleague Mary Jo McConahay had written about Denese and I immediately knew this was the film I was going to make. I could see that the emotional power of her personal journey would captivate audiences. And as a journalist covering Central America in the early ’80’s during Guatemala’s civil war, I also knew the importance of Denese’s story transcended the personal. This was a chance not only to follow one woman’s journey of self-discovery, but also to reveal a shameful chapter in hemispheric history that I felt American audiences should learn about.
POV: What were your goals in making Discovering Dominga? And what would you like to see happen with it?
Flynn: My goal was to make a film that would not only educate people about Guatemala’s civil war and its aftermath, but also to inspire audiences to continue exploring some of the issues raised in the film. So far, in screenings before the broadcast, the issues debated have been as diverse as the audiences. We have had a group of parents of school children debate whether young children should be exposed to films such as this that so realistically portray the brutality of war. We have had immigrants and refugees from Central America thank us for telling ‘their’ story in a way that makes them feel less invisible. And we have had audience members express shock that they were unaware such a brutal war had been fought in a neighboring country.
Guatemala is not an isolated example of a country struggling to recover from a civil conflict, nor is it unique in having been the object of a U.S. intervention. Hopefully viewers will have questions not just about Guatemala, but also about the how’s and why’s of U.S. involvement in other countries, and our responsibility as Americans. That question is ever more timely given recent events in the Middle East. As far away as Iraq and Afghanistan are from Central America, the Guatemala story is a reminder that it often takes decades for a society to recover from war and the personal costs may last for generations. I encourage viewers to consider that our responsibility as Americans does not end when the fighting stops.
My ultimate wish is that this film may succeed in giving viewers some new insights, and for some, a desire to act. The website links provided here should offer some positive alternatives. It is also my hope that the film will reach audiences beyond the broadcast in communities across America, and be used by educators, community groups and activists to promote dialogue and to further their own educational work.
POV: What was the most surprising thing to you in making Discovering Dominga?
Flynn: A documentary that follows an open-ended personal journey is always a voyage into the unknown. As much as you try to plan as a filmmaker, the unexpected always arises. It was clear from the start that Denese would be transformed by her return to Guatemala, but the break-up of her marriage came as a complete surprise. As sad as that personal outcome was, it also literally brought home the impact of that war fought so long ago and so far away — a surprisingly immediate example of the fact that Americans are not insulated from events in other countries. It was also impossible to foresee that Denese would succeed in her desire to find her father’s grave and to rebury his remains next to her mother’s. Although her story is far from over, that one chapter brought a kind of closure we had no way of predicting.
Although I knew Guatemala, and realized that peace there was tenuous at best, it was still startling to experience first hand how much people live in insecurity and fear. Those who perpetrated the violence still walk free, and they live virtually side by side with the victims of the violence. The justice system there has been incapable of successfully prosecuting even the most egregious crimes of political violence and human rights activists (including several of the characters in the film) are bravely carrying out their work in spite of threats to their lives.
POV: What are you currently working on or what would you like to be working on?
Flynn: I am currently in the process of exploring several topics for a film … but it’s too soon to tell!