Updated April 7, 2009:
Alberto Fujimori has been convicted of human rights crimes in Peru.
Reuters reports: “A three-judge panel convicted him for ordering a military death squad to carry out two massacres that killed 25 people during his 1990-2000 rule, when he was battling guerrillas. Nearly 70,000 people died in two decades of conflict in the Andean country.”
Update from 2006:
What’s been the overall reaction to the film?
Ellen Perry: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We were lucky enough to have received great reviews from A.O. Scott in the New York Times, Alex Cox in Film Comment, and John Anderson in Variety, among others.
Starting with Sundance, we screened at over 40 festivals worldwide and won numerous awards (including Grand Jury Prize at Independent Film Festival of Boston).
Of course, the nature of the subject matter has led to some quite vigorous, if not volatile discussions. When I flew to Lima, Peru to attend the International Film Festival, things got quite tense. I was given bodyguards as a precautionary measure. At the Q&A after the film screened, emotions boiled over, and I honestly thought the audience was going to storm the stage, as the anti-Fujimori forces were calling for blood — both mine and Fujimori’s. It was precarious for a moment or two.
As an alumna of USC’s School of Cinema and Television, I was honored beyond words to screen the film for Leonard Maltin’s ever-popular Class 466, and then enjoy a Q&A with Mr. Maltin afterwards.
We were also honored to be nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Best Documentary Screenplay.
What is the inevitable question that you’re asked after screenings? Any memorable moments or incidents that made you re-think how you approached any aspects of the film?
Ellen: The number one question is, “How did I get Fujimori to talk?” Answer: Hard work, diligence, and not taking no for an answer. When we finally met in Tokyo, he saw that I wasn’t there to do a hit piece. I think he also appreciated the fact that I didn’t represent any large media organization, that my crew was completely independent. I told him, “You have an amazing story, and I am going to tell it honestly, objectively, and in a way that is unique.” He gave me his little charming half-smile, sat back in the chair, and began to tell me his life story.
Another popular question: Was it my intention to draw parallels to the U.S. led war on terror? Answer: Yes.
And finally: What was Fujimori’s reaction to the film? Answer: Tempered. He liked some parts, didn’t like others, but did say that he found it, overall, “balanced and objective.”
The most memorable moment by far was at the aforementioned screening in Lima, Peru. The Q&A quickly turned hostile as the moderator was only taking questions from anti-Fujimori plants in the audience. In fact, the moderator condemned both me and the film to such an extent that the director of the festival had to throw the moderator out. At one point the crowd began surging violently forward, and I honestly thought that my bodyguards would be forced to pull their guns. Every newspaper and television station in Peru covered the screening. Ultimately, the widely respected Caretas magazine declared that the film was not propaganda, but a balanced, insightful look at the rise and fall of their former president.
But in terms of approach, I believe in my heart that I made a balanced and objective piece, yet when screened in Peru, whose citizens are still licking their wounds from the Fujimori era and whose anger runs very deep, the film was seen as propaganda. So in that sense, it definitely encouraged me to look at the film differently. But with that said, would I change anything if I had to do it over again? Absolutely not. I make no apologies for this film.
Have you been in touch with Mr. Fujimori or members of his family since filming stopped?
Ellen: Yes, he phoned me in November 2005, just before his attempt to return to Peru from Japan. He was, of course, detained in Chile, and I haven’t spoken to him since. Keiko has also kept in touch occasionally, to inform me of her general political intentions, but not since she was elected to Congress in April. I imagine she’s quite busy these days.
Can you tell us about your current projects? Has your subsequent work been influenced in a particular way because of your experiences (both stylistically and technically) from working on The Fall of Fujimori?
Ellen: I wrote a script called A Beautiful Story with my writing partner Zack Anderson and am set to direct. It’s a charming film about an English orphan who is obsessed with soccer. Zack and I are also writing a murder mystery set in New York and Georgia (where I grew up).
I have also been approached to write and direct a political thriller set in — envelope please — a tumultuous Latin American country. I can’t say anything more except that it’s a film that builds on my experience and knowledge of revolutionary groups learned while making The Fall of Fujimori and that it’s a tremendous opportunity to make a great and — dare I say — important film.
Finally, I wouldn’t say The Fall of Fujimori has affected my style in so much as it’s represented it. I have always been a fan of narrative realism in the tradition of The Battle of Algiers.
When I started this project four years ago, I never dreamed that documentaries would become as popular as they are today. But I think people want a great story and, more importantly, they want the truth. This thirst for truth tells me that we’re standing on the edge of a new era of great American cinema. One that recalls the legendary 70s, driven by icons like Coppola, Scorsese and Altman, whose films were meditations on the cultural turmoil of the times: Vietnam, Watergate, the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
Today, the U.S. is also sharply divided politically and culturally. People are beginning to wake up and think. There is palpable unease about the war in Iraq, threats to our civil liberties, and the growing economic disparity between rich and poor. These are controversial, profoundly important issues. And I feel inspired, if not obligated, to make films that address these realities, which are sometimes harsh, sometimes sad, sometimes beautiful, sometimes everything all at once.