POV: What is The Fall of Fujimori about?
Ellen Perry: The Fall of Fujimori explores the ten-year regime of the former Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori. It focuses specifically on his battle with terrorist insurgent groups the Shining Path and the MRTA. During his battle with terrorism, he subverted his own democracy, and within two years he mounted an autogolpe — a self-coup, closed Congress, usurped the judiciary, implemented military tribunals and used death squads, all in the name of fighting terrorism. Within five years, the country was essentially pacified, but a lot of innocent people were imprisoned, a lot of human rights abuses had been committed and certainly democracy was completely subverted. By 2000, Fujimori attempted to run for a third term as president, which was unconstitutional. Ultimately, because of his actions, he was chased out of Peru, and has been in exile for five years. Recently he tried to travel back to Peru via Chile and was arrested. He currently sits in a Chilean prison.
POV: What inspired you to make this film?
Ellen: What drew me to the story of Alberto Fujimori was the Japanese embassy hostage crisis in 1997. It took place in Peru and consisted of a four-month siege; the hostages were freed in what was considered one of the most successful rescue operations in modern history. But ultimately, the rescue operation was tainted because there were rumors that Fujimori had given the command to take no prisoners. And indeed, all of the hostages were rescued, but all the rebels were killed. After that I started following his career, and by 2000, when he ran for a third term — which was unconstitutional — his regime collapsed under charges of corruption, kidnapping and murder, and Fujimori fled to Japan, I realized this was an amazing story. Also, after 9/11, I thought this was a very important story because of his battle with terrorism and the methods that he used.
POV: Why is the figure of Fujimori so compelling?
Ellen: Alberto Fujimori is a tragic figure, and I think that's compelling for any storyteller. He was a gentleman who rode in on the horse of democracy, wanting to save his people, but by the end of his ten-year presidency he was completely drunk with power, so much so that his own country turned on him in a way that they've never turned on any of their other leaders.
But what was compelling to me was that Fujimori believes that he did the best he could for his country. He really believes that he saved his country from economic and social disaster and that he had to take those extreme draconian measures for the overall betterment of his country. It relates to what we're going through in this country right now, and we're finding out that subverting democracy is never the answer.
POV: You interviewed a number of Peruvian journalists for the film. Tell us about Fujimori's relationship to the press during the years he was in office.
Ellen: Fujimori also controlled the press in Peru: by 1998 almost all of the press in the country was controlled by Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos, as was revealed through a series of secret tapes that were filmed by Montesinos, showing him bribing heads of television stations, literally stacking tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars in small bills on a table. I think one of the big lessons that we can take from Peru is that when you no longer have a free press, your country really is subject to anything and everything. The government truly becomes a dictatorship at that point, and not having an independent voice was one of the great tragedies of Peru.
POV: How did Fujimori react when he saw your film?
Ellen: His reaction was very tempered. He appreciated the fact that he had some voice, even though his voice was shared with opposition journalists and members of the judiciary. I think ultimately he appreciated the film's objectivity, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't difficult for him to watch, particularly when the film explores the Barrios Altos massacre, the use of death squads and his 2000 campaign, which was completely fraudulent.
POV: How is Fujimori regarded today?
Ellen: Fujimori is regarded in Peru today as a hero by some, and by some, a dictator. It depends on who you talk to. The people in the rural parts of Peru still support Fujimori because he built roads and schools, he subverted the Shining Path and the MRTA. But the people in Lima, as well as the intellectuals, see him as a complete and total dictator because he did subvert democracy and use death squads.
Up until recently he was polling at approximately 27 to 35 percent approval rating in Peru, but now it's gone down to about 10 percent. There are two new candidates for president emerging in the country, one a conservative and one a nationalist who is very much like Hugo Chavez. Many countries in Latin America seem to be moving towards the left.