POV: How did you gain access to Alberto Fujimori?
Ellen Perry with Enrique Bedos, First Unit Director
Ellen Perry: It took approximately two years to actually get to Fujimori. It was a really grueling, long process. When I went to Peru the first time in the fall of 2002, I had no contacts whatsoever. I called people based on the suggestions of an advisory board I had assembled, but no one would return my calls. For three weeks, I just sat there in foggy Lima, waiting for the phone to ring. Finally, I got a call from Father Julio Vicht, who appears in the film. After talking to me, he referred me to another father. And then after that, I interviewed another priest. After talking to three priests, I was able to actually get to the government. So I actually had to go through the clergy first, which is very old school and really interesting.
Then I started interviewing individuals from Fujimori’s government. I met his brother Santiago, who is now running as a vice presidential candidate in the 2006 elections. Santiago took me through a very long screening process. I met with him almost every night, and every night he would bring someone new. Eventually he asked me if I would like to interview Fujimori’s daughter Keiko, who had also been the first lady of Peru. After Keiko met with me she said, “Would you like to interview my father?” And of course I said yes.
From there on it took six months before Alberto Fujimori contacted me via email from Japan. When I opened up the email, it said, “Hello, I am Fujimori.” And I thought: fantastic.
POV: What did you say to Fujimori to convince him to be filmed?
Perry: I presented myself to Fujimori as openly and honestly as I possibly could, and I also did that with every interviewee and with every person that I met. I was completely transparent. And when I talked to Fujimori, I gave him the list of interviewees, which consisted of approximately 60 people, including those in support of Fujimori, those against him, people from the government, from Congress, from the judiciary and from the press. I told him that I wanted to focus on his battle with terrorism and the benefits and consequences of that. And with all of that knowledge he still agreed to do the interview.
POV: How did you gain Fujimori’s trust?
Perry: I established trust with Fujimori initially through his daughter and his brother. When I finally got to Fujimori himself, he was only going to give me half an hour, no cameras. That half an hour turned into six hours, and I finally had to say, “Mr. President, I’ve got my crew on call, are we doing this interview or not? If so, we have to start in eight hours, don’t you think you should get some rest?” He said, “Yes, of course we’re doing the interview.”
Initially the taped interview was going to only take a day, but then a day turned to four and then four days turned into two weeks… After a month, I said “I think I’ve got what I need to make this film,” and he wished me luck. We had a verbal agreement that he would not interfere in the editing of this film and he did not. The day that he saw the film was the day that the film was released at Sundance.
POV: Can you talk about the challenges of filming around this subject matter in South America?
Perry: Specifically, with filming in Peru, it was very difficult to penetrate the government and get people to talk. At the time that I went to South America, people were still very scared of the Fujimori regime. They were also scared of Vladimiro Montesinos, who was Fujimori’s right-hand man and head of the national intelligence apparatus. So there was a lot of whispering, taking meetings in strange places, taking the batteries out of cell phones, that sort of thing. I was followed by the secret police, by the CIA, and it was very dangerous because the Montesinos-controlled mafia that was created under Fujimori’s presidency still had power.
This was a very dangerous subject matter to delve into, and you realize that you’re not only at risk as the filmmaker but you’re also putting the people that you are talking to at risk, which is why for the first few times that I went down to Peru, hardly anyone would talk to me. But finally they started to open up more when the mafia that was created under Vladimiro Montesinos and Fujimori no longer had such a strong hold on the country.