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Justice & The Generals
El Salvador
U.S. LAW
Around the World
About the Film
Education
About The Film -- Meet The Filmmaker
Introduction Broadcast Schedule Credits Meet The Filmmaker Key Issues Viewer's Guide


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JOHNSON: Tell us about some of the obstacles that the project presented.

PELLETT: Every documentary is fraught with its own peculiar challenges. And in this one there were loads of them. The first one being that I came on the story so late before the trial was starting that [I had] the whole challenge of getting funding that quickly. And without funding you don't make a documentary. So, that was the first challenge. And then the second huge challenge was that the trial in Florida was in a federal court -- in a federal courtroom, and you can't take cameras into federal courts in the United States. So, that meant that I was not going to be able to shoot any of the trial. And the trial was a big part of this documentary. And then I think the other challenge was that so many of the things -- the twenty-year history leading up to the trial meant going back, and acquiring documentary, archival footage, and that has its own challenges built into it in terms of, Are you going to be able to find the footage you need to create this story, or to follow this story, and to do it appropriately. There are other challenges that have to do with using extraordinarily violent images, and graphic descriptions of torture. And we as filmmakers are really learning about this. And I think you learn every time from the beginning all over again. I don't know that we ever really know how profoundly those images affect people, even though we live in a very violent, you know -- with a very violent popular culture all around us. And even though we think that kids are used to tremendous levels of violent imagery, in video games, in movies, and films -- I just went to see LORD OF THE RINGS, I mean -- enormously violent. And yet this documentary is the real violence, and the real consequences of people's brutality against each other, and the consequences of that, yes. So, it's been rated for children about fourteen.

Another obstacle in making this documentary was the Romagoza trial which I referred to at the end of the documentary. It's a case brought by the survivors of torture -- Salvadoran survivors of torture against the same two generals in the churchwomen's case. That trial was scheduled for May of 2001, and then in August of 2001, and then again in January of 2002, and we had chosen an air date for the documentary based on that trial taking place in January. And then it was postponed yet again. So, this effort to do documentaries about cases that are so current that are in process in federal courts is extremely frustrating and challenging because of the problem of whether you are going to affect the jury pool with information that you use in the documentary. And so, there's a reason that we don't see many documentaries about the law, this kind of law in process. And I'd like to think that this is, in a sense, a pioneer documentary of the living law in this new field of human-rights law that is about Universal Jurisdiction, that is about Command Responsibility cases, and about the Torture Victims Protection Act, and the Alien Tort Claims Act. And this is a new area of human-rights law and there is, you know, a huge challenge in trying to do documentaries that are about these cases because of the fact that they are so prolonged, and get postponed, and that kind of thing, so that was a big problem.

JOHNSON: Are you concerned about any personal or professional backlash from either the U.S. or Salvadoran entities as a result of your project?

PELLETT: That's a tough question. Some people have asked whether they think there will be repercussions from either El Salvador, or from American people, or institutions. I don't know what quite they're thinking about whether there will be repercussions for having taken on this documentary, or doing it the way I chose to do it. Some people have asked whether they think there will be any personal or professional backlash because I have made this documentary, or the way I've made it, and it's something that I guess I think about, but I don't think about, all at the same time. I think to do documentaries in public-affairs programs about current political, social, economic, cultural, religious, legal issues is to -- that are the contemporary issues of our time -- is to always put yourself in the midst of controversy. These are tough and complex issues. This was a big complicated story to tell, and the trial itself was a complicated trial. The notion of Command Responsibility is very rare -- that doctrine being used in American courtrooms. There was one case, perhaps earlier in the '80s, but then the last ones before that were after the Second World War in the Yamashita trials in Tokyo. So, these -- you put yourself into the midst of things that are very complicated -- are controversial. In this case you have -- it's the adversarial court system. You have a plaintiff and you have a defendant. They have different versions, perhaps of the truth; that in itself is controversial -- how to do a documentary film about that trial, and can you be fair and reasonable in the way you treat everyone in the story.

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"Every documentary is fraught with its own peculiar challenges. And in this one there were loads of them."