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Latin American Movies for DXers #1

By Don Moore

This piece was written in 1991 as a short extra article for my Latin Destinations column. It was never published.


Hola amigos! In this short Latin Destinations column, we're going to turn off the radio and go to the movies instead! There are a number of excellant movies about Latin American topics that can help us appreciate that region and understand its culture and people a little better. If nothing else, we can see what the places we listen to look like!

My all time favorite Latin American related movie is The Mission, starring Robert DeNiro, released in 1986. One of the lesser known chapters of Latin America is how Jesuit missionaries converted the Guarani Indians in the region where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay come together. The Jesuits and their converts built about 30 missions with a total population of 100,000 peaceful inhabitants. This, however, was more than colonial authorties could accept, since those peaceful Guarani Indians represented potential slaves for the fields and mines. The Jesuits were accused of being too powerful - of even trying to establish their own empire - and King Charles III of Spain expelled them from Spanish territories in 1767. With the Jesuits gone, their peaceful converts quickly became slaves. The Mission tells of the founding and subsequent destruction of one such mission. The story is riveting, but takes a second place to the scenary. Much of the movie was filmed at the Iguazu Falls on the Argentine/Brazilian border, and the panoramas are just short of being there. With reason, this film won an Oscar for Best Cinematography.

While most video stores should have a copy of The Mission, you'll probably have to do a lot of hunting to find the next one, Fitzcarraldo, by a German director whose name escapes me. This true story takes place in the late 1800s during the rubber boom in the upper Peruvian Amazon. Steamboats are the main means of transportation, but none run on one particularly important tributary because it's impossible to get upriver past a dangerous set of rapids. An Irish adventurer named Fitzgerald (Fitzcarraldo in Spanish) decides to tackle the problem by befriending a tribe of local Indians and then persuading them to drag his steamboat over a mountain from another river. The movie was filmed on location in the Peruvian jungle, and again the scenary is great, and the story compelling.

As perhaps the major ongoing Latin American news event in the 1980s, El Salvador also became the subject of at least two movies. The first, Romero follows the story of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was a voice of peace and reason in that troubled country until his 1980 assassination. The film tells its story in a lowkey and uncontroversial manner, and is frequently shown in Roman Catholic churches in the U.S. as part of Central American programs. In addition to the story, it gives a good view of the everyday life in Central America.

The other movie, Salvador, starring Jim Belushi, is anything but lowkey and uncontroversial. Based on the true experiences of some American reporters covering the Salvadoran war, it is frequently brutal, and not at all for younger or more squeamish audiences. The film is clearly opposed to the Salvadoran government and US policy in the region. This film is exciting enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, and also offers a view of typical everyday village and city street scenes. This film, like Romero, was actually filmed in southern Mexico.

Enjoy your popcorn, and hasta luego!


This website is maintained by Don Moore,
Association of North American Radio Clubs
DXer of the Year for 1995

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