'Finding Oscar' is an emotional Guatemalan documentary

Harvard University professor Kristen Weld comes to talk about the Guatemalan civil war in the Dodd center on Wednesday Oct. 18. The film "Finding Oscar" tells the tale of a survivor of a massacre in Guatemala. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

On Wednesday, Oct. 18, the 2017-18 Human Rights Film Series presented the emotional and powerful Guatemalan documentary, “Finding Oscar.”

The film, directed by Ryan Suffern, was released this year and delves into the horrific events of the Guatemalan Civil War, most specifically the massacre at Dos Erres.

“Finding Oscar” is about the search for Oscar Ramirez, a man that survived the horrific massacre at Dos Erres when he was only three years old. The film follows his personal storyline but also examines the historical context and transnational issues that were brought about by the Guatemalan Civil War.

The film opens with a shot of what appears to be a typical American household. There are photographs of children all over the refrigerator, inspirational quotes on the walls and a warm and inviting feeling. This shot is immediately juxtaposed with a shot of people in a Guatemalan village gathered around a ditch full of skeletons, desperately trying to identify the bodies.

This extreme contrast is a technique that is employed throughout the entire documentary. Other notable techniques used in “Finding Oscar” are first-hand accounts, historical footage (both videos and photographs) and graphic images. All of these devices allowed the film to get its jarring message across. In this way, “Finding Oscar” was both emotional and effective.

The film screening was introduced by Kirsten Weld, a historian of modern Latin America. Weld is currently a professor at Harvard University, where she offers courses in modern Latin American history, US-Latin America relations, archival theory and historical methods.

Weld’s personal work focuses on social inequality, justice and inclusion. Her first book, published in 2014, is entitled “Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala” and deals with archives that were suppressed by the Guatemalan government for many years.

“This film intersects with questions of human rights concern in a few different ways, not just vis-á-vis the Guatemalan Civil War and genocide,” Weld said. “It deals with the politics of Latin American migration to United States. It deals with the politics of adoption.”

After the film screening, Weld held a Q&A session in which she spoke more about her own research in relationship to the film. She also discussed her personal criticism of “Finding Oscar.” One of the major points that Weld examined was that the film left the question of race to the side. Weld explained how the Guatemalan government believed that “indigenous people are predisposed to be subversive,” which is the real reason for why the Guatemalan army massacred so many indigenous people. This fact was completely skirted around in the film.

Another topic Weld discussed in the Q&A session was the relationship between Guatemala and the United States, along with the issue of immigration. While both of these topics were brought up in “Finding Oscar,” most notably the relationship between President Reagan and the Guatemalan leader José Efraín Ríos Montt, Weld went into much greater and bleaker detail. As Weld stated when describing the relationship, “Who is the United States to tell Guatemala that they’ve done anything bad?”

Overall, the film screening and Q&A session discussed an extremely important and not very well-known piece of history in an engaging manner. “Finding Oscar” is most certainly a necessary piece of documentary work and Kirsten Weld provided a thought-provoking contribution to the film screening.


Lucie Turkel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucie.turkel@uconn.edu.