In September 2019, POV asked The Silence of Others filmmakers Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar what's happened since the cameras stopped rolling.
How did you come to film the “Argentine lawsuit”?
The idea to make a film exploring the legacy of Spain’s long dictatorship had been brewing for a long time. Almudena is a Spaniard whose parents were raised under Franco, and she had deep memories of growing up in Spain during the transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 70’s. As we were busy making a film about a quest for justice in another part of the world (Made in L.A., a three-year portrait of Latina immigrants fighting sweatshop conditions in Los Angeles garment factories, which was also broadcast on POV), we would often talk about the lack of truth or justice for crimes of Spain’s dictatorship. Every time we saw films or read books about memory and post-conflict justice processes in other parts of the world, the need for this project would grow.
In 2010, we were living in Brooklyn when, an ocean away, Spain’s “stolen children” scandal broke and exploded into a media sensation. As we read this news from Spain, and with our baby daughter in her arms, Almudena said through tears, “This is our next film.”
After a few research trips, we realized that we couldn’t work from a distance, and we moved to Spain (a temporary return for Almudena after 12 years in the US) to follow the story as it unfolded. It was then that we encountered the Argentine Lawsuit, a then small but growing international legal effort to investigate and prosecute a range of crimes from Spain’s dictatorship, which included cases of stolen children, but also covered a wide range of crimes, from extrajudicial killings at the end of the Spanish Civil War to torture that took place as recently as 1975. The lawsuit was seeking justice abroad for crimes that cannot be prosecuted in Spain due to a 1977 amnesty law and “pact of forgetting”.
As we began to learn more, we were baffled by basic questions: how could it be that Spain, unlike other countries emerging from repressive regimes, had had no Nuremberg Trials, no Truth and Reconciliation Commission, no national reckoning? Why, instead, was a “pact of forgetting” forged in Spain? And what were the consequences of that pact, 40 years into democracy, for the still-living victims of Franco’s dictatorship? What happens when a country is forced to reckon with its past after decades of silence?
The two of you worked on this film for 7 years, and shot over 450 hours of footage—what was your thought process while shaping the final version of The Silence of Others? What was at the heart of the story that you wanted to tell?
We make films slowly, with a very small team, over a long period of time (we joke that this is “slow food filmmaking”). We shoot as a two-person crew, with Almudena filming and Robert doing sound. We patiently follow many storylines over the years, and see where they lead. But, in a bigger sense, we always knew that, whatever happened in each story, justice was not just an end goal for the plaintiffs. Justice was being made each day through their journey. Justice was their horizon.
This slow process leads to a lot of material – in the end we shot over 450 hours – but it also immerses us in the story on a day-to-day level, and sometimes there is no replacement for just “being there.” Our edit process, too, is long, slow and patient. The Silence of Others is an intricate, complex mosaic, and we spent 14 months in the cutting room, slowly writing, editing and building the film, with wonderful collaborators Kim Roberts and Ricardo Acosta.
The Silence of Others is structured around the Argentine lawsuit, which we follow in verité style as it unfolds over six years, capturing breaking developments and emotions as they happen. The challenge came as we tried to bring the landscape of our characters’ struggle, the context, and their memories. The antagonist was not a person, but an entire system of impunity, and this is very hard to convey – we had to create a very layered and complex story. With the lawsuit as backbone, the film delicately interweaves vérité scenes with testimonies, archival material, and sparse poetic voiceover narration from director Almudena Carracedo to provide space for essential context and reflection. This makes the film lyrical and reflective at times, and suspenseful at others.
Sound was also crucial to the film: a powerful but restrained score by Leonardo Heiblum and Jacobo Lieberman, and the meticulous sound design by Steve Miller, are also important cinematic elements, and we aspired to create a powerful and affecting soundscape.
At the heart of the film are, no doubt, the victims and survivors’ testimonies. Our goal was for the audience to be able to experience, along their side, (in Spanish there’s an expression: “in their skin”) our characters’ long journey seeking justice.
The film has received over 30 awards. Did you expect this? What has been the reaction to the film internationally?
It’s incredibly moving to see the reaction to the film internationally. We always wanted to make a film that could reach a wider audience than those who were already sympathetic, but until the film comes out into the world you never fully know how it will be received. When the film won two awards at the world premiere in February 2018 at the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) – the Audience Award and the Peace Film Prize- we understood that the film could indeed reach both the human rights community and also that wider public. That double award and what it meant has been at the core of the work that we have done with the film. And, while the film sheds light on the issues in Spain, it also is able to put a mirror to whichever society or community it plays in. How has history been written? What things go unspoken? Who has been oppressed, marginalized or made invisible?
As we have seen while traveling with the film,The Silence of Others powerfully connects to the international moment where ultra-right parties and fascist ideology are once again on the rise. The Silence of Others has now been screened in festivals in over in over 50 countries, and released in 15 countries (and counting), including France, where nearly 100,000 people saw it in cinemas; in Portugal where Midas Films premiered it on the anniversary of the Carnation Revolution; in Brazil where Supo Mungam Films released it in the early days of the Bolsonaro presidency; in Mexico where Ambulante is touring the film in all Mexican states in the midst of a “disappeared” crisis; in Argentina where it just premiered to rave reviews with support from the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and in the U.S. where it has triggered discussions about Civil War monuments, the continuing use of Confederate symbols, and the recent separations of children from their families at the border. It is also being broadcast on television in numerous countries across Europe.
And, very importantly, it is often the film’s protagonists who are traveling with the film. From the premiere in Berlin to Toronto, New York, Sheffield, Beirut or Buenos Aires, and community screenings all over Spain, the film has become a tool and a platform for their struggle.
And what has the reception and impact of the film been like in Spain?
After much anticipation during its international festival run, The Silence of Others premiered in theaters in 20 Spanish cities in November 2018. It had the third highest per-screen average in its opening weekend, only after Fantastic Beasts and Colette. More than 25,000 people saw seen it in theaters during a 4-month run.
Press across the political spectrum hailed the The Silence of Others, and the influential cinema magazine Fotogramas called it “The most necessary documentary of the last 80 years”. Well-known conservative newspapers like La Razón wrote about the film and used it to pose the question “Should We Forget The Pact of Forgetting?” El Confidencial called it “The film that reopens the debate about the Amnesty Law”.
When The Silence of Others won the Goya, millions of people saw the filmmakers' acceptance speech on primetime TV, and saw six of the protagonists on stage alongside them. The Goya win inspired newspaper Op-Eds, and the film was a trending topic on Twitter on both the day of its release and the day it won the Goya.
On April 4th, The Silence of Others had a primetime broadcast on Spanish public TV channel "La 2", and it was a genuine phenomenon. We offered mini-posters on social media, and people literally put them up in their offices and neighborhoods to publicize the broadcast. Substantial national press, appearances on late night shows, morning shows, radio, and social media built up to the broadcast. The film's hashtag "EsTiempodeMemoria" (It's Time for Memory) trended on Twitter for 9 hours prior to the broadcast. Two hours prior, Spain’s Prime Minister tweeted that everyone should watch the film, and other political parties also tweeted their support.
That night, nearly a million people saw the film. The film's title #ElSilenciodeOtros trended on twitter for 21 hours, and peaked as the #2 topic in Spain. And, to our amazement, "1977 Amnesty Law" trended for 11 hours, also reaching the #2 topic in Spain. A Change.org petition launched by the protagonists to modify Spain's Amnesty Law has already reached 150,000 signatures and a viral video based on the film, made by Playground, has been viewed 4.3 million times and shared 116,000 times. Spain’s national broadcaster RTVE called The Silence of Others “The film that everyone is talking about”. The film truly created a “cultural moment” in Spain and all of the personal stories of how it has stirred conversations within families and among neighbors, as well the broader impact, have been some of the most moving moments in our lives.
In the Silence of Others, we see tensions within the communities in Spain over the “pact of forgetting” and disagreements about the way forward. How does the film navigate between these tensions, and what role do you see it playing in helping these communities reconcile with their past?
We recognize that the issues explored in The Silence of Others can be sources of division to this day. In families. Among friends. Across sectors of society. Yet we feel strongly that the stories of the victims, survivors and their descendants told in The Silence of Others transcend the political, and should be seen in the frame of human rights.
It was a delicate balance, and we strived to create a film that, while clearly told from the victims’ point-of-view, would also sketch out the landscape that the argument itself was living in. We actually think that the intertwining insider/outsider perspectives that we brought to the film helped to accomplish this. The film needed the cultural sensitivity, the shared subconscious, and intricate contextual details of a film made by a Spaniard, Almudena. While most of the crew was Spanish, it was also crucial that there be an international team, and Robert’s outsider perspective has greatly shaped the film, unpacking assumptions and making it bigger and more universal. We believe that this combination has been absolutely crucial to the film’s success – both narratively and also in terms of reaching diverse audiences around the world.
But ultimately, we always felt that the power of the protagonists and their stories themselves were the most powerful argument against a “pact of forgetting”. As Judge María Servini says near the end of the film, “If the judges in Spain could hear what I have heard, they would open these cases here, too”. Likewise, we hope that when people hear the stories that we have heard over the seven years of making The Silence of Others, they too will view this less as a political issue, and more as a human rights – or just a human – issue.
What are you working on now?
It’s been a year and a half working solely on the distribution, screenings and impact around The Silence of Others. This can, indeed be the most beautiful part of making a film, and for us it is integral to our filmmaking process.
We are slowly starting to daydream about next projects. But after 7 years dedicated to making a film it takes a big leap to dive back in and commit to the next one… Ask us again next year? :-)