My participation in this film, the emotional ties to this project, and my first encounters with Peru were all a byproduct of serendipity.
In January 2010 I was in New York City for a few days and, thanks to a friend of mine, met the protagonist of this incredible story, Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert. Almost immediately, Carmen told me about Uchuraccay, a documentary she was working on. It all began as a dream, the unconscious mind’s favorite place to reflect and reveal.
In 2005 Carmen was sleeping and dreamed that she was attending her documentary exhibit in a festival. After talking to an audience about the film she meets Willy Retto, one of the eight journalists killed in Uchuraccay in 1983. In the dream Willy thanked her for the film and for restoring a sense of justice to the murdered journalists and their families.
Carmen knew five out of the eight journalists killed in Uchuraccay—she worked with them regularly and had left Peru only three months before the brutal murder of her friends and colleagues. She was haunted by this story, had carried for decades the memory of Uchuraccay in her heart. It flowed through her blood for thirty years, until she finally decided that the story needed to be told.
Maybe it was this necessity—a kind of liberation from the past; a story that could somehow heal the wounds of this horrible event—maybe it was this very urgency that struck me and convinced me to take up Carmen’s offer.
Only 15 days after our chance encounter, I found myself catapulted into Peru. My perception of the country was immediately shaped by this bloody story that stood out from the country’s more recent past. In the ’80s and ’90s Peru was consumed by civil war between a Maoist revolutionary insurgency—called Sendero Luminoso—and the state government. As I walked through the streets of Lima and scouted the hills of Ayacucho, I began to get a sense of the details and background of the deaths of these eight journalists.
Soon I realized just how risky making this film would be. Our crew was repeatedly stopped by the military, who interrogated us about the motivations behind our trip. Our pickup drivers who accompanied us to Uchuraccay were frightened when it began to turn dark—they nervously asked us to turn back to a safer part of the country. Fear was etched on the faces of those who lived in the mountains as they recounted their stories in front of the camera.
During our interviews, we listened to the tales of oppression and tyranny that the Sendero Luminoso and various factions of the Peruvian army perpetuated for more than ten years. Bit by bit I gathered more and more details about the journalists’ murder, and I myself began to build an idea of what led to their disappearance. The story is very complicated, the sources debatable, and the information sometimes uncertain, given the remote location of the event. Everything is obscured.
This story is shrouded in fog, and so is the land where it took place: when you peer out from the tip of the Andes toward Uchuraccay, everything is covered in a thick whiteness. It seems like the land is its own special place in space and time, in a kind of paradise (for those who believe in it).
To understand this story you have to understand its context: in 1982 the area of Ayacucho was declared “an area of emergency” under the political-military command of General Clemente Noel. A few months beforehand, the revolutionary group Sendero Luminoso had effectively declared war against the Peruvian state. The country was at the dawn of a brutal civil war: a war without rules, a war where the state was fighting an enemy with no foreign face or flag. The Sendero Luminoso brought on terrorist attacks within the region through brutal tactics. The bodies of dead dogs stuffed with TNT were hung from lampposts; when they were taken down they exploded. On the one hand, the population was in the stinging grip of these terrorists—when they came, they took everything from the peasants, killing whoever wasn’t in favor of the revolution. On other hand, the terror of being repressed by state-backed force of arms was just as strong.
In the middle of all this was the massacre of Uchuraccay. Some days before, news broke out that in Huaychao—not far from Uchuraccay—villagers had killed a group of terrorists belonging to the Sendero Luminoso. But when the official photos of this killing came out, they showed the bodies of young boys and girls. Eight journalists decided to find out more.
Denied a request to use a government helicopter, the reporters decided to make their way to Huaichao by foot. A driver accompanied them as far as Tambo, and from there they followed a trail in the mountains 4000 meters above the sea level. The eight decided to hire Juan Argumedo—the cousin of one of the journalists, Octavio Infante—as a guide. The nine were killed upon their arrival in Uchuraccay.
The news of their deaths reached the city after two days, and other top journalists were able to reach Uchuraccay only three days after the disappearance of their colleagues. Among them was Lucio Morales, a correspondent for Diario de Marka, who was able to interview the farmers of Uchuraccay in Quechua, the native language of that people. The photos and testimonies sent to Diario de Marka after the massacre were immediately published. They would give anyone the chills.
With thirty years past, there is much evidence and many testimonies to counter the “official” version of the story that the government commissioned months after the massacre. Presided over by future Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, the commission declared that the journalists were killed by farmers in the area due to confusion and miscommunication. Among the explanations given for this “confusion” was the language barrier between Quechua, the language of the natives, and Spanish, the journalists’ language. Ignorance of the indigenous people, who didn’t know a camera from a weapon, led them to believe the journalists were really terrorists. But these tenuous explanations by the commission of Vargas Llosa didn’t truly convince anyone—two of the eight journalists regularly translated Quechua into Spanish. Too much evidence was overlooked.
Even today this incident is immersed in dense fog; many people who were aware of the true details have mysteriously disappeared. There are many questions left unanswered: who killed these journalists? Why? What did they discover that someone didn’t want them to know?
After nine years of research and three years of production, we’ve come to the final stage in the Uchuraccay documentary. We have produced 80% of the film thus far with our personal resources. In order to raise the funds necessary for its completion we have decided to launch a new crowdfunding campaign on the popular website indiegogo.com. Anyone can contribute from $5 to $5,000, and receive different thank you gifts.
We have less than two months days to reach our goal of $40,000, allowing us to finish the production of the film and pay for the post-production, as well as the rights for archival material. If we don’t reach $40,000 by April 2 at 11.59 pm. (EST). Contrary to a previous campaign in 2013, in this platform we can keep the money you donate even if we do not meet our goal. Crowdfunding is risky but is a direct form of democracy which protects film independence: Through pledging, anyone can become a producer of any story and contribute to its diffusion.
Nine percent of the film’s profits will go to the families of the victims: Eduardo de la Piniella, Pedro Sánchez and Félix Galiván of Diario de Marka; Jorge Luis Mendivil and Willy Retto of El Observador; Jorge Sedano of La Repùblica; Amador García of Oiga magazine; Octavio Infante of the journal Noticias de Ayacucho, and their guide, Juan Argumedo.