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« Streaming: "Tea with the Dames" | Main | "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" Teases »
Wednesday
Mar202019

Doc Corner: Feminist History of Revolution in ¡Las Sandinistas!

By Glenn Dunks

A feminist tribute to the female soldiers of Nicaragua’s underground rebellion, Jenny Murray’s debut feature ¡Las Sandinistas! is an appropriately-timed documentary about the capacity of women in times of social upheaval and democratic unrest. It is an often-thrilling account of a revolution that represents in part the keen importance of women creatives behind the camera as a way of hunting stories that have gone previously unexplored and unexamined in film and yet hold worth to contemporary audiences.

Murray, who also produced and edited ¡Las Sandinistas! after a pair of short films (she is also an actress), has struck upon really fascinating subjects and it’s both her luck and ours that many are still alive and able to tell their stories...

Memorializing the work of women who rose up in the ranks to fight in the Nicaraguan revolution of the 1960s and 1970s against the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship allows for a captivating narrative amplified by plentiful archival video even if its production is decidedly a little rough around its edges and lacking in cinematic bells and whistles.

By focusing squarely on the role of women, less time is spent on the international political ins-and-outs of the period. Most obviously, despite its heavy factor in American history, the Iran Contra affair is but a blip on Sandinistas’ radar (although the Reagan-led Contras themselves do feature prominently in the second half after the rebellion’s initial success in overthrowing Somoza). I found it refreshing, but many of course may think otherwise; left wondering and having expected something more far-reaching.

Still, while the film may not make us privy to the nation’s extensive history nor its modern day disadvantages as poorest nation in the continent, for many even just this small fragment will surely be eye-opening – not even factoring in the radical nature of its feminist angle. Nicaragua is a country whose civil unrest has been overshadowed in culture’s wider perception of history from multiple sides by other countries in its geographic vicinity: the likes of Cuba to the north (with Che Guevara the face of international revolution) and Chile to the south (with Pinochet the face of violent, murderous dictatorship), for instance. ¡Las Sandinista! deserves a place alongside Susan Meiselas’ Pictures of a Revolution and David Bradbury’s Nicaragua: No parasan as essential works about this time and place.

After watching Murray’s film it’s hard to fathom how somebody like Dora Maria Tellez has not had a film made about her until now, documentary or otherwise. Her rise at just the age of 22 to third in command of a unit that pulled off one of the most brazen hostage demands yet seen right on through to her role as a minister contemporary work as the leader of her own political party and activist is one built for storytellers, a factor that only emphasises the need for filmmakers like Murray a vital importance.


Tellez is just the first of several incredible women whose stories make up 
¡Las Sandinistas!, which covers academics and authors to homemakers and domestic workers. None of whom, of course, have been assigned the historical significance of their male counterparts either in Nicaragua or anywhere else. It’s impossible not to see the parallels to contemporary political situations around the world, particular in America where the number of women entering public service has skyrocketed and where the refugee crisis has become both a physical and emotional battle ground of fake caravans and insular xenophobia.

Now, granted, they women here are not slinging guns and living in the jungle as they prepare to take down the violent forces that undermine their country’s progress but whether it’s accidental or not – this is an America-Nicaragua co-production after all and Murray is from Illinois – in the shadow of contemporary politics in Nicaragua, the United States, and Central and South America more broadly, there is a lot to take from ¡Las Sandinistas! beyond its feminist battle royale, which itself is an entertaining if bloody story.

Release: Now in limited release in LA and NY. Hopefully more places to follow.

Oscar chances: It's surely too much of a scrappy low-budget doc to cut through although if it can inspire somebody to adapt it into a drama then by association it'll get some awards love.

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