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THE UPRISING (1982): HISTORY THROUGH FILM by Joanna Siegel "History records human action through time; it is the memory of human group experience."' The joint German-Nicaraguan film The Uprising, a portrayal of the Nicaraguan revolution, relates a significant event in recent human experience, and as such is an important and useful document. Filmmaker Peter Lilienthal 's stated purpose in creating The Uprising is to challenge the European stereotype of the "banana republic" by portraying the Nicaraguan revolution as a major event in the history of the Third World. The film depicts the dynamics of the overthrow of a long and brutal dictatorship by the collective will and muscle of the Nicaraguan people. Lilienthal chooses a fictional approach to his subject, which allows him a certain liberty in capturing the basic patterns and relationships he has identified as linking the events of the revolution. The nonfictional documentary style, perhaps a more generally accepted expression for a filmmaker's "historical imagination," could also be used to present an interpretation of these events. Fiction, however, has a unique potential for "following the thread of transformation of thought," an approach identified by one filmmaker as more relevant to the study of history than the traditional format of recording "dates, names, alliances, betrayals, wars, and conquests." "With a fiction feature," Lilienthal explains, "you can go inside. Then the audience can know what kind of people the revolution was made for... "^ Lilienthal wants to humanize his subject matter, to confront the narrow stereotypes he has observed Joanna Siegel io a negiAtexcd nuXAe. who hoA òtudie.d Latin Amexican HiAtony at U. C. L. A. She hoA been wonking with the Salvadonean ne{¡ugee. community in centnal Loo AngeleA. Il in Europe, the "poor but happy" generalization, or the "Communist Guerrillas vs. the Legitimate Government" explanation of Latin American liberation movements. By acquainting his audience with the intimacies of the lives of people involved with the revolution, he hopes to make the revolution "mean something" to people who are very far removed from it.5 To win sympathy and identification in his audience, the director chooses subjects with universal appeal. He wishes to expose his audience to the "very original and simple"^ aspects of Nicaraguan life which captivated him during his stay there. Foremost is his emphasis on the strength of the family unit. Flashes of the family seated around the dinner table, men protectively holding their small sons, grandmothers reaching for their grandchildren, and the many hands of all ages passing a firehose along its course are interspersed with more explicit scenes. His portrayal of the village mothers, all dressed in black, going to the barracks to demand the return of their sons shows the depth and importance of the family relationships involved. The war is not just the soldiers of Somoza vs. Sandini sta rebels; it is the integral family unit drawn into this conflict. The role of the church as a powerful force in the people's lives and in the revolution is also addressed. When the father wants to convince his son Agustín to desert from the Guard, he takes him to the village priest. A written study such as Weber's Nicaragua, the Sandinist Revolution can provide certain information on the Church's participation in a didactic form: "The Sandinists are hugely popular. ..even among a section of the clergy;... a major section of the clergy has thrown in its lot with revolutionary socialism." The fiction account, however, allows the audience to witness the priest saying, "Hermanos, estoy contigo." We see him opening the church allowing the people to hide, to display their banners of protest, or to seek refuge during an attack. Such details would be awkward to enumerate in non-fiction; yet, they add substantially to the audience's grasp of the situation by showing the actual ways in which the clergy supported the revolution. This use of fiction, of inside perspectives to touch an audience and affect them by means of their identification with characters, can of course be accomplished by written fiction as well as by film. Novels have perhaps even greater potential in this sphere because of their ability to convey not only actions, speech...


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pp. 12-16
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