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How ‘Finding Oscar’ Turned the Camera on the Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

Director Ryan Suffern and producer Frank Marshall explained their process at a recent IDA screening.

Frank Marshall

Producer Frank Marshall

It’s still impossible to know just how many lives were claimed in the decades-long Guatemalan Civil War, but the documentary “Finding Oscar” tells the story of two that were spared — and have been able to help gain justice for the citizens who were brutally murdered in a previously forgotten massacre.

After a screening of the film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series, filmmaker Ryan Suffern and producer Frank Marshall explained how their movie came to be.

Without giving away too much — you can watch the saga play out onscreen as a team of dedicated professionals (including a forensic anthropologist and a young prosecutor) attempt to find two young survivors of a brutal assault on a small Guatemalan town that saw government soldiers round up and murder the entire populace — Marshall explained that he learned of the story from a childhood friend who became a leading human-rights lawyer. After that, he sent Suffern to begin covering it.

After a day of filming, Suffern came home and told his wife he knew what he’d captured was magical.

“I said to my wife, ‘I think I’ve just filmed the end to the most fascinating story I’ve ever heard,'” he said. But he was an unlikely candidate for the job, since he didn’t really know much about Guatemalan history. “I knew that our country was involved in quite a few conflicts in Central and South America in the ’70s and ’80s, but I’d be hard-pressed to point out to you where Guatemala was,” he admitted.

One of the first things Suffern filmed when he got to Guatemala was the exhumation of the mass grave in Dos Erres. He felt strange filming something so horrific and personal, so he asked permission to turn his camera on it.

“The response from the community was, ‘We want you to film this. We want this to be seen,'” he said.

Watch clips from the Q&A below:

“Finding Oscar” is available on Amazon Prime.

The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.

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