Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Hot Docs 09: Director Heddy Honigmann Honours Ordinary Peruvians

Award-winning director, Heddy Honigmann's new work, EL OLVIDO (OBLIVION) reminds me of an earlier film of hers, THE UNDERGROUND ORCHESTRA. In that 1997 documentary, Honigmann followed the lives of a diverse group of immigrants sharing their respective musical talents with users of the Parisian subway system; Her camera also managed to capture the human will to survive. This same human struggle and sharing of talent is reflected in the street scenes of El Olvido, where the children and adults of Lima, Peru ply whatever skills they have in order to subsist--a child does flips between traffic signals and gets coins that she gives to her infirm mother; a blind woman sings on the sidewalk; a vendor sells memory-boosting frog juice; and another takes pride in repairing anything that is broken.

I have never met Honigmann, but it seems to me that she has the documentarian's gift of getting people to reveal their truths, allowing us the privilege of a shared intimacy. Though Honigmann's lens, we are invited into the humble homes of Lima's working class. Many of her subjects have worked for years in places which they cannot afford to eat or stay. They have survived years of economic hardship and political corruption. One amicable bartender, who speaks admits he is speaking out because he is at the end of his career, says that choosing a Peruvian presidential candidate is like choosing whether you would like to have Hepatitis B or AIDS.

Unlike many in the film, this little shoeshine boy had no dreams. His eyes were so sad I wanted to reach into the film and take him home with me, or connect him with the poor mother and her loving daughters, who had lost her eldest daughter to an accident. Despite her poverty and loss her girls always hugged and cared for each other, while this little boy seemed to have no one who loved him. What does it take to kill a child's ability to dream? Even the adults who lived through terrorism, massacres and coups managed to have a bit of hope.

Honigmann was born to Holocaust survivors in Lima, Peru. She has not lived in the city for many years (she's a Dutch citizen), but it's obvious from her films, that she does not take people's lives for granted and this sensitivity shows in her work. Peru is not in the worldwide consciousness as other Latin-American countries, and, it seems to me, that Honigmann brings these ordinary Peruvians to the screen so that they can be honoured for their resilience. Ordinary lives matter and should not be forgotten.

El Olvido (Oblivion)screens at the ROM on Thursday, May 7th at 7:15 PM or at The Isabel Bader Theatre on Saturday, May 9th at 11:00 AM.

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Photos courtesy of Hot Docs.

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