Here Are the Innocent Voices
By Jesús Aguado
During the civil war in El Salvador, Óscar Torres turned 12 years old, the age when he would be dragged off by the militia to fight. In 2012 he wrote the screen play for a movie that has been awarded more than 70 international prizes. Óscar Torres will personally present the movie here to help Casa Hogar Mexiquito.
Innocent Voices, Movie
Tue, Feb 9; 6pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta
Tickets at the box office, 200 pesos
During an interview granted to Atención, the producer and screen writer, survivor of El Salvador’s civil war, commented that he arrived in San Miguel to stay a season and became inspired to write the script for Te Adoro, a movie that will be filmed in this city. But in the meantime, he decided to do something useful with his time and his tools.
Jesús Aguado: Tell us about Innocent Voices.
Óscar Torres: Innocent Voices tells the story of a child who should not have turned 12 years old because that meant that he had to fight in the civil war on one side or the other. It was a run against time. The movie was filmed in Mexico and projected in theaters in 2005. It has been awarded international prizes, including Best Movie Berlin and Humanitarian Movie of the Year from UNICEF. In addition it has been the first movie screened by the United Nations.
JA: How, where, and when did the idea of the script emerge?
OT: For more than 30 years I had been trying to run away from a past that was eventually going to find me, and it did find me. During the attacks of 9/11, I was sleeping at 9:30am (6:30am in Los Ángeles) when a friend rang me and told me, “Get up! The United States is being attacked!”
I left my apartment. I went out to see the bombs, but I did not see anything. In El Salvador, when there were bombs, you did not stay under the bed. You had to flee.
The very same night I woke up with a panic attack. In January 2012 I received a US$1,200 check for work I had done as an actor. I owed two months’ rent. I was in a dilemma because I did not know if I should pay the rent or buy a computer. I got a computer! And I also purchased a bottle of whisky for the owner. I gave him the bottle and asked him if he could wait for two more months, and he did. I wrote for two months. I cried and wrote at the same time. It was a personal catharsis that I never thought would be this big.
The movie started as personal therapy because I grew up in the war. I had to fight very young, and when I started writing this, it turned into an educational tool that has been screened in the United States in high schools and universities including Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown.
JA: You basically grew up in the United States. Nobody knows the rest of the story. What happened in the next 30 years of your life?
OT: I left my country with a false identity. I lived with an uncle and later I re-encountered my father. I lived with him, but the relationship never worked out. I went back with my uncle. Six years later my mother made it to the United States; my sister arrived two years after, and finally my two brothers came. The separation is one of the situations that give me a lot of conflict. I have filmmaker friends, and they are always thinking about the second part. Emotionally, I cannot tell the second part. Being separated from your family is complicated. In all this process, there was no communication, there was no email, just letters. I found my path in the movies.
JA: Why did you decide to screen the movie in San Miguel?
OT: In San Miguel there are many expats, and I thought they would be a good audience for a movie that many people have not seen. We have worked in many fundraisers with the movie, and we have had good results. In San Miguel I met Teri Kavanagh (Director of Liaison with Nonprofit Organizations of the local administration), and she offered us all the help to make it possible. I wanted to do something to help the children of San Miguel.
JA: What is your relationship with nonprofit organizations?
OT: In Los Angeles I work with NGOs, and I have always had a sensibility for helping. I grew up where the gangs—Mara Salvatrucha—emerged. I know their past because it is my past.
JA: I know that 100 percent of the profits will go to Casa Hogar Mexiquito. Why did you decide to help this organization?
OT: When I arrived in Los Angeles, I felt abandoned and rejected. After 30 years I acknowledged that it was not that way. I see the children, and I feel identification with them. I know what it is to grow up without a mother or a paternal guide. It is difficult for a child. Moreover, if you add poverty, the damages get accumulated. If I can help with something, that is good.
I visited Casa Hogar Mexiquito, and I noticed the need. I met the children and I also found out that they are working daily to get funds to survive. The house needs 24 solar cells in order to get independence from the Federal Commission of Electricity and save some money. The money will go to their self-sustainable program. I thought that screening the movie in San Miguel could help them.
Finally, Torres commented that the movie will be projected on February 9, at 6pm at the Teatro Ángela Peralta. At the end of the movie, there will be a question and answer session and a cocktail. Torres invites all those who want to be part of a humanitarian event.
Óscar Torres joined the civil war. “I had to join it and be part of the rebel force for protection of my family. It was not a populist ideal. It was something personal in each child. We had lost our beloved ones; we had received abuse from the armed forces. It was an act of defense without knowing what we were doing.”