San Diego Jewish Film Festival preview: ‘Our Disappeared’

By Yvonne Greenberg
LA JOLLA, California — What started out as filmmaker’s Juan Mandelbaum’s hopeful search for his college girlfriend Patricia Dixon in his documentary, Our Disappeared, turns into a horrifying discovery that she was killed during Argentina’s “Dirty War” by the right wing junta.
During the “Dirty War,” from 1976-1983, about 30,000 people were killed, including 250 of Mandelbaum’s schoolmates, in a power struggle between left-wing activists (which included students, journalists, unionists, Marxist and Isabel-Peron sympathizers) and Jorge Videla’s military dictatorship, which primarily carried out the state terrorism.  Some of the 10.000 of the disappeared were Montoneros (mostly students) and guerrillas of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP).
Our Disappeared (2008, 99 minutes, Spanish/English) will be shown at the Clairemont Reading 14 on Tuesday, February 15, at 5:00 p.m. as part of the 21st Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival. Director Mandelbaum is scheduled to appear.
Mandelbaum’s search for his girlfriend takes him on an odyssey where he also discovers the stories of other people who were tortured and killed during the “Dirty War.”  He relies mainly on interviews with some of the victims’ relatives and friends to paint a more disturbing picture of the devastating effects of the “Dirty War.”
After graduating from college in the United States, he went back to Argentina where he learned about Patricia’s death from her sister, who was also able to steer him to the relatives and friends of other people who also tragically disappeared to hear their stories.
In one of the secrets of the “Dirty War,” the military regime cut open the wombs of some of the disappeared women to extract their babies and gave them to military or naval couples. Consequently, when the children grew up, many of them went to search for their biological parents.
Director Mandelbaum, in an effective display of filmmaking, shows the five doors to one of the torture chambers but doesn’t show the actual tortures. And, every photographed scene in the film is of at least some human interest. He stays out of politics as much as possible but still gave me a better understanding of the politics at play during the “Dirty War.”
Mandelbaum is also very artistic, as he so beautifully and powerfully demonstrated at the beginning of the film.  A body of water occupies the entire screen, a body of water which I assumed to be the notorious Rio de la Plata because so many bodies (alive and dead) were thrown into that river.  The accompanying music is by Mandelbaum’s friend.  Also, there is a poem recited by Mandelbaum. He wrote and narrated the film’s script as well.
Juan Mandelbaum has also worked as a teacher, curator, and consultant.  He is president and creative director of Geovision, a Massachusetts multicultural communications agency.  His work has been broadcast in a variety of places, from American Playhouse to Sesame Street and has won Emmy Awards and other honors and nominations.
He studied sociology in his native Argentina and holds an M.A. in Communication from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.


Greenberg  is a freelance writer based in La Jolla.

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