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Innocent Voices’ an emotional experience

Grace Myers | Tuesday, December 6, 2005

An 11-year-old boy, Chava, must fight for his home, family and childhood in war-torn El Salvador.

“Innocent Voices,” a movie based on the true story of screenwriter Oscar Torres, compellingly addresses the El Salvadoran Civil War and child recruitment during the 1980s. The film shows the vast and prolonged suffering caused by daily violence. The film’s screening at the Browning Theater was put together by a Notre Dame student who, after spending time in El Salvador and experiencing the effects of the war first-hand, wanted to raise awareness of the civil war and the issue of child recruitment. She also brought Torres, to speak and answer questions after the screenings. Seeing Torres, the now 33-year-old creator of this film based on his embattled childhood, made viewing the film an incredibly powerful experience.

The film is highly acclaimed all over the world, receiving awards from many film festivals, including Best Feature Film Award at the San Diego International Film Festival and Best Picture at the Berlin International Film Festival. “Innocent Voices” has earned high praise in the United Sates, despite its initial difficulty in finding an American distribution company.

“Innocent Voices” shows history’s evils, raising awareness of the devastation war inflicts on children, but also showing the strength of the human spirit in the midst of these evils.

The boy, Chava, struggles to maintain a degree of normalcy within his home. In the midst of frequent shootings in his village, he constantly fears turning 12 – the age when the government can recruit him to fight against his nation’s peasant rebels. Meanwhile, he cares for his younger brother and sister, trying to preserve their innocence and sheltering them from the chaos that surrounds them. During the frequent shootings, Chava draws on his face and does magic tricks to create a “circus” underneath the bed frame where the children hide.

Chava gets his first job to help his single mom pay the bills, survives a shooting within in his school and sees his friends be recruited to the army and changed forever. His life becomes a bitter struggle for survival, as he is forced to choose between being recruited and joining the rebels, while experiencing the dispiriting effects of constant fear.

The brilliance of this movie lies in the balance of the devastation and specific cruelties of this civil war with the funny and charming displays of Chava’s childhood and family. The young Chava’s point of view sets this film apart from other Latin American war films: he has no political opinions, does not understand the purpose of the violence and seeks to return to his normal life. Unlike the adults around him, he does not choose his future. His fear of being recruited by the army dictates his decision to finally join the peasant rebels.

“Ask any 12 year-old if he wants to join a war, and he will say no,” Torres said in a recent interview with National Geographic. “The problem is that many children do not have a choice.”

Torres was also quick to point out, in both the film and in the post-screening discussion, that child recruitment is found in other places besides El Salvador. In fact, more than 300,000 children presently serve in armies in over 40 countries throughout the world, most frequently in Africa. Various organizations, such as Amnesty International and UNICEF, work diligently to solve the problem. A major difficulty, however, is the unawareness in the majority of the world. With his powerful “Innocent Voices,” Torres directly educates and inspires the world of this ongoing crisis.