Skyline hosts film festival


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“As the military attacked our village, in the chaos, my mother strapped my baby sister to my back and told me to run,” said Denise Becker, relating a tale of surviving one of the most horrific massacres in Guatemalan history in the documentary, “Discovering Dominga.”

On Feb. 9, the Museum of Tolerance Alumni, and the United Nations Association Film Festival Traveling Film Festival presented “Discovering Dominga” and another documentary film, “Daughter from Danang,” in Skyline’s main theater. After the screening, Directors Patricia Flynn and Gail Dolgin and Producer Mary Jo McConahay were presented with questions from the audience, giving further insight into the historical events portrayed and the people they affected.

After each film was shown, students were encouraged to ask questions and pick the brains of those who made the movie.

A few of the students present after the first movie were even native Guatemalans and told about how the film connected with them. They spoke also about how little is known to the outside world of these genocides and the unrest of the Guatemalan government from their point of view, and why they felt they needed to leave their country.

When asked by a student how making “Daughter from Danang” affected her, Dolgin replied that it was amazing to see the project change and grow outside of the crew’s expectations.

“As a documentary filmmaker, you are suppose to just document, but your humanity comes out and you ask yourself if you should turn off the camera,” Dolgin said. “I had to believe that what we were doing had merit. And, from our audiences reactions, I think that it has.”

Another student asked Director Patricia Flynn what her purpose, vision, or goal was for making “Discovering Dominga” She first confessed that she was glad that she could tell the story with an American at its center, because then American audiences could be able to better relate to it.

“Our purpose was to bear witness to these atrocities that have be done,” Flynn said. “We wanted to share the story. Denise’s story needs to be told.”

“Discovering Dominga” depicts the odyssey of Denise Becker, Iowa mother of two, who rediscovers her childhood as a Mayan born in Guatemala with the name Dominga.

In 1982, when Becker was nine, her father, a political activist, was assassinated. A month later, her village was brutally attacked and 170 men, women, and children were slaughtered by the government as part of a systematic genocidal killing spree that included more than 100,000 Guatemalans.

Thanks to the quick thinking of Denise’s mother, her life was spared. After this, she wandered for almost 20 days in the jungle. Eventually found by some nuns and told to suppress and hide her past to save her life, she was adopted into the United States. At such a young age Denise’s mind blocked most of these memories. The film shows her starting to rediscover her past.

“Daughter from Danang” told the story of Heidi, a Vietnamese immigrant who was adopted in the United States in 1975 as part of Operation Baby Lift, a program to save the Amerasian children of servicemen and native Vietnamese women. At the age of seven, Heidi was adopted and assimilated into American culture.

But, for the next 20 years, Heidi’s birth mother searched to find her daughter that she had sent away. Heidi grew older and had children of her own and also started to seek out her mother. By coincidence they were able to connect. “Daughter from Danang” shows the emotional portrayal of the clash of cultures on Heidi’s trip to reunite with her family.

One thing that both movies have in common is that of their director of photography. The style of Vincent Franco, a resident of Pacifica, can be exquisitely seen in both movies.

Another shared trait is that both documentaries are focused on middle-aged women who have been displaced at a young age into a foreign country, lose all recollection of their language and culture, and journey to discover themselves.

“Discovering Dominga” won the award for Best Documentary in the Imagen Awards 2004, Bermuda International Film Festival 2003, and the Corazon Awards 2004. “Daughter from Danang” was a runner up for Best Film at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Grand Jury Prize Best Documentary at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, and an Academy Award Nomination for Best Documentary in 2003, an Oscar they lost to Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine.” Director Gail Dolgin was even on stage with Moore as he gave his acceptance speech that addressed President Bush.