BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Katia Lara and Carlos del Valle grabbed their cameras last June and started shooting: protesters gathered on the Tegucigalpa streets, soldiers firing live rounds into crowds.
They filmed for five months, starting the day the Honduran military kidnapped then-President Manuel Zelaya and kicked him out of the country. They captured shocking images of soldiers beating up journalists and arresting children.
“We found out about the coup from CNN, since the local news stations were all playing cartoons or soccer games,” Valle said.
The police stole their cameras twice, and a number of the people in the film were killed. And so, in December, Lara fled the country for Buenos Aires. Valle followed a month later.
Here in this southern megalopolis, the two have been editing their feature documentary film, "Quien Dijo Miedo: Honduras de un golpe" (rough English translation: "No Fear Here: Inside the Coup in Honduras").
The central narrative thread of the film is of a young Honduran anti-coup activist, who eventually seeks exile in Spain after a bomb is placed under his girlfriend’s car.
Lara and Valle shot hundreds of hours of footage all over the country, and hope their film will help reveal the violence unleashed by the coup, and the illegitimacy of the post-coup elections — in which more than 60 percent of the electorate abstained from voting.
As far as they know, Lara and Valle are the only filmmakers who have a feature film on the topic.
"Quien Dijo Miedo" premieres here at a special screening on June 7, in a major cinema that seats 800. Valle will then go on to present the film in Bolivia and Chile later that month, and Lara will present it in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and in the United States in July.
“The two places we thought we could finish the film were in Mexico or Argentina, since both countries have strong film industries,” Valle said. Lara had also lived in both Mexico and Argentina before and, among other considerations, Argentina’s outspoken stance against the coup helped them decide to seek exile here.
“The U.S. didn’t even call it a coup, whereas barely three hours passed after the military kidnapped the president that Cristina [Argentina’s president] came out to denounce it. We thought here maybe we’d get a more hospitable reaction,” said Lara.
It's a hopeful sign that the pair came to find exile in Argentina, a country once home to death squads that kidnapped, tortured and disappeared tens of thousands of leftist activists and intellectuals. During the Central American wars of the 1980s, the Argentine government sent military advisers to Honduras, where they trained their counterparts in anti-insurgency doctrine, torture and making people disappear.
Argentina is now one of the few Latin American countries prosecuting a wide swath of human rights abusers from the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s. In early May, former dictator Jorge Videla was indicted for "40 aggravated murders, kidnappings and tortures," and former economy minister Jose Martinez de Hoz, responsible for implementing the dictatorship's conservative economic plan, was just tried for kidnapping, torture and murder.
One of Valle and Lara’s temporary homes, the Iglesia de la Santa Cruz, is also weighted with historic symbolism. It was here that the famed human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo held their first meetings, and also where French nuns Las Leonie Duquet y Alice Domon were kidnapped by the military regime, to be later tortured and thrown alive into the sea. For three months, the priests at the church let Valle and Lara sleep there for free, offering them much-needed sanctuary.
“When I started talking to people about why I was here, and what our film is about, I could see that they knew what we were talking about. They’ve been through it before,” said Valle, who is Guatemalan.
The two filmmakers are now in a race to finish the final version of the film in time to make the deadline for the June 7 premiere here. The film has been cut entirely on their laptop, using source footage on portable drives, editing at friends' homes, at cafes and bars.
Then later in the month, there's an even bigger premiere: June 28 in Honduras, the one-year anniversary of the coup. The time and place won’t be set until the last minute, to thwart any attempts by the government to shut it down.
“I’d love to be there to see people’s reactions,” Katia said. For now though that’s not an option. Many of her friends and colleagues back in Honduras tell her it’s not safe enough for her to return.