Austin Film Festival 2016: Interview with “Finding Oscar” Director Ryan Suffern

We had the opportunity to interview the director of “Finding Oscar,” Ryan Suffern. If you haven’t read our review of the film, you can do so here. Ryan was very generous sharing his experience on making the film and it was great to hear more about “Finding Oscar” from his perspective. We highly recommend the film if you’re looking for a thought-provoking documentary that does not shy away from depicting harsh realities with a sliver of hope thrown in.

Image courtesy of The Kennedy/Marshall Company
Image courtesy of The Kennedy/Marshall Company

Why did you choose to tell Oscar’s story and the massacre of Dos Erres?

Ryan: Well, the story kind of chose me to be honest. In the context of telling this specific story, you learn a lot about what was happening not just in Guatemala but in our own country. Those larger issues of genocide and U.S foreign policy and immigration are all very important to the story but they’re not issues that make you want to run out and go watch a film.  We know right from the opening shot that Oscar is going to be found and we did that in a way to let the audience know there is a light at the end of tunnel and that it’s going to get pretty dark before it.

Before making this documentary did you know anything about the Guatemalan massacre?

Ryan: I knew broad strokes, that there were conflicts in Central and South America in the 70’s and 80’s but I didn’t know the specifics of the story of the massacre and I’ve tried to tell this story to an audience, who like myself would be very unfamiliar with something that happened in our own lifetime and not far from our own border.

Did you choose in the very beginning to focus on Oscar’s story and not so much on the details of the multiple massacres?

Ryan: We tried to peel back the layers of the onion, so to speak and search for truth for these activists and anthropologist and for the audience similarly really wanting to know what happened. So divulging some of the history and contextual information about what was happening on a macro level was needed to sort of understand the next chapter of detective tales.

Pictured: Oscar / Image courtesy of The Kennedy/Marshall Company
Pictured: Oscar / Image courtesy of The Kennedy/Marshall Company

In talking with the Kaibiles, was it difficult for you not only as a director but as a person, to hear them describe what they did during the massacres?

Ryan: It was a bit surreal. My Spanish isn’t great and didn’t have it translated in real time as I didn’t want to affect the flow of the conversation. I was spared some what in the mediacy of the moment because I didn’t know exactly the details of what they were saying. I have a four and one year old so hearing what they did to children in particular was very hard for me not to have a mental image of my own children as well as Oscar’s children who looked very similar to what these kids would’ve looked like that were so brutally murdered. I can never feel too sorry for myself when I know there are activists facing real threats of intimidation and anthropologists who are in the dirt cleaning up these skeletons.

What would you want the audience to take away while watching the documentary?

Ryan: I would hope the audience would be interested in seeing this because it’s an incredibly fascinating story and an amazing story that has a real dose of hope in it, but doesn’t shy away from a very terrible event. I met Oscar, when they came to California because they found one of the Kaibiles soldiers living as a U.S. Citizen here in L.A. I followed Oscar with a camera to the courthouse where he was reading a prepared victim’s statement. I came home to my wife and I said I’ve just filmed the most amazing end to this incredible story and now I need to go get the rest of it. So it wasn’t a documentary where we were waiting for lives to evolve and see where it was going to go. The challenge was going all over North and Central America and it really is a reminder that the echos of this story are throughout our culture and our country. It turned out to be the second to last scene in the movie.

“Finding Oscar” screens on Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m. You can find tickets and more information here. The OnStory panel with Frank Marshall also takes place on Oct. 17 at 4 p.m. at the Central Presbyterian Church Sanctuary.

Follow “Finding Oscar” on Twitter, Facebook and visit their website here for more on the Oscar and the fight for justice in Guatemala.  

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