Should we admire, love or hate Alma’s tale of violence?

March 12, 2013

There was a moment while watching “Alma: A Tale of Violence” when I wanted to hit the pause button and take a breather.

Only about 40 minutes long, the documentary was, for me, much harder to watch than “Pink Saris”, “Saving Face” or “Banaz – A Love Story” – other films I’ve reviewed for TrustLaw.

The opening frames of the webdoc show a lovely-looking Guatemalan woman with long, dark hair and a warm, wide smile. Then, Alma starts talking, about being 15 and about yearning to belong to her “homies” and their gang in the slum where she lived.

She’s so desperate that, when they ask her, she kills someone. A woman, who some of her homies have been raping – a woman who begs for her life and cries out for her children.

For the next five years, Alma belonged to Guatemala’s most feared maras or gangs, responsible for murders, extortion, rapes and robberies.

In a world where mothers, sisters and daughters are often victims of domestic and sexual violence, Alma repeatedly speaks in the film of her determination to be a “strong woman”, not seen as weak.

She ultimately turns her back on the gang – after being so badly beaten by a boyfriend, another gang member, that she miscarried their baby. But Alma pays a heavy price for escaping. She is shot by her former friends and comrades and left paralysed.

“Alma’s persona is ambivalent. We aren’t sure really if we should admire her, hate her, or love her,” Miquel Dewever-Plana, a photographer and one of the directors of the documentary, told us.

Dewever-Plana spent 15 years documenting Guatemala, taking pictures of the Mayan survivors of the country’s 1960-1996 civil war and the way of life for those who belong to Guatemala City’s notorious maras.

Seeking a woman’s perspective in a man’s world, he met Alma through a psychologist friend working on a programme to help ex-gang members and eventually persuaded Alma to tell her story.

“We see a human with her contradictions, her dark sides, and her desire for a better life,” he said. “Yes, she is a murderer who committed barbaric acts in cold blood. She is also the victim of a system and a heritage, which has from the Spanish colonisation to the armed conflict of the 1980s, led to populations being dominated, excluded and massacred.”

For the full interview, click here


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