If ever a movie has succeeded at placing viewers into an 11-year-old's shoes, "Innocent Voices" is it. The movie tells the story of a boy growing up as a child soldier during El Salvador's civil war in the 1980s. The Monitor asked director Luis Mandoki and screenwriter Oscar Orlando Torres - whose life the film is based on - about the inspiration for the movie and its themes.
How hard was it for you to find child actors for the roles?
Mandoki: Very difficult. We did casting for six months and went through 3,000 children before we found the boy that played Chava. The boy had never acted before.... It was the hardest movie I've ever made, but it's also the movie that's given me the most.
Oscar, what made you decide to write this screenplay?
Torres: A promise I made to the band Los Guaraguao that I would tell the world about the song "Casas de Cartón" [a song of peace Torres listened to when he was young]. When I heard it, it was an epiphany. I realized that there were other people like me living in this situation. The song was an anthem to the people of El Salvador. As I wrote, it became a healing process.
Did the film screen in El Salvador?
Torres: We tested the film with its première in El Salvador last December. Six hundred people attended. The group Los Guaraguao was also in the area, so we invited them to sing "Casas de Cartón."
Mandoki: The audience had just watched their own story and when they heard the song, they all started singing it with the band and crying.
What did the film give you?
Torres: This film showed me how universal the child-soldier problem is. We lived it, but I didn't think that it happened elsewhere.
Mandoki: While it was important to tell what happened to kids in the 1980s, the film is more important because these things are still happening today.... Children were not born to fight. They were born to play, and that's what this movie is about.