Whatever controversy filmmaker Helena Solberg Ladd's film "From the Ashes . . . Nicaragua Today" may stir up next week when it's shown on public television, last night's audience at the premiere were the true believers and the true supporters of post-Somoza Nicaragua.
"This is one of the finest examples of documentary filmmaking I've ever seen," said Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.) before the film was shown at the West End Circle Theater to a group of about 250. Bonior himself is briefly in the film in footage of his testimony opposing U.S. policy concerning Nicaragua. "We in the U.S. have much to learn from the Nicaraguan people," said Bonior, "about the human degradation and repression under the corrupt regime of Somoza . . . We must learn the true meaning of revolution, of people rising up to say 'No more.' "
The audience was a mixture of filmmakers, World Bank people, human rights activists and Latin American specialists. The documentary, produced by the International Women's Film Project, takes a sympathetic view of a Sandinista-headed Nicaragua.
The documentary, which also traces the history of Nicaragua during this century, includes scenes from the civil war, such as the already televised but still shocking murder of ABC-TV correspondent Bill Stewart by a Nicaraguan national guardsman. The film also includes a tape that is identified as a drunken Somoza at a press cocktail party shortly before the end of the war in which he announces, "If you're like me, you're all a bunch of s----." Melanie Maholick, editor and associate producer of the film, said the tape was given to them by filmmaker John Chapman, who apparently taped the incident himself with a hidden tape recorder.
"One of the PBS stations wanted to censor the Somoza scene," said Maholick. It will be shown here next Tuesday at 10 p.m., to be followed by a panel discussion of Nicaragua and the U.S.
"Journalistically it's accurate," said Ladd of her film. "But everytime you focus a camera, you take a point of view. I'm sympathetic with the Sandinistas, but I think they have to be very careful . . . They're at a crossroads . . . I'm not completely with them whatever they do."
At a reception after the film at the Georgetown home of Paula and Ned Echeverria--she is a longtime peace activist and he works at the World Bank--guests talked about the film. "I thought it was outstanding," said Alice Denney, the founder of the Washington Project for the Arts.
The price of admission was a $15 donation, which will benefit the International Women's Film Project. In addition to a $63,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ladd received $45,000 from the Wisconsin Humanities Committee and the promise of matching funds from the National Endowments for the Humanities if they raise another $27,000. NEH said it would match 80 percent of that.