At a kitchen table, two friends are alternately laughing and sobbing about a deceased friend. "We have not been able to bury her," says one, adding they still expect her to walk through the door and announce, "Wasn't that a great adventure?"
These women are friends of Jean Donovan, one of four American churchwomen killed in El Salvador two years ago this week in a still unsolved case that focused further public attention on the turmoil in that country. By the end of a film about her life, "Roses in December," the viewer will share the feelings of disbelief about a good friend lost, as well as a productive life unjustly snuffed out.
"Roses," a 55-minute documentary by Ana Carrigan and Bernard Stone and narrated by actor John Houseman, has been coupled with "The Seeds of Liberty," an award-winning documentary on the murder of Donovan and three American nuns, for a one-week run at the West End Circle. Tonight two showings, at 7:30 and 9:30, will benefit the Share Foundation, a nonprofit Salvadoran relief group. The films do overlap: the work and murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero; the disruption within the refugee camps; the Salvadoran military security squads; the American reaction, from that of former U.S. ambassador Robert White to U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. Both documentaries are highly critical of the reaction by some American officials that the murdered nuns were political activists.
Jean Donovan's social commitment was certainly unusual, yet her story has the familiar pages of a secure, idealistic youth. She grew up in Connecticut comfort with a close family, riding lessons, Girl Scout parades. In her 20s she sought to test her own Christianity, to make a difference. On a collegiate trip to Ireland, she began to define a life as a lay missionary. After she earned her master's degree in economics, Donovan joined a team in Cleveland in l979 that then went to El Salvador.
"Roses" takes a detailed, personal approach to restructuring the journey of Donovan that ended with her rape and murder Dec. 2, l980, on a remote road in El Salvador: the philosophical and poetic words from her diary, interviews with her family, friends, fiance' and coworkers, all heartachingly candid in their emotions. The fiance' recalls the humid day he was moving and saw Donovan for the first time--"short blond hair, with a bottle of bourbon in her hand, asking, 'Do you want a drink?"
In the film the shiny face enjoying the warmth of the beach and love, the solemn, tearful look as she stands watch by the archbishop's casket, and the dirt-caked corpse, are all portraits of Jean Donovan that will haunt the viewer.