5 Questions with Ryan Suffern, Director of Finding Oscar
by Diana Delgado
- How did you first learn about the story in FINDING OSCAR? Why did you feel you needed to present it on the big screen?
Suffern: My producing partner, Frank Marshall, just so happens to be life-long friends with Scott Greathead, the human rights attorney that ended up representing Oscar, so that’s how we first learned of all of this. My attraction to Oscar’s story is this amazing point of access that’s afforded through this very personal story. Not only do you have the existential crisis of one day discovering your whole life is not what it seems, but it’s juxtaposed with this decades-long, epic search to find a little boy; a journey that begins in the jungles of Guatemala and ends, of all places, in the suburbs of Boston. It definitely felt like a story that deserved to be seen on the big screen.
2. With such loaded political topics like the ones in FINDING OSCAR, what difficulties (if any) did you encounter while gathering parts of this story and finding the information about what happened in Dos Erres?
Suffern: We were extremely fortunate to have the support of the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) for our filming in the country. FAFG’s work and firsthand relationships in the communities that were so affected during the conflict provided us the access to film in these places and for these communities to trust our motives in being there. We did not go out of our way to make the Guatemalan government aware that we were making this film as we were all too aware that there are some within the government today that would probably not be too thrilled for this story to be told.
3. You have played several roles on set throughout the years. What film set or film has most prepared you for presenting a story like this one?
Suffern: My introduction to filmmaking was working as a set production assistant on independent films being made here in Chicago. And while I’ve since had the good fortune of working on quite a few incredibly large movie sets with some of the biggest filmmakers in the industry, what I learned in those early days in making movies on the leanest of independent budgets continues to aid me greatly in the world of documentary filmmaking, and certainly on this project as well.
4. Sometimes with stories like FINDING OSCAR, audience members feel astounded with such raw information and feel the need to share the story with others. Becoming aware of gruesome, unfortunate events and their effects could be the first step to creating empathy, but what else could someone do to bridge a gap made by their own administration? How can a U.S. citizen who learns of this story help to make a difference?
Suffern: Hopefully, in learning these truths about the consequences of our government’s foreign policy decisions, the film will help to start a much needed conversation, so we as a more informed citizenry can do a better job of holding our politicians accountable. We’re also encouraging folks to check out and support the work being done by our partners at Friends of FAFG and USC Shoah Foundation.
5. What have you, as a documentary filmmaker, taken from the experience of FINDING OSCAR?
Suffern: It’s pretty devastating when you realize that the horrors that were experienced at Dos Erres were far from an anomaly in Guatemala during its decades-long internal conflict, and that many hundreds of massacres just like it took place there. Nor was Guatemala really an anomaly inCentral America, or Latin America as well, during that time period. I learned so much in the making of this film, not really knowing much of any of this before getting introduced to Oscar’s story. It’s this perspective that I’ve really tried to bring to the documentary; to be mindful that many North American audiences would probably be just as unknowing, and that hopefully the film could provide some of that same education that I’m incredibly grateful to have received.