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The Search

The Search

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“After 30 years, I am returning as a witness, to help identify the people who are buried there. Hopefully this way, they will stop tormenting me in my dreams.” – Dolores Guzmán

The clothes and belongings of the dead are laid out on tables, carefully folded and arranged: Sneakers whose leather is partly eaten away; pairs of earrings in little evidence bags; hoodies, undergarments, jackets, and shirts, their prints still vivid. An elderly woman walks between the rows, wiping away tears. She stops in front of a belt whose buckle is a large letter C. “That’s my cousin Sebastián. Here’s his belt,” the woman says. “His mother is still alive and keeps a photo of him.”

The items come from a mass grave, the belongings of victims killed in a 1984 massacre. The bodies have been carefully exhumed and their bones collected. Now, all that remains is to identify them, so they can be returned to their families and properly buried.

In THE SEARCH, we follow three people as they deal with the legacy and personal damage of the civil war that ravaged Peru for 20 years. In 1980, the Shining Path movement launched an armed struggle aimed at overthrowing the Peruvian government and instituting a Communist regime. By the time the civil war ended, in 2000, nearly 70,000 Peruvians had been killed. Government and guerrilla forces were both guilty of horrendous human rights abuses.

Dolores Guzmán is the survivor of a military massacre of civilians in her remote Andean village. She returns to the village for the first time in 32 years, to help identify the bodies of her relatives. Lurgio Gavilán is a former child soldier pressed into battle for both sides. As a pre-teen he set off to find his brother, who was with the Shining Path. After joining the rebels (and remaining after his brother was killed), he was captured by the military and forced into a counterinsurgency unit at age 14. And José Carlos Agüero, is a writer and the son of Shining Path militants killed extra-judicially by a government death squad. Through his work, he tries to reconcile his revolutionary upbringing with his parents’ ideals, the injustice of their deaths, and the violence they perpetrated.

Powerful, emotional, and beautifully filmed, THE SEARCH captures the ongoing trauma of war—even decades later—for participants, bystanders, and children. The Shining Path uprising polarized Peru, but THE SEARCH does not seek to lay blame. It is a film about truth, reconciliation, and some attempt at closure.

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