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Roque Dalton

Roque Dalton

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It was once illegal to read books by Roque Dalton, one of El Salvador's most celebrated poets, in his own country. A descendant of legendary outlaws the Dalton Gang, he devoted his life to the cause of socialist revolution in Latin America - leading ultimately to his murder at age 39, in 1975.

ROQUE DALTON: LET'S SHOOT THE NIGHT! looks back on the life of this key figure in the movement resisting military dictatorship in El Salvador, and sheds new light on the circumstances of his death.

In opposition to the work of Latin American writers such as Pablo Neruda, Dalton began his career as a poet of the streets - highlighting the lives of the downtrodden, using slang and profanity. 'He was avant-garde from the start,' says fellow writer Manlio Argueta. Although he came from a wealthy family, Dalton was inspired by the Cuban revolutionaries, and after a coup installed a military government in El Salvador in 1960, Dalton fled to Cuba, where he received political and military training and became part of Castro's inner circle. After returning to El Salvador, Dalton was imprisoned and sentenced to death - only to escape during an earthquake on the eve of his execution.

Director Tina Leisch takes a unique approach to telling the story of Dalton's life. She introduces us to nearly two dozen people who knew him - including his widow and two surviving sons, fellow writers and revolutionaries, and lovers - and accompanies them to meaningful locations: the tomb of a beloved musician immortalized in one of Dalton's poems, the spot where his wedding reception was held, the prison where he was interrogated and threatened with death, the yard in Prague where his sons played during the three years Dalton spent in Czechoslovakia.

Leisch places black-and-white cardboard cutouts of Dalton - sometimes alone, sometimes with others - at the locations, and the effect is remarkable. The images are reminiscent of ghosts, reminding us of Dalton's absence. But at the same time they make him seem more present, and provide a sense of immediacy - in particular when those being interviewed look at the cutouts, sometimes touching them, as though Dalton is there. Dalton's work is also front-and-centre in the film, with excerpts from his writings read aloud by comrades, family members and people on the street, to powerful effect.

After his second sojourn in Cuba, Dalton returned home to El Salvador in 1973, becoming a key member of the Revolutionary People's Party (ERP). In the close-knit, sometimes paranoid environment of the revolutionary movement, he came to be seen by some as a CIA informant, was accused of treason, and ordered shot by ERP leaders. In this documentary, two eyewitnesses speak for the first time about the men who killed Dalton - and who went on to later renounce their revolutionary roots and take high-level government positions. Neither man ever faced trial.

ROQUE DALTON: LET'S SHOOT THE NIGHT! is a multi-faceted exploration not only of the life of one revolutionary writer, but also of the culture of social ferment that washed through Latin America in the late 20th Century.

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