Minada America: Book Review

reviewed by Joshua Karber [ Mine Action Information Center ]

Video documentary and book by Vinicius Souza and Maria Eugênia Sá
MediaQuatro, 2007
http://mediaquatro.sites.uol.com.br

ISBN 85-9842007-7

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Minada America, produced by photojournalists Vinicius Souza and Maria Eugênia Sá, is a book and film package documenting the lives of Latin Americans devastated by landmines and other explosive remnants of war. Dismayed by the lack of media attention to the problem of landmines and ERW, the producers' main goal is to expose the problem to a world that is largely oblivious to the tragedies they cause.

The book consists of vivid photographs that reveal an untold aftermath of war. It is a compilation of over 50 pictures and biographies of landmine victims. The photographs themselves are straightforward and heartfelt in their portrayal of the victims and depict the struggles of their subjects without forcing the reader to view them through another's perspective. Souza and Sá are real and honest in their shots - a move that exposes the reader to the true impact of ERW.

Making a book like Minada America is a difficult task because the photographers run the risk of being too forceful in their presentation. All too often journalists get caught up in their own emotions and abuse photographic techniques to prove points about their cause. The pictures might be beautiful and passionate, but the bottom line is that no one likes to be told how to feel. The result ends up a loss: The documentary is not just criticized for being too preachy; it's criticized for losing sight of its goal.

However, these photojournalists dodge this bullet gracefully. In Minada America there is no artistic manipulation. Instead, the photographers take candid, genuine shots that let their subjects convey the message.

The documentary film provides rich background information and is a perfect complement to the book because it takes the reader deeper into a topic that has already caught his or her interest. It provides more insight into the stories depicted and mixes them with history, opinion and raw facts on the topic of mine action. The details are not only revealing but disturbing. The film explains that the existence of ERW continues to haunt regions of Central America and South America, including the Caribbean. Even more disturbing is that landmines and ERW cause a total of 1,110 casualties every year in Colombia alone. That's over three a day.

The information provided in the film is its best asset, but the survivor interviews lend insight into how being the victim of an explosive remnant of war affects a person's life. For instance, the interview with Olinda Giron, a survivor who was blinded and physically mutilated by a piece of ERW, is particularly powerful. She discusses her recovery and hope for the future, and how, despite her setbacks, she still believes she can become something in this world. The interview with Claudia Gallego, a 12-year-old girl who lost her father in a blast, is also heart-wrenching.

Minada America might be powerful and moving, but it is definitely not without its blemishes. The film has a few problems that are distracting. It was produced in Spanish with subtitles. The viewer can choose subtitles in Portuguese or English. However, the subtitles are shown quickly, making it frequently hard to understand what is being said. Adding to this problem is an annoying soundtrack that hurts an otherwise dramatic ending.

Overall, the approach and revealing nature of Minada America are what make it so effective. The greatest thing about the package is the way it blends an approachable presentation with expert commentary and analysis. The photographs capture beautifully the everyday lives of people affected by a not-so-everyday incident. Although the film has some minor flaws, viewers won't have a hard time looking past the production blunders and appreciating it for the humanitarian value it provides. Bullet

Biography

Josh Karber joined the Mine Action Information Center staff as an Editorial Assistant for the JMA in September 2007. He recently transferred from Occidental College, in Los Angeles, Calif. to James Madison University. He is an English major and has written for his high school and college yearbook.