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At a glance: United States of America

Special screening of ‘Innocent Voices’ – an award-winning film about a child caught up in war

© UNICEF/2005/ Toutounji
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and lead actress Leonor Varela at the special gala screening of the film ‘Innocent Voices’.

By Sabine Dolan

NEW YORK, 7 October 2005 – The award-winning film ‘Innocent Voices’, depicting the life of a boy in El Salvador during the civil war, was shown at a special gala screening held at United Nations headquarters, introduced by UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.

The screening was sponsored by the United Nations Programme on Youth, UNICEF and Amnesty International USA, and was hosted by H.R.H. Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the UN, and by Jennifer Connelly, an Oscar winner and Amnesty International Human Rights Spokesperson. The film’s director, Luis Mandoki, was at the event.

In her introductory remarks to the audience of diplomats, human rights workers, cast members and crew, Ms. Veneman said: “You are about to see a powerful film about a war as seen through the eyes of a child. Children in conflict situations, child soldiers and exploited children are robbed of their dignity and of their childhoods.

“We applaud the director, Luis Mandoki, for shining a light on the plight of children during wartime.”

© UNICEF/2005/ Toutounji
Director Luis Mandoki, H.R.H. Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, and producer Lawrence Bender, at the screening.

About the film

Set in El Salvador during the Civil War (1980-1992), ‘Innocent Voices’ tells the story of a small town boy, Chava, who narrowly escapes induction into the army on his 12th  birthday. Carlos Padilla stars as Chava. Chilean actress Leonor Varela plays his mother, who desperately tries to hold her family together. Their village lies between a guerrilla stronghold and territory held by the regular army, which at that time was conscripting boys aged between 12 and 14.

Oscar Torres wrote the screenplay, basing it on his own childhood experiences. Director Luis Mandoki, who received Amnesty’s Excellence in Filmmaking award for ‘Innocent Voices’, describes his first impressions upon reading the screenplay: “I realized that this story had to be told and since that moment, a passion was there to get it through.”

In the initial drafts of the screenplay, the issue of children in conflicts was present but primarily in the background. Mr. Torres said that, because child soldiers were commonly seen in El Salvador at the time, he didn’t focus on them at first.

Mr. Mandoki became strongly interested in the plight of children in war as he did film research. He and Mr. Torres then refocused the story on one child’s view of El Salvador’s civil war. Mr. Mandoki also became interested in the role of human rights organizations in relation to child soldiers. “I found out about UNICEF’s big effort all over the world to try and stop this crime,” he said.

Children in armed conflict

An estimated 300,000 child soldiers - boys and girls under the age of 18 - are involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide. Armed conflict kills and maims children, drives them from their homes, kills their parents or caregivers, and disrupts societies. For decades, UNICEF and its partners have worked to help children affected by armed conflict.

In 2002 the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict entered into force. It outlaws the involvement of children under age 18 in hostilities. As well as requiring States to raise the age of compulsory recruitment and direct participation in conflict to 18, the Optional Protocol requires States parties to raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment beyond the current minimum of 15.

Karen Robinson, Director of Human Rights Education for Amnesty International USA, was at the premiere, which took place on Thursday evening. She said that the large number of children conscripted into armed conflicts “is troubling and is one that we’re taking action on. But then you pile on top of that the issue of child trafficking – whether for labour or sex – and it really moves to the forefront why we need to ratify the convention on the rights of the child.”

First released in El Salvador last year, ‘Innocent Voices’ will premiere in theatres across the United States on Friday 14 October. The film is the official submission from Mexico for the 77th Academy Awards.

Eric Mullerbeck contributed to this story.





7 October 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on the special UN screening of the award-winning film ‘Innocent Voices’.

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