Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution -- Review

Father Roy: Inside the School of Assassins

     Father Roy: Inside the School of Assassins is a documentary produced, written and directed by Robert Richter and presented by ITVS with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  It is a follow-up to Richter's 1994 Academy Award-nominated short film, School of Assassins and includes information which was uncovered since then.  Both films are narrated by Susan Sarandon.

     The film documents the efforts of Father Roy Bourgeois, a Vietnam veteran turned Catholic priest, who founded and led grassroots opposition to the School of the Americas (SOA), a training facility run by the U.S. government to professionalize Latin American military forces.  SOA graduates have been linked to many human rights violations in Latin America, including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the murder of six Jesuit priests along with their housekeeper and her daughter, and the rape and murder of four US-American nuns.

     Although Richter's overt goal seems to be increasing awareness of the SOA, he does not only present the evils of the school, he lets his viewers get to know and try to understand Father Roy.  At the beginning, the film uses an interview format interspersed with photographs to explain why Father Roy chose to join the priesthood after giving up his life as a "warrior".  It also documents his experiences with the poor in Bolivia and his growing belief that the United States was not supporting the good of Latin Americans in its foreign policy.  After being barred from Bolivia for speaking out about human rights violations, Father Roy learned of the School of the Americas and its involvement in training the men responsible for the assassination of Archbishop Romero.

    In one of the most humourous parts of this otherwise serious and somber treatment, Father Roy describes his first nonviolent protest of the SOA.  He entered Fort Benning, which houses the SOA, dressed as a military officer and located the barracks of El Salvadoran military personnel, some of who may have been actively involved in the assassination.  He then climbed a high tree and, with the portable stereo he carried, proceeded to broadcast Archbishop Romero's final homily to the barracks.  This action resulted in Father Roy's first of his three jail sentences for protests at the SOA (he is currently serving a six month sentence which began in January).

     In addition to describing Father Roy's nonviolent protests, including hunger strikes and throwing blood on the signs and buildings at the school, the film also looks at the organization he founded to investigate and publicize the SOA, School of the Americas Watch.  SOA Watch compared a roster of graduates of the school with a list of people believed to have been involved in gross violations of human rights in Latin America (written by the United Nations Truth Commission in 1993) and found that more than half had been trained at the school.  Armed with this information, SOA Watch and Father Roy have been lobbying the U.S. Congress to repeal funding for the school, and have received growing support.

     Although Father Roy: Inside the School of Assassins is primarily concerned with Father Roy's efforts, Richter has also included some journalistic work of his own.  He interviewed various graduates of the school who explain what is taught, including the previouly undocumented fact that live subjects were sometimes used to teach torture techniques.  Another nice touch is the occasionally use of Pentagon videotapes about the school, providing at least a peek at the other side of the debate.

    Richter's documentary is moving and informative and does a good job of not only examining the SOA, but also the efforts to stop it.  It has elements which will be of interest to anyone concerned with human rights and militarism, but also those concerned with issues of nonviolent organization and protest and government transparency.

     Father Roy: Inside the School of Assassins has a running time of just under one hour and with begin airing on PBS stations in the US in mid-april.  For more information about airtimes, contact your local PBS station.

Derek Sweetman, editor.

April 1998

More information about ITVS and other ITVS programs can be found at their website.

School of Americas Watch can also be found on the web.



Visit the OJPCR main page.