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7 Best Documentaries About El Salvador

These documentaries about El Salvador show a nation with a tumultuous past and a resilient spirit amongst the vibrant culture of its people and lush surroundings. From the peaks of its volcanoes to the rhythms of its streets, this small yet dynamic country has captivated the world’s attention.

Documentaries About El Salvador

Beyond its picturesque facade lies a story of struggle, resilience, and hope. These are some of the stories and hidden realities of a nation often overshadowed by its turbulent past.

Although I have not visited El Salvador yet, I do really want to visit this country on a tour of Central America someday. In the meantime, I enjoy watching documentaries and movies about the country to learn more about its history and also the hope for the future of this small but fascinating place.

There are a lot of other good documentaries about El Salvador, mostly short ones, that you can find on YouTube to watch, but the ones I’m recommending here are some of the best full-length documentaries.

The Offended (2016)

“The Offended” (original title: “Los ofendidos”) is a documentary directed by a Salvadoran filmmaker ans explores the aftermath of the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992) and its impact on survivors, particularly those who were victims of state violence and human rights abuses.

The documentary follows the journey of three Salvadorans – Ana, Blanca, and Mario – who are seeking justice and reconciliation for the atrocities committed during the civil war. They confront painful memories and traumas as they recount their experiences of torture, forced disappearance, and loss of loved ones at the hands of the military regime.

Through intimate interviews and personal narratives, “The Offended” delves into the psychological and emotional toll of living in a society where impunity prevails and justice remains elusive. It also examines the broader socio-political context of post-war El Salvador, including the challenges of addressing historical memory, truth, and reconciliation.

La Palabra en el Bosque (2011)

“La Palabra en el Bosque” explores the cultural heritage and struggles of the indigenous people of El Salvador, particularly focusing on their relationship with the environment and their efforts to preserve their language and traditions.

The film follows the lives of indigenous communities in the forests of El Salvador, highlighting their deep connection to the land and the challenges they face from deforestation, industrialization, and encroachment on their ancestral territories. Through interviews with community members, leaders, and activists, “La Palabra en el Bosque” delves into the ways in which these communities are fighting to protect their way of life and promote environmental conservation.

Additionally, the documentary examines the preservation of indigenous languages, such as Nahuatl and Lenca, which are at risk of extinction due to the dominance of Spanish and the erosion of traditional cultural practices. It showcases efforts to revitalize these languages through education, cultural initiatives, and intergenerational transmission within indigenous communities.

El Salvador: Another Vietnam (1981)

“El Salvador: Another Vietnam” explores the civil war in El Salvador during the late 1970s and early 1980s, drawing parallels between the conflict in El Salvador and the Vietnam War.

During this time, El Salvador was experiencing a period of intense political unrest and violence, with various factions vying for power. The government, supported by the United States, was engaged in a counterinsurgency campaign against leftist guerrilla groups, while human rights abuses were widespread.

“El Salvador: Another Vietnam” examines the involvement of the United States in the conflict, drawing comparisons to its intervention in Vietnam. The film critiques U.S. policies and military support for the Salvadoran government, as well as the broader geopolitical context of the Cold War and U.S. intervention in Latin America.

Maria’s Story (1990)

“Maria’s Story” chronicles the life of Maria Serrano, a young woman living in war-torn El Salvador during the 1980s. The film follows Maria’s journey as she navigates the brutal realities of the Salvadoran Civil War.

The documentary provides a harrowing portrayal of the impact of the civil war on civilians, particularly women and children. Through Maria’s personal narrative, viewers witness the violence, displacement, and loss experienced by many Salvadorans during this turbulent period.

“Maria’s Story” also sheds light on the broader social and political context of the civil war, including the role of the military, government repression, and the struggle for social justice and human rights. It highlights the resilience and strength of Maria and other women like her who courageously resist oppression and strive to build a better future for themselves and their families amidst adversity.

Maria's Story (v1180.LP) from Luna Productions on Vimeo.

Return to El Salvador (2010)

“Return to El Salvador” is a documentary film that aired in 2010. It follows the journey of a group of Americans who return to El Salvador to revisit the places and people they encountered during the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s.

The film explores the legacy of the civil war, which lasted from 1980 to 1992 and resulted in widespread violence, human rights abuses, and displacement. It documents the efforts of the returning Americans to reconnect with the individuals and communities they met decades earlier, as well as to understand the long-term impact of the conflict on Salvadoran society.

Through interviews, personal narratives, and archival footage, “Return to El Salvador” delves into themes of memory, reconciliation, and social justice. It highlights the resilience and determination of the Salvadoran people to rebuild their lives and their country in the aftermath of war.

The Gangs of El Salvador (2017)

“The Gangs of El Salvador” is a documentary that examines the rise and influence of gangs in El Salvador, particularly focusing on notorious groups such as MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) and Barrio 18. Released in 2017, the film delves into the origins of these gangs, their evolution over time, and their impact on Salvadoran society.

Through interviews with former gang members, law enforcement officials, community leaders, and experts, the documentary provides insight into the complex social, economic, and political factors that have contributed to the proliferation of gangs in El Salvador. It explores how poverty, unemployment, lack of opportunities, and social exclusion have driven many young people to join gangs as a means of survival or belonging.

“The Gangs of El Salvador” also examines the consequences of gang violence, including its devastating effects on communities, families, and individuals. The film highlights the challenges faced by authorities in tackling gang-related crime and the strategies employed to address this issue, from law enforcement crackdowns to community-based initiatives focused on prevention and rehabilitation.

Top Tip: Salvador (1986)

Salvador is not a documentary about El Salvador which is why I’m adding it at the end of this list, but I highly recommend it as a movie to watch about the country.

“Salvador” is a movie directed by Oliver Stone, and released in 1986. Set during the early 1980s, the movie depicts the political turmoil and human rights abuses in El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War. The story follows the experiences of an American journalist, Richard Boyle, played by James Woods, and his friend Doctor Rock, played by James Belushi, as they navigate the dangerous landscape of war-torn El Salvador.

The film portrays the brutality of the military dictatorship in El Salvador and the repression faced by civilians, including activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens. It also explores the complicity of the United States government in supporting the Salvadoran military regime, highlighting themes of imperialism, interventionism, and the exploitation of Latin American countries during the Cold War era.

“Salvador” is known for its gritty and realistic portrayal of the conflict, as well as its powerful performances and compelling storytelling. It received critical acclaim for its depiction of the complexities of war and its impact on individuals caught in the midst of violence and political upheaval.

El Salvador

These documentaries about El Salvador offer valuable insights into the complex history, politics, and social issues of the country. They provide different perspectives on topics ranging from the civil war to contemporary challenges facing the country.

For more documentaries have a look at the 15 best documentaries about Mexico.

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