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"INTERVIEWS: JULIO CORTAZAR, NAVA SEMEL, ELISA LERNER, SUSY DEMBO, BEATRIZ IRIART, DINAPIERA DI DONATO, MARIANA RONDON, JULIO EMILIO MOLINÉ" by viviana marcela iriart, Ed. Escritoras Unidas & Cia. Editoras, November 2016
JULIO CORTÁZAR: "One day in my life is always a beautiful thing, because I am very happy to be alive"
ELISA LERNER: “Solitude is the writer's homeland”
SUSY DEMBO, experimentation without limits: “it's alchemical, it’s magical”
NAVA SEMEL, interview beneath the missiles: And the Rat Laughed with Jane Fonda
BEATRIZ IRIART: An Ostracized Poet
DINAPIERA DI DONATO: Venezuelan poet in New York
MARIANA RONDÓN: "During my childhood, I thought cinema was only one movie: Yellow Submarine"
JULIO EMILIO MOLINÉ, co-director of the documentary Joan Baez in Latin America: '(she) received death threats, and was banned, persecuted'
Cover Photo: JULIO CORTÁZAR & Viviana Marcela Iriart by EDUARDO GAMONDÉS, Caracas 1979
Carlitos sin olvido, por José Pulido, Caracas febrero 2016, prólogo del libro "¡Bravo, Carlos Giménez!": entrevistas de viviana marcela iriart, textos de Carlos Giménez / fotografía portada Marta Mikulan-Martin
Hace poco tiempo Carlos Giménez estremecía y emocionaba los escenarios montando obras de teatro que se convertían en acontecimientos de la cultura latinoamericana. Quienes fueron espectadores de aquella época teatral sienten que eso fue ayer nomás. Pero en realidad, los años pasaron como una angustiosa tromba, tan aprisa, que hoy, cuando se menciona el nombre de Carlos Giménez, muy pocos individuos de las nuevas generaciones saben de quién se está hablando y por qué. El olvido es una injusticia.
Sin embargo, la memoria que envuelve como una matriz a Carlos Giménez, está allí, consolidándose en hemerotecas y bibliotecas, en la historia del teatro mundial y latinoamericano. Y siempre habrá alguien transitando los ámbitos de los archivos y los recuerdos. Alguien que perennemente se encontrará con Carlitos y sus hazañas en el arte y lo mencionará y lo hará renacer.
Con su trabajo elaborado en un nivel que suscitaba admiración y asombro, Carlos Giménez logró que resultara imposible olvidar su obra y su carismática persona. El día que captó la atención de una creadora llamada Viviana Marcela Iriart, se puso en marcha la maravilla de incorporar la palabra del espectador al proceso mágico y emocional del teatro.
Transcurrieron los años sin ese teatrero portentoso y siguen transcurriendo con ese vacío, pero ahora Viviana se ha dedicado a buscar la opinión de muchos latinoamericanos sobre lo realizado por Carlos Giménez en el teatro, y muy particularmente en la escena venezolana.
Ella ha logrado que mucha gente saque a relucir sus recuerdos, sus vivencias con Giménez y eso enriquece esta memoria y ahuyenta el olvido. Porque cada persona escogida conoció a Carlitos, lo trató, lo vivió como una temporada dinámica, transformadora y muy especial del arte escénico.
Leonardo Azpárren Jiménez dijo algo tan auténtico y sincero que vale la pena reproducirlo aquí:
"La muerte de Carlos Giménez significó para el teatro la pérdida de su dirigente más importante y más temido, incluso por las instancias gubernamentales. Porque más allá de su labor como director, que fue sumamente importante porque nadie pudo ser y nadie podrá ser indiferente a sus criterios sobre la puesta en escena y sobre la forma como él construía sus espectáculos, supo ser un gran dirigente con una marcada influencia social. De tal manera que el teatro venezolano no ha vuelto a tener una persona como él. Yo, que lo critiqué duro y que la gente en el mundo del teatro sabía que no había una sintonía buena entre nosotros dos, reconozco que su ausencia es una de las peores cosas que le ha ocurrido al teatro venezolano”.
En medio de sus reflexiones honestas y certeras, Marta Candia dijo “Hola Carlitos, no estoy recordándote porque siempre estás en el tiempo que pasa tan rápido...”. Y por su parte, Sonia Martin también le habló al hombre y su recuerdo: “Viniste a este mundo a hacer lo que tenías que hacer y lo has hecho perfecto. Te puedes ir con tranquilidad y los honores te los pondremos nosotros, los que te admiramos”.
Cada persona motivada por Viviana Marcela Iriart, fue haciendo un retrato de Giménez, un perfil revelador y eso se verá, más temprano que tarde, como un álbum valioso de la familia latinoamericana. No hay alabanzas inmerecidas ni descripciones exageradas: sólo reconocimientos de un espíritu y de una obra colocados en la justa balanza del arte.
Pilar Romero, una de las mejores amigas y compañeras de teatro de Carlos Giménez en Venezuela expresó: “Es el gran ausente de la escena venezolana. En la época de los festivales internacionales estaba en Caracas –sin muchos recursos- el mejor teatro del mundo y Carlos siempre con su voz de mando decía ¡Puerta libre! Era teatro del primer mundo sin tener que costearnos caros pasajes a tierras lejanas. Fueron banquetes artísticos…Tenía una generosidad que se perdía de vista”.
La actriz Norma Aleandro, cuyo talento es recordado siempre en Venezuela, comentó lo siguiente sobre Carlos Giménez:
“Es imposible no sentir la ausencia de un ser semejante, que ha dejado una huella imborrable en la cultura de un país y del mundo”.
Carlos era un ser humano tan individual que brillaba en cualquier oscuridad y bajo las luminarias del más intenso encandilar. Pero sabía unir a las personas en torno a una idea sin que se convirtiesen en masa amorfa, porque nada le gustaba más que la libertad de pensar por sí mismo.
Carlos Giménez hablaba con el sonido fascinante de la verdad, que en teatro se vuelve poesía y termina invocando al espíritu de Shakespeare. Su tono alcanzaba en los corazones la potencia y la belleza de una trompeta idónea para el juicio final.
Nadie podría explicar con certera justicia por qué Carlos Giménez era tan creativo, inteligente y carismático, aunque la lectura constante y profunda tuvo mucho que ver. Pero ese modo de ser que no se detenía en obstáculos y que lograba despertar lo mejor de cada quién será siempre una virtud misteriosa.
Cuando falleció tenía 46 años de edad y una trayectoria inimaginable: había estremecido los escenarios de varios continentes con el grupo Rajatabla del Ateneo de Caracas. Se dirá, con mucha razón, que un año de Carlos Giménez equivalía a una década. Pero esa sensación solo persiste en el ánimo de quienes tuvieron el privilegio de ver las obras que él dirigía.
En una entrevista con Viviana Marcela Iriart, Carlos Giménez dijo:
“…Invariablemente hay temas que me preocupan como el aspecto de la intemporalidad: el teatro no es un video, no es una película, sino algo absolutamente transitorio en su esencia. Sabemos que cuando baja el telón hemos visto una función que no volverá a repetirse nunca jamás”.
Caracas, febrero 2016
Prólogo del libro "¡Bravo, Carlos Giménez!": entrevistas de Viviana Marcela Iriart y textos de Carlos Giménez
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'Joan Baez received death threats, and was banned, persecuted' : Julio Emilio Moliné, co-director of the documentary 'Joan Baez in Latin America: There but for fortune (1981)' / interview by viviana marcela iriart, Los Angeles, California, March 3, 2014 / photos by Julio Emilio Moliné
|Joan Baez , May 1981 ©Julio Emilio Moliné|
After that historical tour in which Joan Baez terrified dictators from Argentina, Chile and Brazil so much that they threatened to kill her and banned her from singing, among other things, the mythical singer-songwriter and pacifist will perform in March in the same countries in which her voice made perpetrators of genocide falter in 1981.
|Joan Baez & Laura Bonaparte, México, May 1981 ©Julio Emilio Moliné|
'Beautiful Laura Bonaparte was a psychoanalyst from Argentina. On June 11, 1976 her husband, a biochemist, was dragged out of the house in front of her eyes and she never saw him again. When she went looking for her daughter, who had also "disappeared", she was given her daughter's hand in a jar for identification.' Joan Baez 'And a Voice to Sing With (A Memoir)'
|Joan Baez & Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, May 1981 ©Julio Emilio Moliné|
Thank you Joan Baez, for the brave and affectionate 1981 tour to bring comfort, joy and hope to the victims of the Pinochet, Videla and Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo dictatorships.
Thank you Joan Baez, because despite receiving death threats and being banned and persecuted, she stayed at our side, sang to us and showed the world the horror of dictatorships in the wonderful documentary 'Joan Baez in Latin America: There but for Fortune.'
Thank you Joan Baez for giving victims a face and a voice, and restoring their humanity.
Thank you Joan Baez for condemning the crimes committed by both right-wing and left-wing dictatorships, as well as democracies.
Thank you Joan Baez for defending human rights, for opposing wars, arms build-up, discrimination, totalitarianism.
Thank you Joan Baez for showing me, when I was 16 years old, the meaning of non-violence and its difference with passivity.
Thank you Joan Baez because your fight is not limited to singing and talking to the press, as the documentary and this interview (among many other facts) demonstrate.
Thank you Joan Baez for your voice, which soothes all pain.
Thank you Joan Baez for showing the way and being a banner but also doubt.
And thank you Julio Emilio Moliné for sharing some of your memories and photos from that brave tour of Joan Baez in Latin America… here, fortunately.
|Joan Baez, Lula, Eduardo Suplicy & Julio Emilio Moliné (with mustaches),|
San Pablo, Brasil, May 1981. Courtesy photo J.E.Moliné
How did you become part of the tour of philanthropic activities and concerts Joan Baez did in 1981 across Latin America to show her support for the victims of dictatorships there?
One Monday morning at the end of April 1981 I got a call at work (I had a job at a TV station) from my friend John Chapman, an independent filmmaker from San Francisco. He told me: 'Hey, would you like to go on a Latin American tour with Joan Baez for a month? We can film it and make a documentary.'
Given that I speak Spanish, and I had lived in Chile for many years and had traveled around Argentina, John thought I would be a good partner for this adventure. Being a little older than me, he had worked in Apocalypse Now with Francis Coppola and had fallen in love with cinema during that experience. I said yes without hesitation, though I had no holidays and I needed to get an unpaid leave at work.
Another setback was that my wife was pregnant, and our daughter was expected to be born during the tour, so I had to ask her whether she thought this was a good idea. She generously said yes. And our daughter Andrea was born while we were in Buenos Aires interviewing a journalist from the New York Times.
That Monday when I received John's call, we met Joan in the evening at a Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto. Joan gave me the go-ahead, and we started the required paperwork.
What was you impression of Joan Baez?
I remember being a little shocked at the fact that I was eating Chinese rice with such a famous person. Besides being a very attractive woman, she was very friendly and warm. She asked us a lot of questions about Latin America, some very well-informed and others less so, and she paid for the meal.
She made a very good impression on me, because of her kindness and good sense of humor.
On what day did the tour begin?
On May 3, 1981, John and I met with Joan and Jeannie in México City, where we interviewed the Argentinian doctor (the dictatorship had caused great suffering to her family), and that evening Joan gave a concert where we had the chance to try the equipment.
The next day we set off to Argentina, where we stayed until May 15, when we crossed the Andes in our way to Chile. There we stayed in Santiago until May 19, when we set off to Brazil. We spent a few days in São Paulo and Rio, and then headed off to Nicaragua. After that, Joan and Jeannie went alone to Venezuela.
That tour was recorded—except for the trip to Venezuela and Nicaragua—in the wonderful documentary 'Joan Baez in Latin America: There but for fortune.' Who had the idea of making it? What was the purpose? How was it funded?
The main driving force of the documentary was John Chapman, who convinced Joan of the historical value of recording her tour. Much of the funding came from Diamonds & Rust, Joan's company in California. My salary was paid by KTEH TV, the TV station I worked for in San Jose. When I asked for an unpaid leave to travel around Latin America with Joan and film, Peter Baker, my executive producer, convinced Maynard Orme, the station manager, that this was an idea they needed to support. It was an act of courage that is rarely seen nowadays, because I had been working there for less than a year (and was only 27 years old). KTEH also lent the filmmaking equipment, and paid the post-production and editing costs.
Tragically, John died in an accident in 1983, less than a year after finishing the documentary.
Do you think Joan Baez imagined she would receive death threats, bombs, tear gas and censorship of her concerts in the three countries?
No. She thought it would be difficult but never to such an extreme. The person who sparked the idea of making the tour in Joan was the Chilean writer Fernando Alegría, who was a Literature professor in Stanford. He believed things were waning a bit in the Southern Cone, and that Joan's visit would inject a lot of energy into Latin American people, especially those who were protesting against dictatorships.
How did you manage to shoot under the close watch of the repressive forces of dictatorships?
It was hard, because fear was everywhere, and with good reason. Very few people in the USA knew about the dirty war in Argentina and the death squads in Brazil and the DINA/CNI in Chile, but we did. This was completely ignored by most people in the USA. We must remember that in 1980 Reagan was elected president with the mandate to reverse much of the liberal progress made during the 70's. But I had lived under Pinochet's dictatorship and I knew they would keep an eye on us. The most probable scenario was that they would confiscate our equipment at the airport, and that would have been the end of the documentary. That's why we decided to travel super light with a couple of Elmo Super 8 cameras, Sony TCD 5 cassette recorders and a big case containing Kodachrome and Ektachrome film rolls. We had a couple of lights and a tripod, and that was it.
Many of the documentary scenes were shot indoors: concerts, apartments, friends' houses, etc. That way, we could leave the guards outside and shoot what we could with the few lights we had. For outdoor scenes we would usually go without Joan, because she attracted too much attention.
Who were the members of the team?
We were only four people traveling: Joan, Jeannie Murphy (who was like Joan's producer and manager), John and me. Curiously, in Chile, the yellow press insinuated that John and I were Joan and Jeannie's 'friends', but those were only tales invented by people serving the dictatorship. In each country, there were many people who helped us and allowed us to do the tour and create the documentary.
Was any of the countries more dangerous that the others, or was Joan Baez equally persecuted in all of them?
Argentina was the scariest by far, though I think the military was actually more interested in making sure nothing happened to Joan than in hurting her.
It was there that Joan received the most threats, we were kicked out of a hotel, they threw teargas bombs at a meeting, and so on. Besides, a Ford Falcon with no plates would follow us everywhere. There were four strange men in it. Buenos Aires was the only place where I was really scared. I even got to wonder if I should start the car in case there was a bomb in it.
In Chile, things were more subtle. Joan was still unable to sing in paid concerts, but at least she could sing in front of an audience. If they followed us, I didn't realize it, but I'm sure they did.
There was a wave of car bombings in Brazil those days, and many were attributed to the dictatorship, though the truth came out later. But we didn't know that at the time, and the dictatorship used this to prevent the concerts in order to 'protect the public.'
'During her visit (…) they put a bomb and we had to evacuate the house (…) and hurry to take Joan to a distant bar to keep her safe. I called the fire department, who came with a truck from the bomb disposal unit and extracted a box from the balcony in which you could see there were cables and a bomb, which they exploded right there. (…) Joan's presence in Argentina was a great source of support and strength for the human rights cause, it gave us strength to continue struggling.' Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, La Nación, March 1, 2014
|Joan Báez & Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Buenos Aires May 1981 / Photo La Nación|
What human rights organizations and public figures did she meet with in each country? Which encounter, or encounters, do you think impacted her most emotionally?
In Argentina and Chile the Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ) organization was the one that made the most effort to organize encounters between Joan and the people. In Buenos Aires, they helped Joan contact the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and other activists and victims of the dictatorship.
She should be the one to tell you what impacted her most, but in my opinion her meetings with the Mothers in Argentina and Chile were very shocking. Joan herself said that the trouble with the concerts was nothing compared to the sufferings of the mothers. And those meetings left her really distressed. Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, in Argentina, also made a great impact because of his courage and simplicity. There was a deep mutual respect between him and Joan based on their admiration for Gandhi's pacifism.
One year before, Pérez Esquivel—an ex-prisoner of the Argentinian dictatorship—had received the Nobel Peace Prize. Do you remember what their first encounter was like?
He waited for us at the airport that evening in Buenos Aires and helped us get through Customs without problems. The bureaucrats of the day were very interested in why we had so many film rolls. We tried to explain that we were making a home movie for Joan but we were having trouble making them believe us.
Adolfo intervened, and through light but direct pressure he assured them that everything we were carrying was the usual equipment for an artist like Joan. It was late in the evening so we went straight to the hotel to sleep.
The next day there was a press conference in the SERPAJ, with Adolfo, Joan, and a fair amount of journalists. I don't remember seeing TV cameras. This scene is included in the documentary.
Do you remember the first encounter between Joan and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo?
Yes, we visited them at a big office near the Buenos Aires city center. There were about thirty or forty people there, many of whom were mothers, and they sat against the walls of large rooms, with their hands almost crossed in their laps. Some of them had a white headscarf.
After a brief moment of tension, Joan took out her guitar and sang a couple of songs. Then she sat next to the mothers. One of them started to talk about her tragedy while Joan listened. They hugged, and the mother cried.
At the end, Joan sang another song. When we left, Joan was very sad.
Was Joan able to march with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo?
No, she wasn't. That morning the SERPAJ leaders met and agreed that it would be counterproductive to have Joan march that afternoon. Adolfo didn't agree, and he said so.
Joan wasn't very happy with their decision either, but she respected their will because those who lived there would be the ones who would have to suffer the consequences.
Those were very fragile days in Argentina, and the SERPAJ leaders believed the dictatorship would use Joan's appearance next to the mothers as a sign of foreign intervention against the interests of the Argentinian people.
That afternoon Joan kept going round the square in a taxi. We came out, I took some pictures, and John filmed. That's why there's no scene of Joan marching with the mothers in the documentary.
Was she able to sing in front of an audience in Buenos Aires?
No, she wasn't. If I remember correctly, she sang in an apartment full of people who had been victims of the dictatorship, at the SERPAJ, and I can't remember any other place, and never in a place that was open to the public.
On May 8 we went to a Charly García and Gilberto Gil concert.
Joan hoped to be able to go on stage and give the audience a surprise singing one or two songs, but when we got there, her hopes were frustrated. Charly García greeted Joan telling the audience that she was there, people applauded and Joan waved, but she said nothing. Later we found out that there had been veiled threats of serious consequences if Joan sang.
When the concert finished, we went to pick up our car and found all four tires had been slashed. That was the way the Ford Falcon guys could make sure we would not get lost in the concert crowd.
When we got to the hotel that evening Joan was really depressed.
Was it because of the slashed tires or because she had not been able to sing?
The tires were the least of it. She felt sad and frustrated because she was being banned from doing what she had come to do, which was to sing.
Did Joan complain about what the dictatorship was doing to her?
I never heard Joan complain. That's not her style.
What is her style?
Stoic. She never complains about her personal sorrows because she understands there are others who have much greater sorrows.
In what language did she communicate?
Always in English. She understands Spanish very well but feels much more comfortable communicating in English.
Were you her translator?
I was the documentary co-director, sound engineer, photographer, and interpreter. I was also cameraman a few times.
After that you went to Chile. How did Pinochet treat Joan?
Well, we never met Pinochet in person or anything like that. In general, they treated us more politely than in Argentina, but Joan was still unable to give paid concerts. Ricardo García, who was a celebrity there, told us in an interview that there was no formal prohibition against Joan, but there was 'self-censorship'—everyone was scared to organize something because of what might happen.
We were obviously under watch but in a much more subtle way than in Argentina.
When we left Chile on our way to Brazil, a pair of film rolls were stolen from one of my cases. When we told our friends in Chile they started a legal action (with no success) and went on with that matter.
Six months after that, a package with no sender information arrived at my office containing the two film rolls that had been stolen. We were never able to solve the mystery.
A couple of years later, in 1983, I wanted to go back to Chile to visit my parents. We would go in July. A month before our visit, my father called to say we should not go because they were getting phone calls during the night saying: 'Julio will die in July.' We canceled the trip. In 1985 we managed to go there but we were really scared.
Horrifying. Were you able to include the film rolls in the documentary or had you already edited it?
If I remember correctly, there was still time, but there was nothing there that was worth the trouble. There was a lot of great material that was not included.
What human rights organizations and activists could Joan meet with in Chile?
Mainly with the SERPAJ and Chilean artists. She also met with some dictatorship victims in the Vicaría de la Solidaridad in Santiago.
Do you remember that encounter with the victims?
It was really moving, with the mothers crying in the Vicaría's central yard.
Joan sang No nos moverán ('We Shall Not Be Moved'), and the mothers joined her. One of them took Joan's arm and sang proudly with her. They gave her a Chilote-style, woolen vest, which Joan wore a lot during the rest of the journey.
I have a picture of John Chapman filming Joan in that yard singing with the mothers, and you can see a big sign behind her dedicated to Oscar Romero, which says: 'Nadie muere para siempre' (No one dies forever).
In Chile she managed to give an almost clandestine concert. Do you remember how it was organized? How did Joan and the audience feel?
In Chile Joan sang in several places: at a party near Santiago city center, at a Catholic religious service at a church in the Pedro de Valdivia square, at a church auditorium in Ñuñoa, at the University of Chile campus in Macul, and at a couple of meetings in the homes of SERPAJ artists and friends.
The only 'concert' was the one at the church auditorium, where there were three police buses outside. I don't remember if they got off the buses, but it called our attention because the concert had been organized that same day. How did the police know there would be a concert that evening?
Some Chilean musicians sang that evening too. The auditorium was packed, and so was the street. They installed speakers so that people outside could listen.
I remember there were many celebrities—artists, singers, actors, and so on—who were against the Pinochet regime. When Joan sang No nos moverán ('We shall not be moved') the audience started to sing 'El pueblo unido jamás será vencido' ('The people united will never be defeated'), which was one of the slogans of Unidad Popular during Allende's government. At that moment, I was really scared thinking about the police outside. If they had thrown a teargas bomb inside, it would have been very dangerous because the auditorium was packed and the doors were closed.
There is an—unfortunately pirate—CD of the concert, and that's why I know the song was 'Here's to you', and at the end Joan says in Spanish 'Yes, it's true.' It's a hair-raising moment, both because of emotion and fear. Do you remember how Joan felt after the concert? Happy? Scared because of the police?
What I remember is that Joan was very happy for having been able to sing. Until then she had suffered a lot of frustration, and the audience responded in such a vigorous and vital way that it raised her spirits.
I don't remember her being frightened of the Chilean police. They wore uniforms and behaved with discipline. Things were worse in Buenos Aires, where they wore civilian clothes, and threats kept coming without anyone knowing where they came from.
'The audience fully occupied the 1,200 seats and every corridor and corner of
the Tuca. (…) The audience stood up and applauded extensively when Joan Baez finally appeared on stage (…) to announce she had been banned from singing (…). She ended up singing two songs—unaccompanied, with no microphone or speaker, from a window of the Tuca.' Sérgio Vaz, São Paulo, Jornal da Tarde, May 23, 1981
From Chile you went to Brazil, how was she received there?
The Brazilian people received her very warmly, and although she wasn't able to sing there either, every time she appeared in public people applauded.
Joan met with many representatives of the Workers' Party. Eduardo Suplicy, who I think was a congressman, took us to many places, even a meeting with Lula on the outskirts of São Paulo at the automobile workers union.
Suplicy tried to get a permit for Joan to give a concert. I remember we even went to a local police station so that Suplicy could do the paperwork, but with no success.
We went to a Ze Ramalho concert, and he received her very kindly at his dressing room (among marijuana smoke clouds), but they asked her not to sing because they were scared of what might happen with the authorities.
I believe it was auto-censorship, but there might have been threats, I can't be sure. Then Joan went on stage and danced while Ze was singing. The audience gave her an ovation.
Joan's record label treated us very well, but they were also really frustrated because they were missing a great chance to advertise her albums in Brazil.
She was also interviewed for Globo TV, where they didn't let us film. I remember they didn't even want John and me to enter the building. We never had the chance to see that interview because they didn't send it as they had promised to do.
From there, did you go to Venezuela or Nicaragua?
We went to Nicaragua, where they treated us in an utterly different way. The Sandinista government received her as a guest of honor, and organized concerts and interviews for Joan.
I remember that one evening we went to the home of poet Ernesto Cardenal to eat delicious Nicaraguan food, and there were other artists and poets. Ernesto was also a pacifist, and he talked a lot with Joan. Then Joan sang some songs to end the evening. In the end we decided not to include our visit to Nicaragua in the documentary, because the situation was very different there from what we had experienced in the Southern Cone.
Which were the songs she sang most?
Joan would adjust her set list according to the audience. In Argentina, for example, she sang Don't Cry for me Argentina a lot, and in Chile, Violeta Parra's Gracias a la Vida. In Brazil, she loved a song called Calice, and I think she learned it right there and included it in her repertoire. In Nicaragua she learned a song written by a Sandinista who had been imprisoned and tortured by Somoza's National Guard—I think it was called Mi Venganza Personal (My Personal Revenge). This also became part of her repertoire, because it was a song about learning to forgive old enemies.
Of all the songs Joan sang, my favorite was No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley. She also sang Imagine (John Lennon), There But For Fortune (Phil Ochs), We Shall Not Be Moved, Blowin' in the Wind, Amazing Grace, Diamonds & Rust, and others I can't remember.
Would you like to tell an anecdote about Joan from each country?
In Argentina, we were turned out of a hotel under the argument that it was full, which was completely untrue, because it was almost empty. I remember the poor hotel manager telling Joan that he was sorry but blah blah blah, and Joan almost laughing in his face. It was evident that the hotel had been pressured to have us turned out.
I don't remember which hotel accepted Joan after that.
As an anecdote from Chile, I'll give you what my friend Antonio De La Fuente wrote in his blog Camino de Santiago:
'On January 6 in LA, CA, my friend JM will be exhibiting two photo series from analogue times. The invitation illustrates a photo of JB in Brazil from 1981.
The image is actually very relevant because in those analogue times, before going to Brazil, JB was in Chile during the heyday of Pinochet's regime, and 33 years after that visit she's planning to go back. There are three things I could tell about that time, but I'll leave it at two. At the final press conference, when JB was about to set off to Brazil, there were more men in gray than journalists. The men in gray were taking pictures of the journalists, and the journalists were taking pictures of the men in gray. Black and white, of course.
There was another time when JB was singing for a small group of people and, accidentally, a cultural journalist spilled a glass of wine over JB's immaculate pants, and this immediately cast a gloom over the star, who reappeared a few minutes later wearing another immaculate pair of pants.' Antonio De La Fuente
In Brazil, two policemen in gray came to Joan's room at the São Paulo hotel to tell her the concert which was scheduled to take place at a church had been suspended.
It was almost time for the concert already, so we went to the auditorium anyway. It was full of people, and Joan sat among the audience and they all sang a couple of songs a cappella.
The poor policemen who came to the door seemed somewhat embarrassed and even a little impressed at Joan, but they still had to 'carry out their duty.'
In Nicaragua, the Home Secretary, commander Tomás Borge, was fascinated with Joan, so one evening after a concert in Managua, he took us all in convoy to have dinner at a restaurant. It was almost midnight, so we were the only ones there.
Given that Borge didn't speak English, I had to translate what he said. It wasn't long until I started to feel uncomfortable, because it was evident that the Sandinista leader had romantic ideas about Joan. He wanted to take her to 'see the volcano at night.' Joan couldn't stop laughing because she found this all very amusing.
Instead of the volcano, Joan convinced the secretary to take us to a prison on the outskirts of Managua, where Somoza's ex-National Guards had been jailed.
We arrived there in convoy around two in the morning, and the prison chief took us all to see the prisoners, who were sleeping.
The lights turned on, and it must have been quite a surprise for them to see such a retinue of visitors. Joan started to talk to some of the prisoners while I translated. One of them, a man of about thirty years old, told her that they had locked him without any charges, and they hadn't even told him why he had been imprisoned. Joan asked me to tell Tomás Borge about this. Borge called the prison warden and asked him about this man's case. It wasn't clear what he was being accused of. Borge told the warden to let him free. The guards went to this man's cell, grabbed his things and took him out as if they were going to let him free. That seemed to be their intention but we never found out if they actually freed him that night.
I imagine Joan, you, and all the team must have felt really scared. Although Joan had spent 1972 Christmas enduring the Hanoi bombings, dictatorships were as deadly as a B-52. If you ever saw her scared, when did you see her most scared? And how did Joan behave when in fear?
I never saw any sign of fear in her. I saw her worried, frustrated, and sometimes impatient, but always in control of herself. And we were practically all day together.
In general, I saw her suffer with people's stories, and also very worried about others, because of what might happen to them. I think Joan was very conscious of the fact that her fame protected her, but that those she met would not necessarily have that same protection once she was gone. Remember that the military didn't want anything to happen to her in their country because that would have been an international scandal. Now, there is a chance that she might have felt fear and I didn't realize it. John Lennon had been murdered less than six months before in New York, which had cast a fateful shadow over a famous person's presence in a public street.
I personally felt really scared in Buenos Aires, on May 8. After repairing the car's tires, I left everyone at a restaurant and went to call my wife, because my daughter had just been born. When I came out, I realized I was being followed. I got in the car and got paralyzed when I saw a couple of guys looking at me from the sidewalk. I thought 'What if they've put a bomb in the car?' Nothing happened. But I felt extremely scared. The funny part is that when I headed towards the restaurant, I couldn't find it, so I parked and started walking. The two guys were following me and I was very tired because of all the activities of the day and the birth of my daughter. Suddenly, I turned around and asked them point-blank: 'Where's Joan?' They pretended not to know, but when I insisted, they pointed to a shop across the street.
You don't have to answer but, if I may ask, have you ever seen her cry?
No. I saw her impatient and in a bad mood a couple of times but generally she was solid as a rock.
What about singing? At that time she was said to be singing all the time.
I can't remember. I remember she draw (fairly well) on a notebook.
In Nicaragua, one afternoon Joan and I were alone in the living room at the house we were staying in. While I was checking the equipment she was playing around with her guitar. Suddenly, she asked me if I wanted to listen to any particular song. I said No Woman No Cry. And she began to play it. That's when I took some of my favorite pictures of Joan. It was a beautiful moment.
What a beautiful portrait. Was she always that simple? Was her fame intimidating?
Joan always tried to be kind to people. Once she saw me impatient and told me 'courage is grace under pressure', quoting Ernest Hemingway.
Her attitude was very consistent with her ideas of pacifism and respect for human rights, in the sense that there is no use in preaching those ideas if, at the same time, you treat others miserably. She clearly used her fame to get what she wanted, which to a great extent was to help the victims of human rights violations.
I think she felt very comfortable with her fame. Remember that she had been famous since she was twenty years old, so people's attention didn't affect her much. She was very careful to always behave as if many people were looking at her. I very rarely saw her lower her guard.
Something that really impressed me was the way that Joan's fame affected people. Everyone tried to get close to her, and even I was treated differently when I was seen with her. It was very weird.
What did you do with the documentary when you got back?
We began to organize all the material we had collected. We transferred all rolls into video and started editing. At the beginning of August we had a version that was little more than ninety minutes long.
Around September 1981 we went with Joan and Jeannie to Washington DC because she wanted to meet some politicians to let them know what she had learned in Latin America. She also gave a concert, which we shot and which is the beginning of the documentary. She had interviews with Ted Kennedy, representative Harkin, and many others who appear in the documentary. With this new material we created a one-hour version that we finished in March 1982. We transferred it to 16 mm and had a premiere in San Francisco, another one in Los Angeles, and another one in Santa Barbara. Then it was shown in national television in May that year.
What was the audience's reaction?
It was very positive in all three cities. The last premiere was in Santa Barbara, and I was standing behind Joan watching the documentary. When it finished, she told me she was proud of the work we had all done.
What was the fate of the documentary? Cinema festivals? Television in other countries?
The documentary received some awards in festivals (San Francisco State Broadcast Media Award; Mill Valley Film Festival, and others I can't remember). I don't know if it was shown in other countries.
Were the victims of the dictatorships who appear in the documentary able to see it?
We sent a copy to the SERPAJ in Argentina and another one to Chile. I don't know if they could show it to the public; most of it was in English, so that may have prevented it from getting to a wider audience.
There wasn't any money for subtitles?
That's right. Nowadays it's much easier and cheaper to get subtitles, but back then, it wasn't.
Besides we had accomplished the main objective, which was to spread the news about the Southern Cone in the USA during the Reagan era.
Do you think Joan was able to recover the money she invested in the documentary?
The Southern Cone tour was a commercial failure because she couldn't give any concert in which tickets could be sold. Our expenses (mine and John's) were minimal, because in several countries we stayed at friends' homes to avoid paying for a hotel. The documentary was shown at a national level in the USA, but it was in public TV, which generally pays very little for its documentaries.
After spending a whole month with her, what did Joan Baez mean in your life?
Joan was a great source of inspiration, but I was so young that perhaps I couldn't realize at that time how special it was to be with her and experience what we did.
Now, when I look back, I feel lucky for having lived such a historical experience.
What's the best thing you can say about her that almost no one knows?
Her life as a public figure has been examined to such an extent that I really doubt I can offer anything new.
What most impressed me about Joan was her great intelligence, her loyalty to her principles, and her sense of humor. She's really funny in private and likes playing jokes.
She also has the ability to see very quickly the true character of the people she meets.
Did you keep seeing Joan after the tour?
Yes, we met several times during the edition of the documentary, and together with John, we shot several other interviews with her at her home.
We lost touch in 1983 after John Chapman's death.
You're currently doing an exhibition of Joan's photos from this historical tour.
Yes, the exhibition is called RECOLLECTIONS and it's at a gallery in La Cañada Flintridge (a Los Angeles suburb).
The pictures can be seen at:
Los Angeles, California, March 3, 2014
Photos by Julio Emilio Moliné
Translation by ©Luciana Valente