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How We Came To Do A Documentary About Las Abuelas In Argentina

By Staff Posted April 17, 2013 at 5:01 am

In 2002, a couple of my broadcast journalism students were Morehead Scholars. The young people who vie for that scholarship are among the best and the brightest in the world. Morehead Scholars get to travel, at university expense, on a summer research trip. My students, Tim and Callie were double majors in Spanish and Journalism. In one of their Spanish classes at Carolina, they first learned about the Dirty War and “los desaparecidos”, the thousands of dissidents kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the military dictatorship of the time.

They decided to travel to Argentina and research the Dirty War. Their research would take the form of news stories for play on the student newscast “Carolina Week.” When they arrived, they sort of stumbled upon the group Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, or the grandmothers of May Plaza. The grandmothers have been looking for some 500 babies stolen from “subversive” mothers by the military. The moms were allowed to stay alive in the prison camps until their babies were born and then were summarily executed. Supporters of the military took the babies and changed everything about their identities. Las Abuelas has been looking for those missing grandchildren ever since and to date has recovered 107 of them. The reporting from Tim and Callie about the grandmothers won them the 2002 Hearst national reporting championship.

The next year, I began going to Argentina during most summers to teach at the Catholic University. After 5 or 6 such trips, my wife and daughters wondered why I got to go experience the lifestyle and culture of Argentina every summer, and they never got to go. So in 2009 the family took a trip to Buenos Aires. My younger daughter Bethany was a rising senior at the time, also studying broadcast journalism at UNC. I told her if she was going to be in Argentina for several weeks, I wanted her to do some follow-up stories about the abuelas for the student newscast. Her work won her the Society of Professional Journalists national prize for in-depth reporting.

Her older sister Brynne made the observation that even though the news stories we’d done in 2002 and 2009 were strong, they went only about an inch deep into a story that was much deeper than that. So in 2010 the girls and I returned to Argentina, along with three other young alums from the J school. Nearly two years later we debuted the English version of the documentary. A few months ago we finished the Spanish version and are currently working on translations into French, Russian, Chinese and Portugese. In the meantime, we’ve screened the English and Spanish versions nearly 130 times, with more than 20 screenings scheduled for April, including the one on April the 18th at the Varsity Theatre in Chapel Hill. We hope you’ll join us as we share this labor of love with our friends and neighbors an as we all examine the question: Is the right to know who you are a basic human right?

Dr. C. A. Tuggle is a Reese Felts Distinguished Professor and Head, Electronic Communication Specialization at UNC-Chapel Hill
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