Why Oscar-Nominated ‘Argentina, 1985’ Serves as a Global Reminder of the Need to Fight for Democracy

Director Santiago Mitre says “open wounds” remain in the South American country from its brutal military dictatorship

Argentina 1985
"Argentina, 1985" (Amazon Prime Video)

While Oscar-nominated “Argentina, 1985”  tells a specific story of prosecuting crimes against humanity committed by military dictators in that South American country, its inspirational message is applicable around much of the world: Good people and democracy can triumph over tyranny.

The film’s director, Santiago Mitre, told TheWrap that while he wanted to make sure Argentines remember the past and how they overcame a military dictatorship, he also hoped to get that vital message to an international audience.

“I think it was necessary for my country to tell the story, and important for the world to watch it because, while we are talking about a particular moment our history, we are also talking about basic freedom and democracy and justice,” he said. “Those are very contemporary topics, and relevant anywhere in the world. I mean, so much oppression is still going on in other parts of the world.”

Being nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film certainly helps spread that message. Mitre said the nomination, and the movie streaming on Amazon Prime Video, has brought him feedback from people of all ages around the world.

“We soon realized that people from other countries had very strong feelings and connections with the film, because of the history of many countries with tyranny and brutality,” said Mitre, a fourth-generation Argentine. “So that was amazing. And of course, in Argentina it’s still an open wound, the memories of the horrible dictatorship. We have to hold onto some of that pain, and not forget.”

That military dictatorship seized power from 1976 to 1983, silencing opponents and using murder, rape and torture as a means to terrorize the population. An estimated 30,000 people went missing during this time. When the people of Argentina took back their country, they prosecuted former dictators Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera, handing life sentences to both men for crimes against humanity.

In order to achieve this, the Argentine government needed prosecutors with the courage and backbone to charge and convict these men and their accomplices, including powerful generals and admirals. The two heroes in the film are lead federal prosecutor Julio Strassera, played by Ricardo Darin, and deputy prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, played by Peter Lanzani.

Strassera died in 2015 in Argentina, after serving in international court to prosecute war criminals and human rights abusers. Moreno Ocampo is living in Malibu and teaching at the University of Southern California. He was just 32 when he became deputy prosecutor and helped Strassera put away the dictators.

He told TheWrap that he is proud of his role in history and proud of Argentina for maintaining its freedom and democracy. He said it is easy to forget how fragile democracy is when you have not had to struggle to win it.

“I am so grateful that they made this film because it speaks to the younger generations, and they need to know this part of our history, and know that these struggles are not easy,” Moreno Ocampo said. “And around the world young people need to know how fragile democracy can be, and you have to fight for it and protect it.”

He said part of the reason he and other younger Argentines were appointed to assist Strassera in the prosecution was precisely because they were so young, so they were not attached to the past and had little reverence for military leaders and former dictators.

Moreno Ocampo told TheWrap that even his 23-year-old son knows very little about Argentina in 1985, and the role that his father played in saving their country from the military while receiving daily death threats.

“This film really will help their generation to understand where we came from, how we got here, and how to keep it,” he said. “We have a vision of providing more freedom, and fighting injustice around the world.”

When he was 32, he had to educate the older generation, even his own mother, who supported the military dictatorship — partially from propaganda, partially because his mother had attended church with former dictator Jorge Videla. Only when his mother saw the testimony from victims — the few who survived — about their brutal treatments of rape and torture from the dictatorship, did she come around and support the prosecution, he said.

“We had to win the case in front of judges, but then the real battle is the memory as the memory fades with time,” Moreno Ocampo said. “The only way to win that battle is to preserve history, and this film does a wonderful job of that.”