Santiago Mitre (‘Argentina, 1985′ writer-director): ”Democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we have, and we must protect it’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

“To get nominated (for an Oscar) is sort of like a dream since childhood,” says Santiago Mitre, writer-director of the Amazon Studios film “Argentina, 1985” that was nominated for an Academy Award for Best International Feature. “I’m even happier about the fact this movie is reaching audiences all over the world. We have a great cinematic tradition in Argentina, and this is an honor.” Watch our exclusive video interview above

“Argentina, 1985” tells the inspiring, fact-based story of a team of lawyers — led by Julio Strassera (portrayed by Argentinian star Ricardo Darin)  — who courageously took on the heads of the bloody military dictatorship that ruled with kidnappings and torture during the so-called “Dirty War” in the country between 1976 and ’83.  The powerful film, which won the Golden Globe this year for Best Picture – Non-English Language, is designed to reacquaint Argentina and the world with a cataclysmic time more than 40 years ago that has largely been lost to history.

“We realized when we started (making the film) that those people born in democracy who are less than 35 years old knew very little about the event,” Mitre reveals. “The thing about democracy is, it’s it’s easy to take it for granted. We know it’s not perfect. We know we need to criticize it all the time to try to make it better. At the same time, it’s the best we have, and we must protect it.”

The film stars Darin (pronounced “Dah-reen”) in the key role as the intense, often explosive attorney Strassera who recruited a group of young, brave idealists to face down – at great risk to their lives – members of the powerful junta that had been out of power and had largely dodged prosecution from a military tribunal. “It was easy to get Ricardo for the role,” the filmmaker says. “He said ‘Yes’ before I was even through describing the movie to him. He loved the script and was involved in the project with me from the beginning. He also wanted to get involved as a producer and has become a very good friend.”

Mitre conducted abundant research before moving forward with the film, including speaking with a number of people directly impacted by the Dirty War’s reign of terror. One of the most wrenching scenes in the film finds a victim describing how she was forced to deliver a baby while handcuffed in the back seat of a police car. Mitre says he spoke with the real-life daughter she delivered. “It isn’t possible to not cry while wondering how we got to this level,” he emphasizes. “The process was often so painful for me. Sometimes it was too much.”

Other research was more fun. It proved surprisingly difficult but gratifying to design the production to match the Buenos Aires of the mid-1980s, replete with everyone smoking cigarettes, running to make calls on pay phones, listening to Walkmans. “That’s how it was back then,” Mitre notes. “Everyone smoked. It was before the time where we knew how bad it was for your health.” He adds, “Of course, they weren’t smoking real cigarettes in the film.”

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