_Filmmakers Barbara Trent and David Kasper won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her 1992 film “The Panama Deception,” which looks at the media’s role in the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama.
She is also a co-founder of The Empowerment Project, a media resource center that serves progressive filmmakers and supports their projects.
Trent will be on campus today to screen “The Panama Deception.” She will be available for questions afterward.
Staff writer Sarah Haderbache spoke with Trent about her filmmaking and activism._
DAILY TAR HEEL: Tell me about “The Panama Deception.”
BARBARA TRENT: We had done two previous films that involved Central America, both very well-received. One morning we woke up, turned on the TV with our coffee and then we found that Bush had just sent 14,000 U.S. troops to Panama to arrest one man: Manuel Noriega, a longtime CIA asset. We knew it didn’t take that kind of force to take one man. We knew something else was happening. So we began to investigate, and it resulted in the film.
DTH: What is special about the documentary?
BT: We were able to fully analyze what happened leading up to, during and after the invasion of Panama. We found out that U.S. military personnel and thousands of Panamanians died in this invasion that had nothing to do with this one man.
The purpose of the invasion in the words of the man who led the invasion, General Maxwell Thurman, was to “reduce the Panamanian defense forces to nothing.”
Without a Panamanian military, it would be the responsibility of the U.S. military to remain in Panama beyond the year 2000. The U.S. has central commands all over the world, troops all over the world. In Panama, we have a Southern Command. Southern Command was the point from which the U.S. was able to maintain military dominance over all of Latin America.
The issue for us was that the American public never had the opportunity to determine if it wanted to go to war over this. We were told he was the No. 1 threat to U.S. security. Same words that we heard before we went to Iraq, the words that we use to go into Iran.
We wanted the world and Americans to understand by looking at this incredible case study how these wars are sold to us, and as filmmakers we want to take a step further in our discussion after the film to look at how it ties into this incredible self-defeating dominance we continue to impose on other people, as well as the very planet we live on. War and the environment and human rights are all part of the same issue. No individual one will be resolved on its own or without affecting the others.
DTH: What were the documentary’s political consequences?
BT: The biggest impact was to garner pressure from around the world to ensure the U.S. left Panama. We did organizing with the groups all over the world. It brought individual families back together that were split. They all found out what really went on.
On every level, the most important thing is to shine a light on the same strategy being repeated over and over and over. Our media and our corporate government depend on our ignorance to do what they do. The major media’s business is to keep us ignorant.
DTH: Tell me about The Empowerment Project.
BT: David Kasper and I founded it in 1983 to create a platform to help launch important projects and as a learning environment for filmmakers, artists and activists.
Our most recent project has been the live multimedia production “Poetic Portraits of a Revolution,” created and performed by the Sacrificial Poets. We helped them with their trip to Egypt and Tunisia this past summer to personally record and experience the transformations going on there and bring that back to the States. They’ll be doing a national tour soon.
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