Cultures and immigration beat: Film gives voice to torture survivors

  • Updated: December 3, 2012 - 5:17 PM

At 15, Blama Massaquoi was walking home from school one day in his native Liberia when military forces abducted him and made him fight in a raging civil war.

One of countless child soldiers on the front lines, he was captured by a rebel group and forced to drink a Drano-like chemical. He survived, but the scars -- both physical and emotional -- remain.

Now 23, he lives in St. Paul and is one of the featured voices in a new documentary about torture survivors and their path to healing. A special screening of the film, "Beneath the Blindfold," will take place in the Twin Cities in conjunction with International Human Rights Day.

Co-directors Kathy Berger and Ines Sommer set out to make a film that would give a voice to torture survivors and spark a public discussion about the use of torture. At the time, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq was in the news, and there was much talk about some U.S. soldiers torturing prisoners there.

"As we were reading the coverage, we realized there was very little attention paid to the victims of torture," Sommer said. But finding people who were willing to share their stories was hard. Torture victims worried their participation could trigger flashbacks, endanger relatives in their home countries, or jeopardize their own political asylum chances, Sommer said.

Eventually, the filmmakers prevailed. Massaquoi is one of four main characters. Several years after being tortured, he was sponsored to come to the U.S. and was treated at the Mayo Clinic. "Both Kathy and I felt we have such a responsibility to help them tell their stories," Sommer said. "We were just in awe of how they kept going, despite these setbacks."

The screening will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Bell Museum, 10 Church St. SE. in Minneapolis. Sponsors include the Center for Victims of Torture, the Advocates for Human Rights and the University of Minnesota's Human Rights Center.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4414

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