Roque Dalton

“Let’s Shoot the Night!” Roque Dalton Film by Tina Leisch

I Love “Let’s Shoot the Night!” Don’t Miss It.

Tina Leisch filming Let's Shoot the Night

Innovative Austrian documentary filmmaker, Tina Leisch (photo, right) just finished a movie about Roque Dalton called “Let’s Shoot the Night!” which is currently in the film festival circuit. She discovered the poetry of Roque Dalton, the national poet of El Salvador and one of Latin America’s leading poets, in El Salvador during the civil war in the 1980’s. By 2011, with a small grant she traveled with a camera person to El Salvador, Mexico, Cuba, Nicargaua and Prague to film interviews with Dalton’s friends and family in these major sites of the revolutionary poet’s relatively short life (1935-1975). The result is a powerful, beautiful, inspiring, gripping movie destined to win awards and acclaim from audiences worldwide.

Roque Dalton
Roque Dalton

Poetry with its metaphors, similes, tricky rhythms and many forms can be inaccessible. But Dalton’s internationalist poetry reaches out to people, all people. Roque wrote in Spanish and often used common slang. His poetry today is available is several languages. Leisch began her work on the film in Erich Hackl’s library, studying his translations of Dalton’s poetry and together writing up proposals for the film project.

She learned more about Dalton’s life through her filmed interviews with his family, friends, and comrades in Latin America and Europe, which is how I became a participant in the film.  Roque Dalton and I had written a video drama together, produced on Cuban TV in 1968. My friendship with Roque had played a pivotal role in my life and was my rite of passage into becoming a writer. So I was thrilled to get involved with the movie.

Leisch entitled the film “Let’s Shoot the Night” after one of her favorite Dalton poems because it embraces his belief in armed struggle, a belief and an action that led to his assassination at age 39 by his own “comrades.”  As Hector Tobar, says in the Los Angeles Times of May 29, 2013:

“Dalton was executed by his own rebel movement on Mother’s Day in 1975 — he was accused of being a spy for both the CIA and Cuba. This month, Dalton was officially incorporated into the pantheon of El Salvador’s national cultural heroes: El Salvador’s new, center-left government declared May 14 as National Poetry Day in Dalton’s honor.”

About Roque’s death and the acknowledged instigator of the assassin Joaquin Villalobos. Leisch says, “It [the film] leaves open the really interesting question if among Roque Dalton’s assassins there was a CIA infiltrator…” Or, she goes on to ask, “…has Villalobos who today works for the Right, always worked for the Right? We will see if the CIA or the directors of Cuban Intelligence will one day declassify documents to clarify this point.”

Nina Serrano in Tina Leisch's "Let's Shoot the Night!"
Nina Serrano in Tina Leisch’s “Let’s Shoot the Night!”

I was most affected by her handling of Roque’s poem about prostitutes. As a feminist I was ready to disapprove when one of Dalton’s buddies now an old man begins to recite on the screen Roque’s  poem about their youthful days of buying sex. But here Leish inserts a brilliant mini Brechtian documentary where the prostitutes speak for themselves as workers and intercutting it with the poem – so at the end it appeared to me that the old man went to these women for human warmth and friendship not exploitation or domination.

Tina Leish says Roque Dalton’s work is universal. People on the other side of the world can read it and be moved. This is true of her film with its three versions in Spanish, English and German. I hope everyone who seeks and hopes for social change, loves intelligence and wit gets to see it.

Watch the trailer (with German subtitles).

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