Columbia grad tells widow’s tale

By LauraNalin

A Columbia graduate has created a voice for a Nicaraguan community.

Mallory Sohmer, a 2006 flimmaking graduate,  is the creator of a contemporary documentary film focusing on an indigenous  community in Nicaragua. The film, titled The Living Documents,  was conceptualized while taking a course at the college.

The course that inspired Sohmer, Indigenous Films and Filmmaking,  focuses on bringing attention to dire situations within native communities.  The course, taught by Jeff Spitz, allows students to present a proposal on a topic of their interest. Spitz said Sohmer’s topic was very compelling not only because it is historically commonplace in indigenous communities, but also because she put so much dedication into the film.

Sohmer was assigned to introduce a proposal on a topic that concerned a native community. She began some preliminary research by sorting through various topics on the Internet and came across a story that grabbed her attention—a murder that had occurred in a Nicaraguan community.

Maria Acosta, a lawyer for the community’s land rights, came home in 2002 to find that her husband, Frank Garcia, had been brutally murdered. Based on overwhelming evidence, it is believed that the murder was committed out of spite to silence Acosta.

Peter Tsokos,  a U.S.-based businessman from Greece, had been selling Nicaraguan land through his Web site, while Acosta had been fighting him for some time.  The weapon used to kill her husband was registered  to one of Tsokos’ associates and his former body guard was later identified as the murderer.

Despite the vast evidence that the murder was what some considered a set up that  Tsokos orchestrated, the charges were dropped and the Nicaraguan courts closed the case. Although Acosta has attempted to appeal the case, no progress has been made since the closure. Sohmer hopes that through this socially-conscious film, awareness will be raised and Acosta can find justice for her husband’s murder.

“This was the direction that I wanted to go when I was getting involved in video, “ Sohmer said.  “This was the stuff I wanted to do, but when I graduated I was working on commercials and television and a lot of things that I knew were OK in the day to day,   but not part of my bigger vision.  That’s basically why I decided, ‘I am going to fund this myself because this is what I want to do.’”

Although Sohmer had never imagined she would have the ability to go further with her research, she hit a turning point when she received an e-mail from Acosta, with whom she had been communicating via e-mail for a little more than a year.  Acosta informed Sohmer that her son was currently working on a film in Nicaragua focusing on the native music in the area and said that he would be able to help her out if she wanted to pursue the documentary.

Acosta’s son helped Sohmer set up interviews,  hire a film crew and get in contact with key sources.

Sohmer’s film debuted on The Documentary Channel on Aug.  3.  However,  she has been showing the film throughout Nicaragua for the past year to raise awareness.

“We hope that the film works as an instrumental tool to tell their story and hopefully create some enthusiasm on the subject because there is a lot of fear in the communities,” Kate Benzschawel, Sohmer’s associate producer said. “But the fight is still continuing.  It needs to be fought because it is important so the people are aware of the situation so they can move forward to combat it.”

Spitz said that he is pleasedthat Sohmer followed her hunch and went through with the documentary.

“I have had other students do remarkable films, but not like this,” Spitz said. “Mallory crossed the boundaries and managed to give voice to people who were so far away and so removed, and that is a testament to her courage and her determination to give justice. Her fight was on behalf of these people living in these remote areas.”