About Hojas de K. (Leaves of K.)
Told through the voice of a 17 year-old girl in an impressionistic style of animation, this short documentary, Leaves of K. tells the story of the violence imposed upon her, her family and the people of Nicaragua by the government of Daniel Ortega, former leader of the Sandinista Popular Revolution (1979-1989), who mutated from a rebel fighting a corrupt and repressive government into a ruthless dictator whose iron fist now causes this girl to risk her life to protest injustice.
The poetic, powerful, and personal style of animation make the drawings and memories seem at times like they were taken out of K.’s own journal. The recurrent dreamlike atmospheres in the film blur the lines between reality and dream to give her the strength and resilience she needs to survive while imprisoned.
Based on interviews conducted with ten women who participated in the 2018 civic uprising against the government, this film recurs to animation while being true to the documentary form as a way to protect K.’s real identity, her family’s, and the women who candidly shared their stories with us.
Daniel Ortega, former leader of the Sandinista Popular Revolution (1979-1989), re-emerged in the 1990s and the 2000s in Nicaragua as the eternal presidential candidate of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). In 2007, he finally returned to and has remained in power by establishing a totalitarian system of government, which has eliminated freedom of the press, criminalized citizens’ participation, and persecuted and imprisoned its critics, political opponents, and former comrades. Currently, the state institutions, the army and the police respond to Daniel Ortega’s will, as well as his political and personal interests.
In April 2018, a group of senior citizens challenged his power by organizing a protest against a social security reform. Police and pro-government paramilitaries violently suppressed the protest. Citizens reacted with outrage to the violence and erected barricades throughout the country, paralyzing the main cities for several months. In July 2018, the government ordered the dismantling of the barricades by the police and paramilitaries. The violent repression, according to international Human Rights organizations, killed more than 300 people and injured another 1,300. An estimated 140,000 have been exiled.
The political persecution and harassment of Daniel Ortega’s government continues to this day. This is considered to be the worst Human Rights crisis in the last 40 years in Nicaragua.
Leaves of K. is a film I did not plan on making.
While preparing to shoot a documentary series about the 2018 civic uprising in Nicaragua, I was forced to leave my country, leaving behind my family, my job, my house, and my husband and our 3 year-old twins due to a threatening wave of government repression on my doorstep.
I had three days to pack my suitcase. I don’t recall what I ended up throwing in, but I do remember very well where I kept the audio files with hours and hours of interviews I had recorded with ten women who had participated in the 2018 protests all over my beloved country.
I could replace everything in my luggage, but I could never let go of those recordings. I clung to them with all my strength. Once I was safe in Toronto, I looked at my luggage as if it was the remains of a shipwreck. It took me several days to understand all that had happened. Then, I remembered the audio files. The voice of each woman brought back the vividness of their courageous memories.
Given the impossibility of filming in Nicaragua and the need to protect K’.s, her family’s and the women’s real identities, animation became the best way to assemble and tell their stories. While being true to the documentary form and ensuring accuracy of the testimonies and lived experiences of these women, I decided that the style of animation was to be personal, impressionistic, and dreamlike. I wanted to give the impression that these were drawings and memories out of K.’s own journal, and to blur the lines between realities and dreams to better deal with the depicted violations of Human Rights.
I had to reconfigure my team – most of whom had gone into exile in different countries – and prepare them to tell a story in the first person – not as a series, but as an integrated weaving of the voices of all these women. Personally, it was a challenge directing such a geographically scattered team and the actress who played K. through Zoom calls. But, we did it.
Leaves of K. was thus born from the dreams, disappointments, and hopes of the women who generously opened their lives to me in those interviews and whose voices I carried with me to share with you. This film honors each one of them and all the women who have fought for a free Nicaragua.