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"this is the part where we buy back and brains and steal back
our souls... where the history that you wrote in our blood is
rewritten in yours... this is where recompense is redemption."

--the machetero anti-manifesto
Additional scenes have been added since this review was written in 2005.
This is a great film and we are lucky to have it showing again in the NW.
Please come!!

Machetero will screen at Laughing Horse Bookstore
12 NE 10th St. (NE 10th & Burnside)
This Fri Nov 14
7-10 PM
Film will be followed with a Q & A with director Vagabond
and lead actor Not4Prophet
$3 suggested donation
Where Recompense is Redemption
Film review: Machetero
By Marlena Gangi

"this is the part where we buy back and brains and steal back
our souls... where the history that you wrote in our blood is
rewritten in yours... this is where recompense is redemption."

--the machetero anti-manifesto

"I believe that all the truly revolutionary theatrical groups
should transfer to the people the means of production in the
theater so that the people themselves may utilize them. The
theater is a weapon, and it is the people who should wield
--Augusto Boal, The Theater of the Oppressed

When Brazilian director Augusto Boal established The Theater
of the Oppressed in the early 1970's, its purpose first and
foremost was to create a voice of, by and for the oppressed.
This in turn serves as a tool of empowerment as we reclaim
that voice, along with our power and avenues of self
determination that have been stolen from us. With this voice
we tell our own stories absent of distortion, our own
histories inclusive in reference, and our own truths that bury
white lies.

With or without intent, Boriquen/Jamaican filmmaker Vagabond
has succeeded in carrying the work of Boal with Machetero. In
this film that is less than one hour long, Vagabond brings to
us the story of a people whose very survival is in it's self a
revolutionary act.

This controversial work uses Puerto Rico's struggle for
sovereignty to grant critical analysis to the events that
occurred on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001. Disturbed by the
swift and firm judgment cast upon us, i.e., "you're either
with us or with the terrorists," screenwriter Vagabond created
three principle characters to carry a film that allows the
viewer to examine and, perhaps reexamine their opinions,
beliefs and definitions regarding violence and so-called

Machetero opens with Puerto street kid Young Rebel (new comer
Kelvin Fernandez). While Young Rebel is shown silently reading
from a booklet that he is holding, the film provides his
voiceover (the words of which are also run on the screen) that
allow us to see and hear that he is reading the first of seven
excerpts from something called The Anti-Manifesto. These
readings are used throughout to carry the story.

The Anti-Manifesto's author, Pedro Taino (played by
Not4Prophet, vocalist for Puerto punk band Ricanstruction), is
introduced to us via journalist Jean Dumont (Issach de Bankole
of Coffee and Cigarettes, Ghost Dog and The Keeper) who has
approached Pedro for an interview. The recording of this
interview is used to inform us of Pedro's past and present.

A self described Machetero, Pedro has come to the attention of
the public, media and FBI. Obsessed with the notion of total
and complete freedom for Puerto Rico, himself and his people,
he has resorted to the last option of the voiceless by
carrying out a series of violent acts that result in his
incarceration. While having faith in the anti-manifesto that
he has written to serve as a communiqué to the public as well
as a call to revolution, Pedro makes sure that his actions
succeed where his words may fail. With the streets, corporate
buildings and rooftops of New York as his urban battleground,
he uses what he has and does what he can in order to bring
attention to the Puerto Rican struggle for liberation.

In using Pedro's recorded prison interview with Dumont,
Vagabond interweaves the recording at times as narration so
that we witness Pedro committing past acts as we hear him
recount them on tape. The interview is also used to provide us
with a thumbnail sketch of the history of U.S. relations with
Puerto Rico in giving us a clear picture of the status of
colonial reign that the U.S. Congress has with Puerto Rico as
a 'free' associated state. We are also made to understand that
it does not really matter where Puerto Ricans reside; whether
choosing to live here or in their homeland, they have merely
exchanged one colonial condition for another. As one who
exists in this condition, Pedro defines the rationale behind
acts that many might define as terrorism.

We see Dumont initially approach his interviewee with the
questions of a journalist. In the short time that he and Pedro
are together in the prison, we see him convert from one who is
looking for research to one with a shared oppression who,
while not necessarily in agreement, begins to understand why
Pedro has chosen to do what he has done. As Dumont, actor de
Bankole is particularly effective in this role. His
understated but imploring manner work to move Pedro to be
particularly vivid in his account. In reading between the
lines, we may see that Pedro has given Dumont answers to
questions that he may not have originally been looking for.
With this, we are left to wonder what Dumont's article will
look like. Will it be one of criticism? Will it be one of
solidarity? How will Pedro's story end?

As the teenage throwaway, Young Rebel appears throughout the
film to give readings of Pedro's anti-manifesto and also to
illustrate the condition of disconnection in which the
disempowered are forced to exist. Director Vagabond uses the
youth and inexperience of Fernandez to draw a performance that
succinctly fits with his character. Living purely on his wit,
undeveloped as it is, we see Young Rebel get into scrapes with
both cops and dope dealers. We also intermittently see him in
target practice with a hand gun. While his interaction with
Pedro is completely absent of dialogue, it is still made clear
that the two make a connection, particularly in a scene where
Pedro leaves a backpack of books for the teenager. We later
see Young Rebel reading about the lives of the various
revolutionaries in these books but are not quite sure what it
is that he will do with this new information. Will he see his
own experience in the lives of others? Will he come to some
moral decision? Will he use his handgun as backup for street
crimes, as protection as he moves through cycles of violence
or, will he use it as a weapon in a much larger war?

As Pedro, Not4Prophet's performance meshes well with de
Bankroll's studied work and the organic approach of Fernandez.
While Not4Prophet has been known to be quite self-deprecatory
of his performance, he is actually very good. His strength
lies in his portrayal of Pedro as a Buddha of the barrio; he
is disciplined, intense, poetic in his 'terrorism,' and
uncompromising in his quest to free Puerto Rico and himself
from the colonial chains of the U.S.

Apart from pulling effective performances from his actors,
Vagabond has succeeded in providing for us with a cautionary
tale. This is done not by answering our questions but, rather
by moving us to ask and answer questions regarding cycles of
violence and so called terrorism for ourselves. By using the
history of U.S. imperialism and its effect on Puerto Rico,
Machetero allows us to step back to consider the acts of 9/11;
what conditions must be in place for such acts to occur? Is
this what happens when a people are pushed far enough? When is
violence justified and just how do we define violence? Is it
possible that we are all in some part responsible for the
attack on the Twin Towers because of what we have or have not

If nothing else, we are at the least moved to understand the
urgency of Pedro's actions. With these actions, we perhaps
begin to understand the existence of those forced to live in
the condition of colonial rule and the steps that some are
willing to take in order to change this condition. Whether the
meditation is focused on the 500 years of colonial oppression
imposed upon the Indigenous of the Americas, the continued
occupation of Iraq or the devastation visited upon Puerto
Rico, Pedro's message to the downpressed is: we must act; we
must act now before its too late, before we have been
completely mined by the oppressor of our resources, our minds
and our souls. We must act before our indigenous identities
are irreparably erased. It is only upon action that liberation
is achieved.

On liberation, Pedro writes:

"... we will insurrect and resurrect, revolt and reveal, think
like ourselves and act like ourselves, sacred in our clarity
and holy in our reality, the way we almost remember we once
were... "

This is the tale of caution that we all must keep in mind.
Living among us are those who, because of what we all may or
may not have done, will go to extreme means to insurrect and
resurrect. In their urgency, they will use whatever means
necessary, be it a pipe bomb timed to explode in an empty
office or a commercial airliner piloted into a skyscraper in
order to make sure that their actions succeed where their
words may have failed. Rest assured, they will act before all
that remain are the memories of what they almost remember they
once were.


Vagabond is at:
www.machetero-movie.com and