Terrorist attacks, military incursions, car bombs, assassinations, propaganda: Peru's sordid 20-year cycle of violence and corruption provides a disquieting mirror of the current conflicts in the Middle East. This edifying new documentary makes the parallel explicit with an opening voiceover that solemnly proclaims: "Our story takes place in Peru, but in the age of terror, it could take place anywhere."
Nearly 70,000 Peruvians died between 1980 and 2000 as a result of the nation's civil strife, says a member of the Peruvian Truth Commission, which was a guiding force for director Pamela Yates as she traveled to the Andean mountains and Lima to examine the country's brutal history. The film offers a balanced view of the atrocities: On one side, Shining Path revolutionary leader Abimael Guzman began a reign of terror in rural areas, torturing and murdering villagers and kidnapping children for his Maoist army. On the other, Peruvian armed forces took to the countryside, killing indiscriminately, unable to differentiate between Shining Path members and civilians. Caught in the crossfire, "We felt as if trapped in a cage," an indigenous woman says.
The film continues through the late 1990s and 2000s, when President Alberto Fujimori embarked on his own bloody counter-terrorism campaign. Using unsettling testimonials from truth-and-reconciliation leaders and those who bore witness to civilian deaths committed by guerillas and the government, State of Fear presents a troubling chronicle of the "war on terror" and the all-too-familiar ways that countries bungle it. (Now playing; Film Forum.)