SXSW Movie Review: ¡Las Sandinistas!

Get ready to cheer for badass feminist socialist revolutionaries. ¡Las Sandinistas! tells the story of the women involved in the Nicaraguan revolution and government. They were key to their success; but their work, sacrifice, and goals have largely been erased.

This celebrates them and will make you root for them.

But, Sandinistas, you say? Weren’t they. . . c-c-c-communists? Yes and no. Watch for yourself before pre-judging anything, as the women of the movement saw themselves fighting for something wholly different than what we normally think of as “communism,” even in the vein of Cuba or Venezuela. However, the film does gloss over any real critique of the regime — except for the one brought by the women themselves, who claim they had to fight “a revolution within the revolution” for equality and against the raging machismo of so many of their compatriots.

Las Sandinistas! Still 3 Dora Maria

The film is told through a series of interviews with five women, Dora Maria Téllez (pictured at right), Claudia Alonso, Sofia Montenegro, Gioconda Belli, and Daisy Zamora, and intercut with archival film, newscasts, and photos. Dora Maria becomes a sort of breakout star among them, especially given her pivotal role in the assault on the National Palace, seen as a turning point in the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship. She then became the first Minister of Health, leading to the eradication of polio and massive reductions in malaria and other illnesses as health care was provided to the masses.

Prepare to come out of this film with a giant social justice crush on Dora Maria, whom one of her fellow interviewees referred to as “the smartest woman in the hemisphere.” She may be right.

But all of these women are remarkable, and today continue their fight. Despite the Sandinista government re-taking power in 2006, they now face many of the same repressive barriers they had torn down previously, including a nationwide abortion ban. They also find their contributions to the revolution and as early government leaders suppressed and forgotten, literally removed from historical records and monuments that instead celebrate current president Daniel Ortega.

While the film is a little bit long, it is simply because there is so much story here to tell. They win the revolution at around an hour in and you think, “Ok, we’re done here, right?” Instead, the second hour takes you everywhere you had no idea it would, up to and including the present where they continue to fight in the political sphere.

This is one of the best documentaries in a while, and is hopefully seen widely enough to make it into contention for next year’s Academy Awards. It’s certainly Oscar-worthy.

4.5 out of 5 stars

¡Las Sandinistas! premiered earlier today at SXSW and has two additional screenings later this week that you should not miss!

Tuesday, March 13, 4:15pm, Alamo Lamar A
Thursday, March 15, 2:45pm, Alamo Lamar A

Its official schedule is here where you can see any additional “buzz” screenings added later in the week.