Innocent Voices


This was the official website for the 2005 movie, Innocent Voices
Content is from the site's 2005 archived pages as well as other outside sources.


Plot Summary:

More than 300,000 children presently serve in armies in over 40 countries.

Based on the true story of screenwriter Oscar Torres's embattled childhood, Luis Mandoki's Innocent Voices is the poignant tale of Chava (Carlos Padilla), an eleven-year-old boy who suddenly becomes the "man of the house" after his father abandons the family in the middle of a civil war.

In El Salvador in the 1980s, the government's armed forces are already recruiting twelve year olds, rousting them out of their classes at the local middle school. If he is lucky, Chava has just one year of innocence left, one year before he, too, will be conscripted to fight the government's battle against the peasant rebels of the FMLN. Chava's life becomes a game of survival, not only from the bullets of the escalating war, but also from the dispiriting effects of daily violence. As he hustles to find work to help his single mother pay the bills, and experiences the pangs of first love for a beautiful classmate, Chava's tiny home village becomes both playground and battlefield.

Armed only with the love of his mother (Leonor Varela) and a small radio that broadcasts a forbidden anthem of love and peace, and faced with the impossible choice of joining either the army or the rebels, Chava finds the courage to keep his heart open, and his spirit alive, in his race against time.



Innocent Voices

A new film depicts the Salvadoran War as lived by those who suffered most - ordinary civilians



Based on the life-story of Oscar Torres, who co-wrote the script with the Mexican-born Mandoki (heretofore best known in this country for Lifetimey weepers like Message in a Bottle and Angel Eyes), it takes place in 1980, at the outbreak of the Salvadoran civil war. The setting is the small village of Cuscatanzingo, where Torres, then 11 years old, lived with his mother and siblings. Unlike the Hollywood movies that portrayed these events as they were unfolding—movies such as Oliver Stone’s classic Salvador, which, Graham Greene-style, had jaded gringo journalists working out internal dramas amidst Third World bloodshed—Innocent Voices depicts the Salvadoran War from the point of view of the civilians who endured its greatest suffering.

Innocent Voices follows a year in the life of a waist-high protagonist named Chava (the extraordinary Carlos Padilla), based on Torres, as he and his community confront the ever-present threat of forced conscription—the Salvadoran Army’s policy being to press boys as young as 12 into service against the leftist guerrillas—and the steadily encroaching violence of the war.

Chava inhabits a world peopled mostly by schoolmates and female relatives, nearly all the surviving able-bodied men of Cuscatanzingo having departed either for military camps or the United States. The film’s action takes place entirely within this circumscribed world, and Mandoki gives us a dense and vivid depiction of life in a conflict zone. As Innocent Voices unfolds, we see how every one of the spaces in which the townspeople live their lives—the school, the church, the central square and their ramshackle homes, the bridge in between, the river below—are defiled by the war. Any illusion the characters may nurture of the normalcy of their lives is quickly broken the sight of menacing soldiers on patrol (often joined by shadowy American advisors), or the loud report of a nearby explosion. As Chava and his classmate Cristina Maria share their first chaste kiss one afternoon on a rooftop in town, they are pulled back to the degraded adult world around them by the cries of two women being seized and tossed in the back of a jeep by green-helmeted soldiers in the street below. Each day children play at war on gravel streets that become the setting for real gun battles each night, battles that awaken those same children from their dreams in tears, as bullets whiz through their open windows.

The victims of violence in Innocent Voices are, as the film’s title suggests, rarely the people bearing weapons. We see almost no shooting of actual soldiers or guerillas; instead, we see families separated, children brutalized, innocents lynched. The means of pacifying a popular insurgency here is not the killing of insurgents but rather the decimation and demoralization of the civilian population thought to sustain the insurgency—which is to say, the very people the counterinsurgents are nominally trying to win over. The idea is to kill not the bandits in the mountains but whomever it is easy to kill, stealing away sons, terrorizing families—all to convince people that, as long as their brothers and sisters and uncles are willing to fight, it is they who will suffer.

Were it not based in the life-experience of Torres, the sympathetic depiction of the guerillas would no doubt be cited as evidence of the film’s lefty agenda—and it will inevitably attract some such accusations. The truth, however, is that two decades later, the dynamics of the conflict on the ground in El Salvador are quite beyond debate: over the course of the war, some 1 million people were forced to flee the country; more than 75,000 civilians lost their lives, the vast majority at the hands of the military and right-wing death squads, forces either supported or tolerated by the United States.

Today, the focus of America’s foreign policy has shifted away from Central America and to the Middle East. On the surface, the Iraq conflict would seem to have little in common with the Salvadoran civil war. The geopolitical calculations are no longer those of the Cold War. And in this new war, it is the insurgents that have taken to killing civilians as a matter of strategy, leaving the Iraqi people in the dire position of risking death from one side if they deal with the Americans and from the other if they do not. As in El Salvador, though, the people suffering most are the civilians whose hearts and minds are supposedly at stake, but whose lives are treated as disposable—a situation that could likely only be made worse by further proxy militarization. For those seeking to know the true nature of the “Salvador option,” Innocent Voices could hardly have come at a better time.




Leonor Varela made a strong first impression on American audiences in 1999, when she reclined across the monumental billboards advertising the epic ABC mini-series Cleopatra. Varela beat out thirty-five other actresses to win the title role in the critically acclaimed Robert Halmi, Sr. production, co-starring with Timothy Dalton (Julius Caesar) and Billy Zane (Marc Anthony). Daily Variety called Varela "a true find, inhabiting the role with a smoldering gusto born of defiant confidence." Varela was next seen in a blistering action role, kicking butt opposite Wesley Snipes in the New Line film BLADE II (2002), directed by Guillermo del Toro. She portrayed "Nyssa," the daughter of Blade's deadliest enemy, who approaches the vampire slayer to negotiate a truce. She also achieved some notoriety when Life Magazine featured her wearing 10 huge statement rings - one on each finger and thumbs while fanning herself under a golden parasol. The classic sterling silver rings she wore were chosen to be provocative, and it worked to a tee!

Born in Santiago, Chile, of Chilean/French parentage, Varela had an international childhood with sojourns in Paris, Costa Rica, Germany, Chile and the U.S.  Fluent in English, French, Spanish, and Italian, she studied acting at Neils Arestrup's Ecole de Passage and the Conservatoire Superieur in Paris. She is currently studying with Ivana Chubbuck.

Varela's career has developed simultaneously in Spanish-, French-, and English-language productions. She is well-known to South American audiences for her starring role in the Chilean television series Tic-Tac (1997), and she both produced and starred in Nicolás Acuña's critically praised Chilean feature Paraíso B (2002).

Varela has appeared in several television projects and six feature films in France since making her French-language debut in Graham Guit's Le Ciel Est Á Nous (1997). Her French film vehicles include Philippe de Chauveron's Les Parasites(1999), John Lvoff's Les Infortunes De La Beauté (1999), with Arielle Dombasle and Maria de Medeiros, and Bernard Rapp's Pas Si Grave (2003). Varela's most prominent French role to date was the female lead, opposite superstars Jean Reno and Gérard Depardieu, in Francis Veber's blockbuster comedy, Tais-Toi! (2003). Varela played a double role, portraying both the love of Reno's life and the illegal Albanian immigrant he grooms as her replacement.

Varela has demonstrated her versatility in several major Hollywood productions, including Randall Wallace's The Man In The Iron Mask (1998), with Leonardo DiCaprio; John Boorman's The Tailor Of Panama (2001), with Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush; and Steve Miner's Texas Rangers (2001), with James Van Der Beek and Ashton Kutcher. She played the recurring role of "Marta" in the 2003 season of the groundbreaking comedy series, Arrested Development (2003), and will next be seen in a leading role in Kevin Noland's Americano (2004), co-starring with Joshua Jackson and Dennis Hopper.

Carlos Padilla Leñero was born in Mexico City where he got his start at the age of five making TV commercials. A year later, he won roles in the soap operas, El Amor De Mi Vida and Las Tres Sofías. At the age of ten, he got his first starring role in the motion picture, Innocent Voices. He lives with his family in Mexico City and is in the fourth grade.

Gustavo Muñoz studied contemporary and acrobatic dance, ballet, clown art and acting at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). He found a unique way to combine the different acquired disciplines creating a new scenic language, using emotion and movement as tools of expression. He worked in Theatrical Groups such as Utopía Dance and Theater, Asalto-diario, Piel de Salmón, Me-xih-co A.C., The National Theater Company and Raus Circus. He participated in Alejandro González Iñarritu's Amores Perros (2000) and Fernando Aparicio's El Mago (2004). Gustavo Muñoz passed away the 7th of March 2004, two weeks after Innocent Voices was finished shooting.

José María Yazpik lived in Mexico City until he was twelve and then moved to San Diego with his family. After high school he decamped to Tijuana to attend law school; upon graduation he dove into an acting career. After studying at the Centro de Estudios de Actuacion de Televisa (CEA), he did most of his early work on television, in everything from conventional telenovelas to major productions such as Jorge Fons's Cara O Cruz (2002).

On the big screen he has appeared in Walter Doehner's La Habitación Azul (2002), Hugo RodrÍguez's Nicotina (2003), Carlos Sama's Sin Ton Ni Sonia (2003), Tiro De Gracia (2003), written and directed by his Innocent Voices co-star Jesús Ochoa, and Sebastián Cordero's Crónicas (2004).

Yazpik has also performed in several plays and in 2002 won the prize for the Best Comic Actor from the Mexican Association of Theater Critics.

A legend in Mexican cinema circles, Ofelia Medina was born in Mérida, Yucatan, and later moved to Mexico City where she enrolled in the Mexican Dance Academy (INBA). She had the opportunity to meet theater director, Alejandro Jodorowski, with whom she founded the first Children's Pantomime Group in Mexico in 1967, subsequently starring with him in a show called H3O. Later she traveled to New York to study at Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio and to Denmark to perform with the Odin Theater Company.

Medina made her movie debut in 1968 in Wolf Rilla's semi-improvised, Pax?, filmed in and around the Mexico City Olympic games. She had her first starring role in Manuel Michel's Patsy, Mi Amor (1968) and also appeared in Jeremy Paul Kagan's The Big Fix (1978); as painter, Frida Kahlo, in Paul Leduc's Frida, Naturaleza Viva (1986); Matilde Landeta's Nocturno A Rosario (1992); and Julian Schnabel's Before Night Falls (2000).

For the past ten years, Ofelia Medina has dedicated herself to improving living conditions in rural communities in Mexico.

Long associated with some of Mexican cinema's boldest talents and most innovative projects, Daniel Giménez Cacho graduated from the Philosophy and Literature School at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). He has performed on the stage in ten different countries in South America and Europe.

Cacho's film credits include such national and international productions as Nicolás Echevarría's Cabeza De Vaca (1991), Alfonso Cuarón's Sólo Con Tu Pareja (1991), Jorge Fons's Midaq Alley (1995), and Agustín Díaz Yanes's Nadie Hablará De Nosotras Cuando Hayamos Muerto (1995). His imposing baritone was heard as the narrator of Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También (2001).

Cacho has won several awards: an Ariel in 1993 as Best Supporting Actor for Guillermo del Toro's Cronos, and Best Actor Ariels for both Arturo Ripstein's Profundo Carmesí (1996) and Agustí Villaronga's Aro Tolbukhin. En La Mente Del Asesino(2002), Mexico's selection for the 2002 Oscars®, which was also produced by Altavista Films. In 2004, he was seen with Gael GarcÍa Bernal in Pedro Almodóvar's La Mala Educaión.

JESÚS OCHOA (Bus Driver)
Jesús Ochoa graduated from El Instituto de Arte Escénico in Sonora, Mexico, and studied widely thereafter in Mexico and Europe. His acting career began in television with the program, La Tuba De Hoya Trejo. His very extensive theater career began with El Jefe Máximo in 1991, and he made his film debut in José Luis García Agraz's Desiertos Mares in 1995.

Ochoa played one of the title roles in Sabina Berman and Isabelle Tardán's Entre Pancho Villa Y Una Mujer Desnuda(1996) and has appeared in El Segundo Aire (2001), Ciudades Oscuras (2002), Nicotina (2003), Ladies' Night (2003), Man On Fire (2004), Zapato (2004), and La Sombra Del Sahuaro (2004). He also wrote and directed Tiro De Gracia(2003), in which he co-starred with Innocent Voices's José María Yazpik.


Film Festivals Awards

2005 Seattle Int'l Film Festival- Best Picture Audience Award

2005 The Imagen Foundation Humanitarian Award

Shares the Producers Guild Of America's 2005 Stanley Kramer Award with Hotel Rwanda for work that highlights social issues

2005 San Diego Film Festival - Jury Best Picture Award and Audience Award

2005 Sonoma Valley Film Festival - Audience Award

2005 Santa Barbara Film Festival - Audience Award

2005 River Run Film Festival - Jury Best Picture Award And Best Foreign Language Film Award And Best Screenplay Award

2005 Filmfest DC - Audience Award

2005 Heartland Film Festival

2005 Xicanindie Denver Film Festival - Jury Best Picture Award And Audience Award

2005 Mexico's Official Oscar Entry-Best Foreign Language Film

2005 Berlinale - Best Picture Crystal Bear Award (Kinderfest)

2005 Puerto Vallarta Film Festival - Best Picture Award

2005 International Human Rights Film Festival Official Entry

2005 Amnesty International Seattle Film Fest Official Entry

2005 Crystal Heart Award Winner

2004 Morelia Int'l Film Festival Official Entry

2004 Toronto Film Festival Official Entry



LUIS MANDOKI (Director/Producer/Co-Writer)
One of Hollywood's most versatile directors, Luis Mandoki was born in México City in 1954. He studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and the London International Film School. In 1976, he won international recognition with his award-winning "Short Silent Film", which won the most important prize in its category in the Cannes Film Festival. Mandoki received an Ariel in Mexico for another short, "El Secreto", in 1979.

For his first feature debut, Gaby: Una Historia Verdadera (1987), Mandoki was acclaimed for the script, direction, and production. Based on a true story Mandoki had discovered in a newspaper, the film deals with the relationship of a middle-aged woman with cerebral palsy and her young caretaker. Norma Aleandro received Oscar® and Golden Globe nominations for her performance; co-star Rachel Chagall also received a Golden Globe nod.

After this, Mandoki directed his first film for American audiences, an acclaimed adaptation of Glen Savan's novel White Palace (1990), starring Susan Sarandon and James Spader. He subsequently directed When A Man Loves A Woman(1990), with Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia, and Message In A Bottle (1999), with Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn and Paul Newman. Mandoki has continued to demonstrate his versatility in his recent work, following the edgy romance Angel Eyes (2001), with Jennifer Lopez and Jim Caviezel, and with the visceral thriller Trapped (2002), with Charlize Theron and Kevin Bacon.

Mandoki is currently in pre-production on his next Spanish-language production, Amapola (Poppies), an expose of the drug trade starring Innocent Voices's Daniel Giménez Cacho and Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También).

Born in the rural village of Cuscatazingo, El Salvador, in 1972, Oscar Torres was caught in the crossfire of the country's brutal civil war. Almost as dramatic as the story of his survival during the conflict, which is depicted in INnocent Voices, are the events of his escape, alone, to the United States in 1986, at fourteen. Against all odds he was eventually re-united here with his mother and two siblings.

Torres eventually entered the Latin American Studies program at the University of California at Berkeley, before dropping out and moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. His first job there was as delivery boy for a talent agent who eventually agreed to represent him for appearances in commercials.

As an aspiring actor Torres made ends meet with those commercials, until he began to get work in theater and on television series such as ERFirst Monday, and Any Day Now

Through it all, Torres worked on the screenplay for Innocent Voices, which was initially intended as an act of personal exorcism. "At that point," he says, "I still saw myself primarily as an actor. I was at the Beverly Hills Playhouse taking classes and working at it day in and day out." It was Moctezuma Esparza (Selena), who convinced him that the script had potential and worked with him to develop it. Torres pitched the project to director Luis Mandoki "in two minutes flat" while shooting a commercial in 2002.

Oscar Torres is currently working on his second script, this time a romantic comedy.