Christian Poveda documented the gangs of El Salvador, until they turned on him
When the El Salvadoran police found Christian Poveda's body in the town of Tonacatepeque on Sept. 9, 2009, he had been shot four times in the face. There was little doubt who pulled the trigger: Authorities immediately suspected members of the Maras, the brutal street gangs whose lives Poveda had profiled in his 2008 documentary, La Vida Loca, which now screens in part as a tribute to his life and career.
Algerian-born and French-raised, Poveda was a world-class photographer, working for Time magazine and Paris Match in war zones and dictatorships from Chile to Sierra Leone. Later, he parlayed that experience into unflinching documentaries. English filmmaker Nick Fraser traveled with him into the fetid depths of Germany's neo-Nazi scene for their documentary Journey to the Far Right; in Poveda's obituary, Fraser wrote, "Christian taught me that one must never compromise with people whom one loathes for good reason." Yet Poveda was also compassionate and described many Mara members as redeemable victims of circumstance. When he died, he was returning from the ghetto of La Campanera, home of the Mara 18 gang, where he had been filming a sequel to his film. He thought that his earlier work had won their trust. Before his death, he told the Los Angeles Times: "As savage as they can be, they are people of their word. They're very well-structured organizations, and the decision of a gang is the last word. So from the moment that I understood that well, I never had any problems. I've never been afraid." So far, the National Civilian Police have arrested 33 people in connection to his murder, including Mara leaders and police officers.
La Vida Loca screens Sunday, April 25, 8pm, at the Metropolitan.