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Sister Christian: 'They Killed Sister Dorothy'

There's a dramatic courtroom turnabout in They Killed Sister Dorothy that blows everything that's come before out of the water – and this is a film with more than its share of grandiose, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction legal strategizing.

It arrives, unheralded, from theatrically inclined defense attorney Américo Leal, who argues that the 2005 murder of 73-year-old U.S. missionary and Amazonian environmental activist Dorothy Mae Stang was not arranged by a shadowy consortium of rancheros, federales, and good old-fashioned fall guys in the rain-forested Brazilian frontier village of Anapu but instead was the direct result of Sister Dorothy's gun-running, CIA-planted, "wild" life.

"Who was Dorothy Stang? And who are these North American people?" ponders the confabulation-inclined attorney. "If your excellencies were to draw a map, wherever they've been there's a trail of violence, a trail of blood, a trail of disgrace. They said that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons; they invaded [Iraq] and killed over a million people. This is the DNA that created Dorothy: the DNA of violence."

It's a crazy argument, a bold-faced example of legal misdirection, but what's far crazier, as director Daniel Junge points out, "is that with our country's activities in the world right now, that argument does hold water. He's going off, but there's an element of truth to what he's saying, and it's just reprehensible that even when we're doing the most benevolent things that that accusation holds water."

They Killed Sister Dorothy is a riveting courtroom drama set against the combustible backdrop of the decimated rain forest, with a poor, indigenous population on one side and a wealthy spectrum of landowners desperate to keep the status quo on the other; in the middle is the ghost of elderly, apple-cheeked Sister Dorothy, fiercely insistent on denying the ambiguity of amorality even to the point of death and beyond.

"We've showed the film to [Sister Dorothy's] family and to the nuns," adds Junge, "but ... our hope is to build a little momentum here before we show it in Brazil, because we think that it's going to ruffle some feather down there. We hope this film motivates some change and disrupts that status quo in the Amazon."


They Killed Sister Dorothy won both the Grand Jury Award and the Audience Award for Documentary Feature.

Friday, March 14, 3:30pm, ACC

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