Professor’s doc follows conquistador’s rise and fall

, Beacon Correspondent/strong

Usually when an American forces a foreign leader from power, it makes for interesting history textbook material. But William Walker, an American lawyer and journalist who took over Nicaragua in 1856, has been largely overlooked with the passing of time.

Director Kathryn Ramey, a professor at Emerson since 2003, came across Walker’s conquests through a film her husband found in a thrift store. She turned this chance discovery into the subject of her experimental documentary emYanqui WALKER and the OPTICAL REVOLUTION/em, which Ramey will show in the Bright Family Screening Room tomorrow at 6 p.m.

“It was a film with just text,” said Ramey over Skype about the gift. “I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know about the person who it was about because it was rather shocking.”

Aside from the 1987 Ed Harris flop emWalker/em, the conqueror’s story hasn’t gotten much attention from the popular arts. Walker pitted the two polarized political parties in Nicaragua against each other and took over with a ragtag army of Americans and local fighters. He renamed the country Walkeragua and received recognition from the US government under President Franklin Pierce, before a coalition of Central American armies deposed him a year later.

Ramey found herself fascinated by Walker’s lost tale of power, and decided to set to film a bare narrative of his life from adolescence to death.

With the aid of Walker’s book emThe War in Nicaragua/em and other texts on the time period, Ramey was able to chart the dictator’s tracks. After procuring grants and fellowships for the film, she set out to follow Walker’s journey.

She backpacked through South America, interviewing locals and filming the land. She hit up Costa Rica, which Walker unsuccessfully attempted to take over; Nicaragua; and Honduras, where the former conquistador met his death by firing squad. The film took six years to complete.

“Once I had that information [and footage I shot], I purchased educational films about Central America,” said Ramey. She managed to find pro-Imperialism classroom films that she splices within the documentary as a critique of the destructive Imperialist propaganda.

“I was interested in thinking about what was happening from multiple perspectives and interrogating the way in which this region had been documented prior to this,” said Ramey, believing that her anthropological training —  she has both a Ph.D. in anthropology and an MFA in filmmaking from Temple University —  molded her self-reflective approach to the topic, using the variety of clips to showcase some of Walker’s imperialistic effects on the region. “I don’t make movies that just sort of have a pat answer.”

She said she hopes that the ambiguity will drive people to learn more on the subject.

“You leave the movie knowing stuff you didn’t know before, but with more questions than you came in with,” said Ramey. “And I happen to think that it is a good thing, because it makes the viewer want to do more research.”

However, it is not only the film’s open-ended structure that is experimental, but the visuals as well. Ramey applied techniques such as hand-processing and optically printing it to manipulate the footage speed. She also varies the footage color.

“I was very committed to using black and white and color, because I am moving forward and backward in time,” Ramey said.

Tomorrow’s screening will also include two of Ramey’s other works, emENDLESS PRESENT: BIOGRAPHY OF AN UNKNOWN FILMMAKER a film by Cornelius Thistle/em and emthe passenger/em. Ramey explains the distinctive capitalization in her titles as a means of emphasis. With emYanqui WALKER/em, for example, she wanted to highlight the man’s last name over “Yanqui,” a pejorative that comes from a the phonetic Spanish spelling of “Yankee.”

After prior success touring the line-up at other engagements around the world, Ramey is excited for her film to be screened on campus for her students and colleagues to view. Ramey noted that it’s interesting to see how people engage with the film in different ways. New York audiences asked about the way the film was made, while Midwest audiences were more curious about the ideas presented.

“For me that’s really fun, when people are so excited to talk about this topic,” she said.

strongYanqui WALKER and the OPTICAL REVOLUTIONem will be shown Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. in the Bright Family Screening Room at Paramount Center. Director Kathryn Ramey will be in attendance, and the event is free for Emerson students./em/strong

emMazie can be reached at ryan_mazie@emerson.edu./em