Review: El Equipo


In 1976, a military coup overthrew legitimately elected Argentinian President Isabel Peron and established a military government that lasted until 1983. Shortly after the coup, American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urged the coup leaders to destroy their enemies in Argentina quickly. Kissinger was recorded describing the junta leader: “… he is doing what is best for his country.”

The regime “disappeared” or outright killed as many as 30,000 opponents, many of them of indigenous origin. In 1983, civilian control of the government was restored.

Thousands of people, mostly mothers, cried out for the return of their missing children, if not alive, then at least having their remains recovered. “El Equipo” (The Team) is the story of the formation of an organization that still operates around the world today, recovering the remains of civilians “disappeared” in over 60 countries.

The documentary begins with Dr. Clyde Snow, an American forensic anthropologist who worked throughout the United States. His first big case was dealing with the victims of John Wayne Gacy, the Chicago serial killer of 28 young men. He also identified the skeletal remains of notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele in Brazil. In 1984, he went to Argentina to organize a team to begin the arduous task of recovering the remains of the victims of the military’s 10-year rule.

At first, he had no luck because too many people feared the return of the junta, under which they themselves might become victims. Snow was discouraged. But then, it was recommended to him to recruit a team from the young anthropology and archaeology students at the Buenos Aires university. This became the core of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, and many of them continue with it to this day.

Director Bernardo Ruiz (“Harvest Season”) has crafted an excellent documentary, devoid of a professional narrator, but rather described step by step and year by year by the actual people involved. An incredible trove of photos and film from the days of the military dictatorship on has been assembled into a spell-binding tale of discovery and reclamation.

While much of the film is told in a matter-of-fact manner, the bones they recover, especially those of children massacred in Guatamala by a US supported military government, will be difficult to watch for some. The amnesty given to all the perpetrators will also be difficult to endure. Many of the victims being recovered during the long history of this Team are from wars or military action. But not all.

The Team has also delved into the recovery of the remains of Mexican women and the infamous 43 Mexican students who disappeared in recent years. Here, the remains are only months or a year old, still decomposing, and, in the case of the students, remain hidden by government obfuscation.

This is tough stuff, but it is real history that, if not exposed and discussed, only makes it easier for atrocities to happen again.

“El Equipo” is in English and Spanish, with English subtitles.


Director: Bernardo Ruiz
Producer: Gabriela Alcalde
Cinematographers: Antonio Cisneros, Nancy Serna Guerrero, Víctor Tadashi Suárez
Editor: Fabian Caballero
Music: T. Griffin
Runtime: One hour, 20 minutes
Availability: PBS

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