Victor Jara Murder Probed in Netflix's 'Massacre at the Stadium'

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Courtesy of Netflix
Victor Jara

Massacre at the Stadium, the first documentary of the Netflix music-centered investigative series ReMastered to focus on a South American -- and Spanish-language -- artist, pays tribute to Chilean singer and activist Victor Jara as it investigates the circumstances of his brutal killing at the hands of government soldiers in 1973.

Jara, who was 40 years old when he was tortured and killed in the first days of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, was a pioneer of the nueva canción folk movement whose songs of universal love and protest continue to resonate in the music of today’s young artists. Since his death, his name has symbolized social commitment and peaceful resistance, as well as perseverance: it took 45 years for eight former military officers to be found guilty in Chile for torturing and killing Jara. Joan Jara, Jara’s widow, the living protagonist of this documentary, has made it her life’s work to seek justice, and in Massacre she narrates her heroic struggle in interviews captured from archival footage, and also in conversations conducted for the Netflix film (she is now 92).

Snippets of Bruce Springsteen and Bono honoring Jara in the first minutes of Massacre serve as an entryway for the uninitiated. But the documentary, which relies on unflinching footage of the beating and killing of student activists in Santiago de Chile, as well as enlightening interviews, is an emotional watch for the many who know the story of Jara and his music well.

The doc features interviews and performance footage of the singer and songwriter, briefly details his early days, and sets the scene in 1970, when Socialist President Salvador Allende –for whom Jara sang and rallied – was elected. Massacre reconstructs turbulent times that followed, leading up to Allende’s death at the presidential palace in the U.S.-backed military coup led by Pinochet. Afterward, Jara was arrested by military police at a Santiago university and taken to Chile Stadium, together with hundreds of other students and teachers. One of thousands of victims of the military regime, Jara was shot at least 44 times and his hands were crushed. Democracy was not restored in Chile until 1990; in the meantime, many of those responsible for carrying out the killings fled the country, and many of those to the United States.

The second part of the documentary tracks down Pedro Barrientos Nuñez, who lives in Florida. Accused of firing the close-range shots that killed Jara, Barrientos lost a $28-million civil suit filed by Joan Jara. But he has not been extradited to Chile. Barrientos is key to the case, and there’s a perfect documentary moment in which he tries to use music in his defense. But Massacre ends of focusing too much on him, veering into Making of a Murderer territory. Time lags on an inconclusive on-camera lie detector test that was Barrientos’ condition for appearing on camera, before the doc finally wraps up with a moving salute to Jara’s legacy.

Massacre at the Stadium was directed by Bent Jorgen Perlmutt, whose previous credits include Havana Motor Club and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. Previous ReMastered documentaries have explored the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and the story behind Johnny Cash’s performance at the Nixon White House.