Cate-Arries interviews Manuel Fernández Roldán for her research. Photo by Devin Buck
by Jim Ducibella
The line of people standing before Francie Cate-Arries seemed, to her, immeasurably long last June. She sat on a bench under a tree, voice recorder in hand.
One by one, family members attending a commemorative ceremony in the cemetery of Puerto Real in the province of Cádiz, Spain, approached her. They confided horrifying tales of how their loved ones, who opposed fascism, were systematically slaughtered during the early days of the Spanish Civil War that resulted in the 40-year dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. Those stories began in 1936, when his forces launched a coup against the democratically elected Spanish Republic.
They expressed anger and despair – but also hope – that the remains of their relatives would be exhumed from the mass grave beside where they and Cate-Arries gathered. A long-time professor of Hispanic studies at William & Mary, Cate-Arries is intimately familiar with their stories, thanks to research she and her students have conducted in Spain the past three years. Much of it has been funded by a Weingartner Research Fellowship and an Alumni Fund for Hispanic studies faculty and students.
At the end of her most recent trip to the country, she asked a local historian and screenwriter, Santiago Moreno, for a copy of a then-unreleased documentary, “Three Days in July.” The documentary includes interviews with people who experienced the upheaval first-hand or whose loved ones did. If he would send it, she vowed, “My students will do something with it,” meaning a translation into English subtitles.
They’ve kept their promise, finishing a fall 2016 project that maintains an important aspect of W&M’s study abroad program at the University of Cádiz. Since the program was established, W&M students have enjoyed a productive collaboration with institutional partners in Cádiz, as well as in Sevilla [Univ. Pablo de Olavide]. W&M students have subtitled three documentaries, and almost half of the student translators have previously studied in Cádiz or Sevilla.
On Nov. 7, in conjunction with the 80th anniversary of the insurgency, Cate-Arries hand-delivered “Three Days in July,” to the provincial government of Cádiz, which funded this project and several other initiatives aimed at recovering what she called “lost history.”
“It’s a lovely moment for me as a professor of William & Mary students to take this documentary to the local government that made the film possible, as well as to university affiliates who also worked with William & Mary summer school students over there,” she said. “I’m extremely proud – and grateful – of the work they’ve put in.”
At the same time, she will be in Spain to present research based on family testimonies.
“I’ve been studying their oral testimonies as a form of ‘symbolic resistance,’ because all of those stories include anecdotes of bereaved family members’ small actions of resistance against the powers that destroyed their families, sven though those families were terribly repressed,” she said. “[Franco’s troops] killed family members, took all of their possessions, took their livestock. But the women would shut the door and the grandmothers and aunts and daughters would keep the memory of what really happened alive.”
At the University of Cádiz on November 7, a major announcement was made regarding publication of a new series of books on memory studies, produced by the university press – and which she is the editor.
“Many people in the university publishing house have been involved in memory projects,” she said. “‘Three Days in July’ is just one example.”
Translating and creating subtitles for “Three Days in July” was far from easy. From the outset, Cate-Arries’ translation class of 15 students has worked in teams of two. They each estimated they averaged about 40 hours outside of the classroom painstakingly preparing the film in just 30 days.
“Going into it I didn’t necessarily think it was going to be easier than it was, but I don’t think I was ready for the start ... stop … start … stop … start … stop,” said Kyle McQuillan ’17. “It was a very tedious process, especially the original transcription, where you have to listen to the same sentence over and over, and transcribing two minutes can take three hours because you’re trying to separate what sounds like one word but is actually four because they dropped every consonant.”
Emily Kate Earls ’18 added that even slowing down the film didn’t help.
“One man’s voice was unintelligible at regular speed and Darth Vader-like when slowed,” she said.
Other obstacles included coming to an understanding of the history of the times, peoples’ extensive use of unfamiliar military jargon, accents found in southern Spain far different from the standard and recognizing street names and locations in obscure areas.
In addition, students faced a moral as well as structural imperative that many never anticipated.
“These people are talking about the most awful thing that happened in their family’s life, the most traumatic events, and we had to both maintain that heaviness, while also making it succinct in making it a subtitle so someone could read it and move on,” Molly Bertolacini ’17 said. “It was incredibly cool and incredibly difficult at the same time.”
Subtitling the film in English, Cate-Arries said, will give it world-wide exposure it wouldn’t otherwise receive.
“Spanish limits the audience,” she explained. “Two research assistants here at William & Mary – Robert Bohnke ’17 and Michael Le ’15 – did subtitles on a [previous] documentary, and, subsequently, filmmaker Juan León Moriche was able to enter it in a New York human rights film festival. It didn’t win, but organizers liked it enough to include it in a Civil War film festival this fall. That meant the world to the director because he never could have shown his film in the United States.”
For one student, Allison Esquen-Roca ’17, the stories told offered an eerie and disturbing familiarity.
“The reason my family is in the U.S. in the first place is because of the terrorism that took place in Peru,” she said. “Just like some people in this film, [Peruvians] were killed or hurt because of their political ties. That happened in my family. My uncle was a mayor and he got shot on his way to work. Our family was harassed for a long time.
“So it was nice to look at this film, see these stories, and know that we were part of that process where these stories could actually be presented in front of an English-speaking audience that had no knowledge of this before.”