WATCHED POT: a docu-series about U.S. intervention abroad

If, like me, you grew up in the U.S., it’s likely you’ve heard the phrase before.

“A watched pot never boils,” perhaps your mother or grandmother told you, admonishing your childish impatience. If one is too attending, too eager, too singularly focused, time will slow; the meal won’t progress.

But when I hear that adage now, I hear something else in those words. Perhaps because of the way we’ve long spoken about global politics and simmering unrest, the phrase sounds to me like a different kind of warning: one not from the pot to the watcher, but from the watcher to the pot — a sober promise from the U.S. to the rest of the world that under it’s vigilant, meddling eye the globe will never bubble into chaos, into Communism, into backwardness. Of course, what that promise really means is that with the U.S. at the helm, the world will never bubble up into something that threatens the U.S.’ own interest and stake in power.

Introducing Watched Pot: a docu-series

What is it?

WATCHED POT is a new independent docu-series that will explore past and present U.S. imperialism around the world, probe lesser-told stories of intervention, exploitation and covert takedowns, while also offering a wider portrait of each country, its local perspectives and customs, its beauty and pain, its rich cultures of food.

Who is making it?

Me, Amelia! I’m a former newspaper reporter who has been working independently for two years while slow-traveling through Central America. I live out of a backpack. I support myself by writing for my own website and for various publications through freelance. Before the Coronavirus era struck, I had been living in El Salvador for more than nine months while working on Episode 1 (see bottom of page).

What made you want to explore this theme?

The narrative of the U.S. as Benevolent Global Savior is powerful. It’s taught to us in schools; it’s reinforced in movies, in songs, in the way most U.S. publications report the news. The idea of American exceptionalism is so prevalent and effective that it’s almost omni-present: we no longer notice when it’s being fed to us, only the gaping hole when it’s absent.

Because of this indoctrination, we don’t much like to talk about U.S. failures, bad intentions and violations that clash with the American narrative — which is why many of us don’t even know the tales of U.S. involvement in and instigation of secret conflicts, economic warfare, regime change and vast human rights abuses all around the globe.

Travel — encountering new histories and hearing new perspectives — helped changed that for me, altering how I view my own country while refining how I think of “evidence” and what I view as “fact.” As I’ve continued my education through books and films, I’ve grown frustrated at my own lack of knowledge after doing what I thought were the “right” things in order to stay informed: attending college, running in liberal, conscious social circles. It wasn’t just that there was so much I didn’t know. It was that I, like so many others, didn’t even question that there was more to the story. I believed I had the information. Growing up in a country of great privilege, the very threads I would need to pull to investigate and learn were invisible to me.

I’m still learning. As a citizen of the U.S. — a country whose historical and present influence is so extensive as to encompass a breadth of data almost beyond our capacity for comprehension — I believe the education should never stop. As the saying goes, history is written by the victors; in the case of much of the world’s history, that means the perspective of white, U.S. military and economic winners is the version that prevails.

I began Watched Pot as a way to share what I’ve learned, while continuing to uncover pieces of our history that are new to me, too. As a U.S. American, I feel it’s my duty: to listen, to try to understand, to at the very least know where we have been, what we have done and the impact our actions have had. Because if we don’t know our own history, we can’t possibly hope to change the future.

Where is it filmed?

Each episode will take place in a different country and tell a unique story about U.S. impact. Episode 1 is from El Salvador (see below). While Coronavirus has everyone’s plans in a holding pattern, it’s likely that other early episodes will also be set in Latin America.

When does Episode 1 come out and where can we watch it?

Episode 1 will be released sometime in 2020. Thanks to the global Coronavirus pandemic, the final stages of filming Episode 1 have been paused, but I hope to continue the process soon. The episode will be available online with a final broadcast partner; watch this space for further announcements about those specifics.

How is this project funded?

Watched Pot is entirely funded through crowdsourcing. Episode 1 has a budget of $10,500 and of that we have raised $9450 (as of May 2020), mostly through individual donations of $50. (Thank you!!)

As I am working exclusively with Salvadorans on this project, 100 percent of the raised funds go either directly to Salvadoran individuals or to Salvadoran-owned businesses. (I am not compensating for my own labor or making income of any kind.)

How can I support this project? 

You can sponsor Episode 1 from El Salvador for $50 below, and receive a credit in the final production.

I rely on sponsors like you to help offset the enormous costs of this production — payments for my field coordinator, videographer, audio designer and animator, for gas, food and housing for my crew on road trips, for extensive equipment rentals, for on-the-ground assistance in every locale, for soundtrack subscriptions and original purchases and more. (I am not compensating for my own labor or making income of any kind.)

Interested in what I’m doing?

Consider lending support by sponsoring my docu-series project.

$50.00

Episode 1: El Salvador

Episode 1 takes place in El Salvador, where the U.S. government’s massive influence during the civil war (1980-92) created dire results, the lasting effects of which contribute to the current-day gang crisis and stream of migration.

Although awareness about the U.S.’ role in El Salvador’s civil war is very low, the conflict in fact represented America’s largest counter-insurgency campaign after Vietnam and before Afghanistan.

I spent nine months in the country, studying the history and traveling through big cities and small towns, filming both the heartbreak and the resilience of those who were affected most by the war, while also cooking with locals and learning their traditional recipes, hiking into abandoned villages and discovering decades-old artifacts still lying, untouched, on the earth.

The El Salvador episode will look at life across the country, but the historical narrative will focus on the massacre in El Mozote and the surrounding villages in northeastern El Salvador.

There, in December of 1981, more than 1,500 civilians — most of them children — were killed by the Salvadoran army in the span of three days, making this one of the worst massacres and human rights abuses in modern Latin American history.

But this is our history, too: the government soldiers who committed this atrocity were trained by, armed by, funded by and took orders from the U.S. government.

Look for this episode to stream online sometime in 2020.

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Day 9 of shooting⁣ ⁣ Back in El Mozote, we followed Eduardo — a friend from my last trip there — as he showed us the hills surrounding the village where bodies continue to be found. If you’ve actually studied the El Mozote massacre, perhaps you’ve heard the number 1,000 — “nearly 1,000 civilians killed” is quoted in about every book and news story. ⁣ ⁣ But the people of El Mozote know better. “It was closer to 1,600,” Eduardo told me. There, 38 years later, they’re still trying to tell the world the truth of the day when a U.S. trained/funded/directed battalion of the Salvadoran army marched in and murdered all but a handful of survivors in the total surrounding area. There will be another exhumation soon— expect that number to rise. Because people were killed everywhere, Eduardo knows he could be walking over the ground where his family members lie.⁣ ⁣ We ascended the hill in search of bullets from that fateful day in 1981. I didn’t expect to find anything — but we did: four more, to add to the mountain collected all these years later. I found one myself, tucked in a crevice, defying time.

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This is Sofía. She lives in El Mozote, a village of 75 in NE El Salvador, a place she loved enough to return to in the early 2000s. Sofía is pretty god-damned strong. Considering the context, many of us would likely never go back.⁣ ⁣ It’s here, amongst the red clay hills & flush groves of fruit trees where she was raised & from where she fled, hurriedly, at the age of 18 in 1981 when her father feared trouble from the army. He took Sofía & 3 of her 7 younger siblings to San Miguel, finding them a room with a mattress & providing a month’s worth of money to survive while he returned home to retrieve their mother & their other siblings. When he returned, it was too late. Before the family could plot another escape, the Salvadoran army — a battalion armed, funded & trained by the U.S. gov’t — had entered the village. ⁣ ⁣ On Dec. 11, 1981, 38 years ago last week, the soldiers coaxed everyone in the surrounding areas to the town square with promises of food — and killed them all. Sofia’s family did not make it — in fact, only a single survivor in El Mozote did; Rufina Amaya, who lived to carry the story.⁣ ⁣ 18-year-old Sofía had no full understanding of what had happened (both U.S. & ES gov’ts worked hard to minimize & deny early accounts). When she finally learned scraps of details through whispers, she kept them to herself. To tell the story was to accept a death warrant. People who “knew” continued to disappear. So Sofía told the story to no one until 2010, when the first FMLN government came to power.⁣ ⁣ These days, Sofía maintains a small restaurant in the beautiful, earth-floored, open-aired kitchen of her home. She kills chickens w/ her bare hands for soup, & makes a mean tamale. She’s full of love & smiles & hospitality, & after meeting her on my 1st trip in Oct, she’s been the “keeper” of sorts for my team & I on our 2 return trips — feeding us & vouching for us around town. Every time she tells the story, she cries. She’s considered one of the luciérnagas, fireflies, bringing light to a story that had so much darkness for so long.⁣ ⁣ Sofía, I’ll never forget. ❤️

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