Sohmer’s “Living Documents” probes murder

When the debut film of Mallory Sohmer, Pixel Brothers’ production manager, premieres on The Documentary Channel Aug. 3, at 9 p.m., it culminates a three year project that began as a school assignment.

“The Living Documents” is about Nicaraguan attorney Maria Acosta, whose husband was brutally murdered in 2002, allegedly as retribution for Acosta’s defense of the land rights of indigenous communities on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast.

“From a documentarian’s perspective, it had all the elements for feature film plot: family, politics, murder, a love story,” says Sohmer.

The 35-minute film details how Acosta’s representation of the indigenous Nicaraguans drew her to the attention of Peter Tsokos, a U.S.-based businessman, who was selling their land via his website.

The weapon used to murder Acosta’s husband, Frank Garcia, was registered in the name of Tsokos’ business associate, and one of his former bodyguards was identified as the killer.

However, Nicaraguan courts suddenly dropped the case, and Acosta has endured a long fight to bring justice to her husband’s murderers.

“I’ve always wanted to make socially-conscious films. It was so outrageous to me that all of this happened and no one was doing anything about it,” says Sohmer, who started the project as part of her 2005 “Indigenous Filmmaking” class at Columbia College.

Sohmer found the story after some preliminary research. She contacted Acosta via Email, not yet realizing that she would eventually devote years of her life to capturing the story.

However, Sohmer claims it’s unlikely she would have pursued the project without Acosta’s encouragement in the Emails they traded for a year before filming began.

“Maria was very persistent,” say Sohmer. “She was willing to do whatever it took to get more people to know about Frank’s murder. Her enthusiasm definitely helped to inspire me.”

Sohmer worked a second job as a waitress to raise the funds to travel to Nicaragua, and borrowed sound equipment from Pixel Brothers for the month-long trip.

She felt getting a grant would be so unlikely “that I would be wasting my time when I could just earn the cash,” she says. “I had no track record as a filmmaker so I didn’t see it as a feasible way of funding the film.”

Acosta was integral in connecting Sohmer to interviewees and crewmembers within Nicaragua, including DP Edwin Reed Sanchez, whom she met for the first time at the airport.

Sanchez shot 45 hours of footage on a DVX100, including a revelatory interview with Tsokos’ associate Peter Martinez that “made the film” for Sohmer and may be key to seeing justice done in the case.