PerSo Award

By Marlén Viñayo
El Salvador, 2020, 36’

Tuesday 5th october Cinema Zenith – 16.45
Friday 8th october PostModernissimo – 22.30 (replica)

Original title: Imperdonable
Director: Marlén Viñayo
Production Company: El Faro & La Jaula Abierta
Writers: Carlos Martínez & Marlén Viñayo
Producers: Marlén Viñayo & Carlos Martínez
Executive producer: José Luis Sanz
Editor: Andrea Bilbao
Cinematographer: Neil Brandvold
Sound design: Eduardo Cáceres
Original music: Omnionn


Geovany is 25 years old and became a murderer when he was 12. He was a ruthless hitman for the 18th Street gang and nowadays he is incarcerated at the San Francisco Gotera prison in western El Salvador, which is exclusively dedicated to detaining gang criminals. In 2017, almost all inmates converted to evangelical Christianity. Like them, Geovany has withdrawn from his gang. But while the church has no difficulty accepting his violent past, the fact that he loves another man is regarded as a sin for which he can’t be forgiven. This intimate short film shows Geovany living in an isolated cell where he and other gay men are protected from their fellow inmates. Conflicting emotions arise from his wish to be transferred to a prison with a special section for LGBTQ+ inmates. The fact that he’ll have to part with his boyfriend, who feels too ashamed of his sexual orientation to follow him, fills him with sorrow.


I have lived in El Salvador for 7 years, in which I have tried to assimilate and understand a daily life that still seems to me extreme, wild, and a society that has learned to live in the middle of a normality full of violence and cruelty that were alien to me before I arrived in the country. The main agents of this violence are the gangs, and the majority of stories that are told to the world from El  Salvador relate the war between these criminal structures and the way in which it defines Salvadoran society. It is one of the best known, studied and explained topics about this region. For that reason, and because I considered that I had nothing new to contribute, I had never thought of making a documentary related to that subject. However, when my husband – a Salvadoran journalist specialized in gangs issues – told me, astonished, about those peculiar prisoners who inhabited a small isolation cell inside a gang prison, I knew I had a story that had not been told before, through which I could add a new and unique perspective. 

Although the two main Salvadoran gangs, Mara Salvatrucha 13 and 18th Street gang, are fighting a deadly war with each other, they share norms and values that regulate their internal life. One of those norms is that gangs consider homosexuality a shameful aberration and therefore they punish it with death, with death by torture. All the inmates of that isolation cell were gang members and were isolated for having openly expressed their homosexuality. The very fact that they existed seemed incredible to me. I wondered why someone would integrate a criminal organization that hates their identity in such a way; I wondered even if inside that tiny cell they finally feel free; I wondered about his own notions of masculinity in a macho culture. But all those questions were overshadowed when, during filming, one of them told us:  “Killing a man is not that difficult, but loving one that’s something unnatural”.

In what kind of society is that idea conceivable? That man was giving us a deep explanation of his own world and I decided that through this film I would try to make sense of that sentence. The result is a documentary that portrays how far a society can break down and pervert the notions of right and wrong, love and hate, acceptable and repudiable, forgivable and unforgivable. A story whose protagonist lives on the boundaries of everything mentioned above and that today is still impossible for me to define with certainty what I myself feel for them. 


Marlén Viñayo is a Spanish documentary filmmaker based in El Salvador. She has a degree in Audiovisual Communication at Carlos III University (Madrid) and a masters degree in Documentary Filmmaking at ESCAC (Barcelona). She has worked for PBS Frontline, CCTV Americas Now and Telemundo, among others. She has lived in El Salvador since 2013, where she founded her production company La Jaula Abierta. Her feature debut, Cachada – The Opportunity (2019) won the Audience Award at  SXSW Film Festival 2019 and Latitude Award at DocsBarcelona among many others, and was selected at more than 60 International Film Festivals as Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Göteborg Film Festival, Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival or Heartland Film Festival. Unforgivable (2020) is her second film and it was awarded as Best Short Documentary at IDFA 2020, Hot Docs 2020, Palm Springs International ShortFest 2021, Slamdance 2021, Guanajuato International Film Festival 2020,  Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival 2021 and POY Latam 2020, where Marlén was also awarded as Ibero American Filmmaker of the Year. Unforgivable was nominated as Best Short at IDA Documentary Awards and  Official Selection at Telluride, AFI Docs, RIDM, Denver and DMZ Docs, among others.