In the tradition of Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle Of Algiers, Melvin Van Peebles Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song and Sam Greenlees’s The Spook Who Sat By The Door, Vagabond’s MACHETERO is a meditation on violence as a means toward liberation. Post 9/11 definitions, ideas and notions of terrorism are challenged in this highly controversial and experimental film. Machetero is an allegorical narrative that follows French journalist Jean Dumont, played by Isaach de Bankolé (The Keeper, Ghost Dog, Manderlay, The Limits Of Control), to a New York prison where he interviews Pedro Taino, a so-called "Puerto Rican Terrorist" played by Not4Prophet (lead singer of the Puerto Punk band RICANSTRUCTION). Pedro is a self-described Machetero fighting to free Puerto Rico from the yoke of United States colonialism. He is obsessed with freedom, freedom for his country, his people and for himself. Jean questions Pedro about his decisions to use violence as a means to achieve that freedom. Jean utilizes a global perspective in questioning Pedro, referencing examples of achieving his goals through more peaceful means. However Jean soon finds that Pedro is well versed in liberation struggles from around the world and their debate over the use of violence as a catalyst for change escalates.
As Jean and Pedro speak, another story unfolds. A ghetto youth played by Kelvin Fernandez (in his first starring role) grows up in the streets doing what he has to do to survive. The ghetto youth crosses paths with Pedro who sees the potential in him. Pedro tries to provide the means for him to grow into the next generation of Machetero by giving him a pamphlet he wrote called the Anti-Manifesto. The ghetto youth reads the Anti-Manifesto and it reawakens a revolutionary spirit instilled in him from childhood by a mentor in Puerto Rico (played by former Puerto Rican Prisoner of War Dylcia Pagan, who served 20 years in US prisons). The ghetto youth develops into a young rebel driven by the cause to liberate his people. As Jean and Pedro’s debate rages on, the cycle of violence that begins in the exploitation and subjugation of imperialism becomes complete in the life of another ghetto youth turned revolutionary.
The structure of Machetero is built around songs from “Liberation Day”, a concept album centered on the liberation struggle of Puerto Rico, written and preformed by RICANSTRUCTION. The songs in the film took on the quality of a narrative voice becoming a modern day Greek chorus. RICANSTRUCTION also provides a completely improvised original score that moves from hardcore be-bop punk to layered haunting and abstract Afro-Rican rhythms.
Machetero is about terrorism and terrorists, how they are defined and by whom. It is a film that asks us to challenge the way in which we view the events that play out in the world. It is a film about the cyclical nature of violence that is perpetuated by those who choose to oppress and those who no longer wish to be oppressed.
MACHETERO won six award at festivals around the world on four continents. It won awards in South Africa, Wales, England, Thailand, Ireland and New York.