Join Our Mailing List

Bookmark and Share


Maria's Story


 Indulge in a DVD
 Movie events
 Get the latest news
 What others are saying...

Pamela Cohen has been producing social issue and educational documentaries for the past 25 years. Other films include In the Name of Democracy (1984), and Hope Street (1994). She currently teaches media arts and visual arts in Los Angeles.

Monona Wali is a writer and teacher living in Los Angeles.

San Francisco based Catherine Ryan has been producing, directing and editing awarding-winning documentaries for over 20 years. In addition to Maria’s Story her other films include: Soldiers of Conscience (2009) and The Double Life of Ernesto Gómez Gómez (1999). Ryan has also produced and directed documentaries for primetime network TV, including  The Story of Mothers & Daughters (1997, ABC), The Story of Fathers & Sons (1999, ABC) and Teens (2000, WB).

Picture: "Last day of shoot Maria's Story, 1989." Left to right, Producer/Director Pamela Cohen, Maria Serrano, Director Monona Wali, Cameraman, John Knoop, Manuel of the FMLN.

Purchasing Links

Maria's Story: A Documentary Portrait of Love and Survival in El Salvador's Civil War
Produced by Pamela Cohen and Catherine M. Ryan
Directed by Monona Wali and Pamela Cohen
ISBN: 978-1-60486-322-2
UPC: 760137497295
Published: April 2010
Format: NTSC DVD (English/Spanish)
Size: 7.5 by 5.5
Length: 60 Minutes
Subjects: Politics, Latin America


It is El Salvador, 1989, three years before the end of a brutal civil war that took 75,000 lives. Maria Serrano, wife, mother, and guerrilla leader is on the frontlines of the battle for her people and her country. With unprecedented access to FMLN guerrilla camps, the filmmakers dramatically chronicle Maria's daily life in the war as she travels from village to village organizing the peasant population, and helps plan a major nationwide offensive that led the FMLN into the historic peace pact of 1992. Skirting bullets and mortar attacks, recounting a childhood of poverty and abuse by government troops, suffering the tragic loss of her daughter to enemy fire, and spending precious moments with her husband and surviving daughters, Maria brings viewers to the heart of the fight for a more just society.

This critically acclaimed and award-winning film first aired on the PBS Documentary Series, P.O.V. in 1991. Revolutionary in its making, Maria’s Story broke ground as one of the first documentaries to use small format video. Traveling with only backpacks and solar powered batteries and living on the run with the guerrillas for two months, the filmmakers were able to capture otherwise unattainable footage.  The resulting intimate portrait of Maria and her compatriots reveals a universal tale of love and survival in times of war.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the film is available for the first time on DVD. Included is an update of Maria Serrano and her family twenty years after the end of the civil war.

DVD contains both English and Spanish versions

Produced by Pamela Cohen and Catherine M. Ryan, Directed by Monona Wali and Pamela Cohen, Camera John Knoop, Featuring English Voiceovers by Alma Martinez and Edward James Olmos.

  • Official Selection, Sundance Film Festival 1991
  • Best Documentary, Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana
  • Best Documentary, San Antonio Cine Festival
  • Silver Hugo, Chicago Film Festival
  • Official Selection, Rotterdam Film Festival 



"Documentary at its most illuminating and succinct”
--Los Angeles Times

“As the camera jiggles and the bullets fly one comes as close to combat as one will ever get in the movie theater.”
--San Francisco Examiner

“An emotionally powerful film which communicates from the heart.”
--San Francisco Bay Times

Buy this DVD now | Read DVD reviews


For a calendar of speaking events, please click here  


An FMLN Woman’s Story of Courage and Conviction, 20 Years Later
By: Lynn Stephen
September 20, 2010

While María and her daughters are pursuing traditional paths for women—in teaching and nursing—their legacy is to help people on a daily basis in concrete ways that can change their personal situations. As such, the update provides us with hope that many more young women will be able to make such choices and others without the decade of pain this family went through. At a larger level, the update puts the film back into a space of hopefulness and anticipation with the first FMLN president taking office. Let us hope that he can help to make María’s dream of food, health, and education for all a reality in El Salvador. 
Maria's Story is "mesmerizing" says Aguilar on PMR
By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review
September 4, 2010

Maria’s Story avoids making this a tale of a woman humanizing the revolution through her gender, but of a fighter humanizing the revolution by seeing what poverty and suffering have wrought upon her people. This approach has a variety of effects, but most notably in Maria’s Story, viewers get a glimpse into a movement where gender is a consideration, but clearly so many women are actively involved in the revolution that relegated roles or gendered assumptions are tossed aside, at least in the film. Serrano effectively articulates the objectives of the revolution of the time, and reminds viewers that the guerrillas’ world is hardly glamorous. That larger purpose, she indicates, pushes them forward despite the miseries they face.
Maria’s Story and its role in the technological history of documentary filmmaking
September 20, 2008

At their best, documentary films provide us with points-of-view we could not, or would not (possibly due to ideological bias), ever see on our own. They are extensions of our collective selves that allow us to share social reality with others, and the evolution of cameras from analog film, to analog video, and finally to digital video has made it possible to show so much more, to go places that we could not have gone before. Maria’s Story was made at a very important inflection point in this history, among the first films to show us a social reality we would not have been able to see here in the United States had it not been for the introduction of viable prosumer camcorder with decent image and audio quality from Sony.
'Maria's Story' Untold...So Far
By Howard Rosenberg
Los Angeles Times
July 28, 1989

Words from a woman named Maria:

"There are four things in life that I don't think you can understand unless you experience them: One is childbirth. The second is seeing a loved one killed in the war. The third is running through army fire to safety. The fourth is living through a helicopter landing of hundreds of government troops."

Read More | Buy DVD now | Back to reviews | Back to top  

'Maria's Story' is Salvador's Struggle
By Kevin Thomas
Los Angeles Times
December 07, 1990

"Maria's Story" (Monica 4-Plex), an example of the documentary at its most illuminating and succinct, introduces us to a remarkable and engaging woman, a dynamic 39-year-old Salvadoran peasant--a wife and mother of three who has become a charismatic guerrilla leader.

Read More | Buy DVD now | Back to reviews | Back to top   

Maria's Story
By Hal Hinson
The Washington Post
June 28, 1991 

In some parts of the globe, walls have come down, wars have been won, but in others, the struggle continues. This is the point that "Maria's Story" encourages us to remember; it's lest-we-forget filmmaking.

Read More | Buy DVD now | Back to reviews | Back to top  

Story Options


Quick Access to:



New Releases

Featured Releases

The Unknown Revolution: 1917-1921

The Road Through San Judas