We felt a bit out of our depth heading into UM's screening of Granito: How to Nail a Dictator at the Bill Cosford Cinema last night. The documentary is a follow-up to When the Mountains Tremble, a doc that courageous young director Pamela Yates produced in the early '80s, exposing the violent genocide waged by the Guatemalan government on hundreds of thousands of its indigenous people.
Why did we feel so insecure? Well, because A) we never saw the first film and B) we don't know anything about Guatemala. At all.
Luckily, the layers of the story unfolded slowly, letting the tireless efforts made by
humanitarians and survivors of the violence in Guatemala shine for all viewers -- educated or not. By film's end, we felt confident that we had something to contribute to the talk-back with Yates and producer Paco De Onis. That is, until an audience member named Dunia raised her hand to share her personal connection to the story: She was responsible for babysitting one of the film's key players, Alejandra Garcia, on the day her father "got disappeared" by the police in Guatemala. Dunia broke into tears, and we hesitated before speaking. How the hell do you follow that?
But on a less selfish note, Dunia's story brought into sharp focus exactly how personal this story of oppression and loss is for some Guatemalans.
As a non-traditional "sequel," Granito contains quite a bit of footage from its pioneering sister, When the Mountains Tremble, including narration of a personal story -- and, by extension, all Guatemalans' story -- by a courageous Mayan woman named Rigoberta Menchu. (Menchu traveled to many countries after the release of the first film, educating people about what happened in Guatemala, and went on the win the Nobel Peace Prize ten years later.)
"What happened," to be brief, is that the government wanted to claim the land inhabited by the country's indigenous people for its own use, and rather than risk an uprising of displaced Indians, decided to slaughter them instead. Soldiers burned down houses and shot men women and children in cold blood. They kidnapped, tortured, and killed members and suspected members of guerrilla armies who planned to fight for a better Guatemala.
Thirty years later, Yates' has not gotten over her Guatemalan experience. The land, she says, has "wrapped its arms around [her] soul and won't let go." No one has been brought to justice for the bloodshed. So Yates and an eclectic crew -- international lawyers, a passionate, Bronx-born archaeologist, a former guerrilla leader, and old comrades from her six-month stint in Guatemala in 1982 -- are not giving up until Rios Montt and others responsible for the heinous crimes that occurred during his 17-month rule are made to pay.
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Freddy Peccerelli, director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (and extractor of many unidentified bones) said Guatemala will not heal until its aggressors are made to pay for their crimes. Happily, the country is one step closer to achieving that peace; just last week, Rios Montt was charged with the displacement of 29,000 people, the slaughter of 1,771 people, and nearly 1,500 acts of sexual violence against women. It's the first time a Latin American head of state has ever faced such extreme charges. Yates' work, and the work of her colleagues, made this unprecedented trial possible.
>"It's not only about Guatemala, but about the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movements," said Yates after the screening's close. "Everyone has something to contribute if we can throw ourselves into activity."