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Dictator Nailed By Film


GUATEMALA CITY – In a historical conviction last Friday, the former president of Guatemala Efraín Ríos Montt, 86, was sentenced to 80 years in prison for overseeing and commanding the deaths of close to 2 000 people during Guatemala's civil conflict in the beginning of the 1980s.

The Guatemalan civil conflict lasted from 1960 to 1996, and it resulted in more than 200 000 disappeared or murdered men, women and children. More than 80 percent of these were of indigenous Mayan descent. Ríos Montt was in power from 1982 to 1983, and he was a close ally of President Reagan in fighting the rise of communism in Central America. He took power in a military coup and vowed to crush the leftist guerrilla movement.

During the trial, a number of witnesses testified that soldiers under Montt's control conducted mass killings, torture and rape around the town of Nebaj, with many villages being burnt down and thousands of residents fleeing to the highlands seeking refuge.

The conviction is not only an important step of justice for the families whose loved ones disappeared forever, but also a veritable sign that, increasingly, committing genocide will not go unpunished, even in a region where impunity for war crimes still remains the norm.

Independent documentary filmmakers can be especially proud of the conviction, since part of the evidence in the trial stemmed from the film "When The Mountains Tremble" by Pamela Yates, shot during the genocide. The film featured exclusive material from the conflict after Yates embedded with both the national military and the guerrillas. An interview in the film with ex-President Ríos Montt was also a significant piece of evidence – in the interview, when asked whether there was repression against peasants in the highlands and if he was commanding it, Montt stated that if he as president does not control the army, then who does?

The film that tells the story of how material from "When the Mountains Tremble" was re-examined and investigated almost 30 years after its production for use in the genocide trial, "Granito – How To Nail A Dictator", received the Cinema for Peace Award for Justice 2012.

We invite you to watch the following trailers on the topic of Guatemala and its civil conflict:

  • GRANITO - HOW TO NAIL A DICTATOR, winner of the Cinema for Peace Award for Justice 2012, tells the extraordinary story of how a film, aiding a new generation of human rights activists, became a granito — a tiny grain of sand — that helped tip the scales of justice.
  • WHEN THE MOUNTAINS TREMBLE, filmed in 1982 at the height of the Guatemalan Army's repression against the Mayan indigenous people, has become a classic political documentary. It describes the struggle of the largely Indian peasantry against a heritage of state and foreign oppression.
  • DISCOVERING DOMINGA. When 27-year-old Iowa housewife Denese Becker decides to return to the Guatemalan village where she was born, she begins a journey towards finding her roots, but one filled with harrowing revelations. Denese, born Dominga, was nine when she became her family's sole survivor of a massacre of Maya peasants.