How A Film Captures a Dictator: Granito

By Esha Chhabra

Photo Courtesy of Granito

Published originally in

Earlier, Dowser reported on Granito, a documentary, which has excavated old footage for a genocide case against ex-Guatemalan dictator General Efrain Rios Montt.   On January 26, 2012, we learned that Guatemalan court, led by Judge Carol Patricia Flores, has decided to prosecute Montt on charges of genocide and put him under house arrest.  A conversation with Pamela Yates, the director of the documentary, who is currently in Guatemala:

Dowser: Were you and the Granito team content with the results?
Yates: We were overjoyed, because this means a paradigm shift for justice in Guatemala.  In the past year, more arrests and convictions for crimes committed during the time of the genocide have been achieved than in the previous 30 years.

Do you know of any other instances where a film was used so prominently in deliberation?
I do know that the first time a film was used as forensic evidence in a genocide case was during the Nuremberg Trials after WWII.  And the footage was filmed by the Nazis themselves.  There may be other crucial instances also the but thing to focus on is how this kind of documentary is so important.  And how film, the visualization of these crimes, can be so powerful evidence.

Was there any snipped of the film that was particularly useful – any particular clip that solidified this evidence?
Yes, it’s the part with Rios Montt [the convicted dictator].  I did an interview with him in June 1982 that we resurrected for Granito.  The interview illustrates that he is at the top of the chain of command and that means he was the one ordering the massacres and the scorched earth policies carried out in the counterinsurgency campaigns.  You can see a clip here from that interview: 

Does the case go further, beyond the Guatemalan court, such as to the ICC?
The best possible place for the Guatemalan genocide case to go forward is in Guatemala.  That way the survivors can see justice being carried out and their suffering is acknowledge.  Inside and outside the courtroom during the Rios Montt hearing, there were hundreds of indigenous people who had come down from the highlands to be part of this historic moment.

What does this mean for you and the team in terms of the Granito project.  Earlier you were working on a website that would collect everyone’s experiences and sew them together digitally.  Are you still going to do that?  Any changes to your work?  Any new additions due to the result of this case?
We’re, of course, going to update the end of the film, adding the Rios Montt indictment.  After all, he is the “dictator” in the How to Nail a Dictator title of our film.  Granito will be broadcast in the US and Canada in June on the PBS Point of View (POV) series.  The premiere of the film will take place in Guatemala City in March.  And our sister digital project Granito: Every Memory Matters, or G.E.M.M is in the beta phase, and will be launched shortly.

Where was the team when the case was going on?  Were you situated here in the US or have you had a chance to visit Guatemala and engage with the locals?
We’re in Guatemala right now.  We had a team filming inside the courtroom when the evidence was presented; Rios Montt was there too.  His defense attorney acknowledged that the massacres took place, which was a big advance.  But, he continued to argue that Rios Montt did not control the officers in the field.  Our footage, however, proves otherwise, and the judge ruled against the defense, putting Rios Montt under house arrest with a $65,000 bail.

Photo credit: Skylight Pictures


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