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Granito: How to Nail a Dictator

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Contribute Your Own "Granito" to Change

The title of the film Granito: How to Nail a Dictator comes from a Mayan concept of social change, that each person contributes a tiny grain of sand, and together those granitos can change a landscape. Learn how you can contribute to your own granito to change and raise awareness of the Guatemalan genocide.
  • Contribute your granito by getting involved in the Granito: Every Memory Matters online archive. Realize the power of media to create social change as director Pamela Yates did by making her film. This project connects Guatemala and the Guatemalan diaspora through an intergenerational, interactive public archive of memories that uncovers the history of the Guatemalan genocide. Interview people in your community using digital recording devices, and contribute to the online archive--you may find your community has more of a connection to Guatemala than you imagined. For a description of this project, and to learn how to get involved visit or email

  • Create your own "granito campaign" to recognize and empower people working to better your community. Base the campaign on the idea underlying the film's title — a Mayan concept that each person contributes a tiny grain of sand, and when those grains of sand join together they can change the landscape. Rigoberta Menchú notes that the concept unites collective and individual struggle, and that in this system no one is more heroic than anyone else; everyone is a hero. Identify and publicize all the heroes in your community and encourage every person to put in his or her own grain of sand.

  • Convene a debate about the use of secret government documents in the prosecution of Ríos Montt and others who have committed atrocities. Address the question of whose interests are served and whose are harmed by keeping government documents about Guatemala classified, as well as general policy in terms of declassifying government documents (including C.I.A. records). Also, ask panelists to address the realities of the digital world, where fewer records are kept on paper. What policies should be developed to ensure that vital documents are preserved?

  • Work with your school district to find ways to include the history of U.S. interventions in Latin America in the secondary school curriculum. Find out what is already included and be prepared to offer resources and training to teachers that would help them fill any gaps.

  • Hold a teach-in on the links between Guatemala's attempt to suppress political organizing among poor and indigenous peoples with similar actions in other Latin American nations (e.g., Chile, Argentina and El Salvador). Ask speakers to discuss the relationship between those events and the current approach of the U.S. government to political leaders in countries like Venezuela and Bolivia. Include opportunities for survivors to tell their stories.

Get informed about the issues in the film and lead a discussion in your community.

Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide

Sometimes a film that sets out to document history actually ends up making history. So it is with Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. Filmmaker Pamela Yates presents a haunting tale, part political thriller, part memoir, of the extermination of nearly 200,000 Guatemalan people, told through the lens of lawyers and activists who have never given up on the quest for justice and strive to hold the murderers accountable.

Yates’ involvement in this quest is unique. As the survivors and activists build an international human rights case against Guatemalan general Efraín Ríos Montt, outtakes from Yates’ 1983 film, When the Mountains Tremble, emerge as critical forensic evidence — a witness to genocide. Granito continues to serve as witness, but this time to the efforts of those who pursue justice.

As an outreach tool, Granito is compelling and rich. The events it documents oblige viewers to confront the legacy of colonialism that damaged indigenous peoples’ rights and the role of the United States in supporting Latin American military dictators. The film also offers insights into the complexities of international law and the difficulties of prosecuting human rights violations, including genocide. But despite its difficult subject matter, the film’s tone is optimistic. It introduces viewers to people who risk their lives in pursuit of justice because they believe that things can change. As they embrace their own power to make a difference, they serve as powerful role models.

Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students will watch a video clip about a young woman whose father disappeared during the Guatemalan dictatorship in 1984 as part of a systematic genocide. They will then discuss the strengths and limitations of oral histories in telling the story of such a complicated tragedy.

Reading List

Delve Deeper

This multi-media resource list, compiled by Sara Franqui of San Diego Public Library, provides a range of perspectives on the issues raised by the POV documentary Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. Read more about Guatemala, Central America, and international law.

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