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Film Update

Striving to balance her family life in Iowa with what she's learned about her past, Denese is working to build support for justice in Guatemala.

  • July 8, 2003

Since filming was completed on Discovering Dominga, much has changed in Denese Joy Becker's life, and much has not changed at all. She still works as a manicurist in Algona, with regular clients who have followed the film from the beginning, and new clients who hear about it for the first time. She shares care of her growing boys, Sturling and Skylar, with Blane, from whom she is now divorced. She stays in touch with her cousin Mary mostly by phone, as Mary's truck brokerage business schedule is as busy as Denese's at Merle Norman, and besides, travel is a cost neither can afford easily. Most of all, Denese would like to take the boys someday to Guatemala, to meet their relatives, to see where Denese was born, and where their Guatemalan grandparents are buried.

"I get the idea that people do care," says Denese, when she attends showings of the film. She has begun speaking at events around the film, and on a recent short tour in the United States with Jesús Tecú Osorio, the eyewitness who told Denese what happened on the mountain, and who has recently published a book about the massacre (read an excerpt). The public appearances are still new to Denese, who is only slowly leaving her shyness behind, "but the more I do it the better I'll get." She wants the film to move people to action, she says. "I don't want to just hear, 'nice film, I'm sorry that happened to you.' I don't need pity, I need support in seeking justice for my people in Guatemala."

Meanwhile in Guatemala, the human rights situation appears to be once again deteriorating. The Maya priest who performed the ceremony at the massacre site the year before we filmed has been assassinated, as have other Maya priests in the last year. The Maya priest who appears in Discovering Dominga is among those who have been threatened by unknown persons. The indigenous priests and healers of the communities are those who often hold the history and customs most closely to their hearts. The fact that they are at risk is worrisome. Others in the film are also living with new threats — Jesús Tecú Osorio, Carlos Chen, and members of the forensic team.

The genocide trial against the generals, in which Denese decides to testify in the film, is moving forward rapidly. The special prosecutor has now finished interviewing all 102 witnesses. The legal team has almost completed its analysis of the chain of command, necessary to show culpability at the very top. It is still waiting for exhumations in the Ilom area, north of Rabinal of the graves of children who died of hunger fleeing the massacres. Genocide, says one of the legal team members, is not just the massacre, but the conditions — sometimes quickly fatal — in which survivors were left. The case may go to oral trial by the end of 2003. [For more information about the progress of the cases, visit www.justiceforgenocide.org ].

— Mary Jo McConahay
— Co-producer





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