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.
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