Back in 1982, the young Pamela Yates headed to Guatemala with Newton Thomas Siegel to document the government's ongoing, U.S. government-backed genocide of the indigenous Mayan people, and the guerilla war that was being fought. Perhaps only in the way young, naive filmmakers could, Yates and Siegel gained unprecedented access to high figures on both sides of the conflict, meeting with guerilla leaders in the mountains and forests to learn their side of the struggle, and more shockingly, even earning camera time with general Rios Montt, the man largely believed to be behind thousands and thousands of murders and responsible for many to become disappeared, never to be seen again. The resulting film, "When The Mountains Tremble," premiered at the very first Sundance Film Festival and from there became a rallying point around which awareness was raised worldwide, leading to activist Rigoberta Menchu (a central figure in the doc) earning the Nobel Peace Prize ten years later. Now, three decades on, "When The Mountains Tremble" continues to reverberate, providing some crucial evidence that may finally see Montt pay for the crimes he committed so long ago.
But before a proper warrant can be issued, the Constituional Court Of Spain wants to ensure they have a rock-solid case to move forward, and investigative judge Santiago Pedraz wants to see as much evidence as possible linking the atrocities in Guatemala to the high command's orders. Over the next year or so, survivors are brought in to tell their story to Pedraz; of what they witnessed, and endured, and it's harrowing, moving stuff (at one point, Pedraz says he's often felt like crying during these meetings) and Bernabeu and her team continue to assemble and find more and more evidence, with eye-opening proof coming from extensive police archives, mass graves and excised footage from "When The Mountains Tremble." As these things unfortunately go, progress is slow, and extraditing Montt from Guatemala proves to be no easy task.
While 'Granito' never quite lives up to it's bold and overly optimistic subtitle 'How To Nail A Dictator' (when the credits roll, there is still a long way to go before justice is ultimately served), the documentary is a tribute to the pursuit of righting a terrible wrong, and to the spirit of those who selflessly act in the names of others. While North America was gripped momentarily by the Occupy movement last year, and Quebec is currently embroiled in the Printemps Erable, 'Granito' is a reminder that in other parts of the world, death is a bracing reality for those who speak out (death threats still arrive to those digging into the horrors of the past in contemporary Guatemala). 'Granito' is powerful document about the endurance required of this struggle, with decades now stretching in search of closure in Guatemala. And while that task can be wearying, there is comfort in the fact that in this instance, tyranny was unable to silence the voices of the righteous. [B+]
"Granito: How To Nail A Dictator" airs on PBS tonight at 10 PM.