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Retelling Truth: Documentary Film as Witness and Evidence in Genocide Trials

17062729678_ed6c4e6364_z-560x374Last April, Pam joined Guatemalan filmmaker Izabel Acevedo in panel discussion about the role that documentary can play in talking about the civil war and genocide trials in Guatemala, in an event moderated by Prof. Peter Lucas as part of the ongoing Guatemala Después Exhibit at the New School. Pam screened excerpts from Dictator in the Dock, the 23-episode series that Skylight published on the Ríos Montt trial in May 2013, while Izabel showed parts of El mico de noche (The night monkey) and her first feature film The Good Christian, about Ríos Montt.

Part of the event’s power stemmed from the fact that it brought together two documentary filmmakers who covered the same historical event — the Efraín Ríos Montt trial in May of 2013 — in drastically different styles. The footage, while in the same locations, with the same people, shot at the same time, was remarkably different. While Pam’s work focused much more on the legal proceedings — the testimonies of the witnesses, the histrionics of the defense, and the remarkable case built by the prosecution — Izabel’s work is much more anthropological in its nature, visually and thematically exploring what the trial revealed about broader Guatemalan society, and the interaction between indigenous, mestizo and elite strata.

View the livestream recording here:

The questions and answers that followed the presentation were also fertile ground for further exploring the issues raised in both filmmakers’ work. Audience members asked why to focus on Ríos Montt, if the issue is a racist system, and how the guilty verdict may have changed racism in Guatemala.

If you’re interested in hearing more, watch the Livestream!

Nora Christiani

Nora is the Outreach Director at Skylight.

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