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An Epic Story Comes Full Circle

Kaxh Mura’l as pictured in Borderland

I went to Guatemala in 1982 to investigate the role of the United States in sponsoring a CIA coup in 1954 that brought down the country’s nascent democracy, trained its military, and ushered in a series of brutal dictatorships friendly to U.S. corporate interests. This initial trip led to our 35 years long commitment to the collaborative creation with Mayan communities of the films When the Mountains Tremble, Granito, and 500 Years. Rigoberta Menchú was our first in-front-of-the-camera collaborator, and she taught me so much. She led the way and told her story, which is why it became a classic of political documentary filmmaking.

Our new documentary, Borderland, is in deep post-production. It is the fourth film in what has now become a Guatemalan quartet which chronicles a saga of Mayan resistance against an entrenched elite bent on seizing Mayan lands and extracting their resources. One of the main stories featured in Borderland is that of environmental defender Kaxh Mura’l.

Kaxh Mura’l translating for me from Maya-Ixil to Spanish at a community screening event for Granito in 2015.

I met Kaxh when he was part of a 20-year effort to stop international mining companies from extracting barite from his ancestral lands. Barite is used in the U.S. in the fracking process that shatters bedrock to extract oil and gas beneath the earth’s surface. Being an environmental defender is brave and risky. When you fight impunity, impunity fights back. So when Kaxh texted me that his life was in danger, I had to act. This was the genesis of our new film Borderland

Like tens of thousands of Indigenous people, Kaxh embarked on the perilous journey to el norte. This new chapter in the resistance saga takes place in the United States, where the Maya diaspora is large and growing. Kaxh was able to connect with Gabriela Castañeda, a nascent national leader of immigration rights who is training a vibrant, young group of women to be leaders within their communities in Texas first as part of The Border Network for Human Rights and now in Pennsylvania as part of MILPA, the Movement for Immigrant Leaders in Pennsylvania.

Gabriela Castañeda as seen in Borderland

Borderland is the story of a growing consciousness, of growing activism, of a new way of immigrants taking control of their lives and, in the process affecting us all.

VIVX Update

After three years of developing the internal private network of defenders, VIVX is launching a public face to seed alternative narratives on environmental, land and human rights defenders and the work they’re doing via a new Instagram account @redvivx.

Follow us there to stay informed about the network’s work to acknowledge front line defenders of our planet as key allies in the climate change movement and to have the defenders speak with a collective voice through VIVX.

Dictator in the Dock 

Photo: Elena Hermosa

Reminder! We’re re-sharing our 23-part series Dictator in the Dock to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the trial of former military dictator General Rios Montt in Guatemala for genocide and crimes against humanity, leading up to the historic verdict that originally came down May 10, 2013. You can watch the series for free via our Facebook Page (no account necessary).

Skylight Familia

Vanessa Márquez Mena, part of the Skylight SolidariLabs Afro-Colombia network, has been named to anchor news broadcasts covering the Colombian Congress on the national channel RTC. With Colombian President Gustavo Petro introducing important new progressive policies meant to confront inequality and change the balance of power in Colombia, Vanessa presents this news at an important moment in her country’s history. The founder and director of Revista Afro Vive (Afro Lives Magazine), she is a journalist and entrepreneur. Watch Vanessa in action here.

Photo: Nancy Flores for Austin Vida 

Rising star Sara Curruchich, the popular singer-songwriter from Guatemala, who performed her song “Hijas de la Tierra” as the credit sequence of our film 500 YEARS, had her musical debut at SXSW 2023 in Austin, Texas, with five outstanding concerts. Congratulations Sara! Visit Sara’s website, rich with her music here.

Courtesy Knight Foundation

Alejandro de Onís was recently named Vice President of Communications and Digital Strategies at the Knight Foundation in Miami. Alejandro worked with us at Skylight for seven years as Lead for Digital Strategies, creating interactive digital projects to accompany our feature-length documentaries as part of our multi-year impact campaigns. Read more.

Pamela Yates

Pamela Yates is an award-winning film director and the co-founder of Skylight, a not-for-profit media organization that for over 35 years has combined cinematic arts with the quest for justice to inspire the defense of human rights. Skylight’s films and programs strengthen social justice movements and catalyze collaborative networks of artists and activists.

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