Support Us

When the Mountains Tremble

One woman’s story, a nation’s destiny; featuring Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú

    About This Project

    When the Mountains Tremble is the story of how the Guatemalan people came to take up arms attempting to overthrow a brutal military dictatorship and regain their democracy. Maya K’iche’ leader Rigoberta Menchú was there; she tells the story.  

    This enduring classic of war and social revolution, now commemorating its 40th year, made two things possible: it helped put Rigoberta Menchú on the world stage–ten years later she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992; and its footage became key forensic evidence to help convict General Ríos Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013. 

    The epic story lays bare the political spectrum of Guatemala at war in the 1980s: protagonists from civil society, the Church, the guerrilla forces and the Army weave a cohesive story that, despite the history of oppression it depicts, presents the resistance of the rural Indigenous communities united with the urban workers and university students fighting to create a democratic Guatemala. 

    Innovative in form as well as content, the film features Rigoberta Menchú directly addressing the camera, reenactments based on declassified C.I.A. documents, and action sequences shot at great risk to the filmmakers. Latin music sensation Rubén Blades created and performed the soundtrack. The overall effect of the film is exhilarating, clearly conveying universal political yearnings for freedom.

    When the Mountains Tremble was released theatrically across the U.S. in 40 cities and in 30 foreign countries. It was awarded the 1984 Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival, was broadcast on PBS, and is now available to be streamed globally through New Day Films. It has been embraced by the next generation of committed human rights and environmental defenders in Guatemala and across the world.

    *Inside the fog of war: read an update to When The Mountains Tremble, published in 2014, on the POV blog.

    Director’s Statement

    Pamela Yates reflects on her ideas while making the film, and its relevance 40 years later: WTMT Director’s Statement_Sept2023

    Release date & Run Time

    1983; 83 mins


    Pamela Yates, Director and Sound Recordist
    Thomas Newton Sigel, Director and Cinematographer
    Peter Kinoy, Producer and Editor
    Rubén Blades, Music composer and performer

    Rigoberta Menchú, storyteller
    General Ríos Montt, President of Guatemala
    General Benedicto Lucas Garcia, Head of the Guatemalan Armed Forces
    Mario Casariego, Archbishop of Guatemala City
    Padre Celso, Liberation Theology priest
    Luis Godoy, urban community leader
    María Magdalena Pascual Hernández, combatant, Guerrilla Army of the Poor


    Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
    Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
    Red Tz’ikin
    Festivales Solidarios
    Fundación Rigoberta Menchú Tum
    Nobel Women’s Initiative
    Movimiento Semilla

    One woman’s story, a nation’s destiny; featuring Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú

    Subscribe To Our Newsletter


    Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

    You have Successfully Subscribed!