Documentary Films | 2017 | 108 minutes
SIFF Says:Locating the source of Guatemala’s political woes requires a journey of not just a few decades, but of more than five centuries, as the title of Pamela Yates’ latest film suggests. This documentary, chronicling the 2013 trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt for crimes of genocide, is part of a tragic arc of authoritarian rule in Guatemala since the time of the conquistadors. The film focuses on Montt’s 1982-83 U.S.-aided military campaigns against the Ixil people, a tribe descended from the indigenous Mayan peoples. 500 Years completes a trilogy of Yates films about the small Central American nation, dating back to 1983’s When the Mountains Tremble, about Montt’s coup d’etat. The second film, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, from 2011, shows how Yates’ 1983 film was useful in getting the Guatemalan court system to indict Montt for crimes against humanity that led to the deaths of more than 200,000 Mayans. After such tragedy, 500 Years concludes on an inspiring note: Soon after Montt’s sentencing, Yates followed the subsequent protest over corruption in the regime of then-president Otto Pérez Molina, which led to his downfall as well. Blending archival footage from Montt’s reign of terror and in-person interviews with those on both sides of the conflict, 500 Years stands as testimony that the true power of any government comes not from leaders but from its people.
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