This is a story of destinies joined by Guatemala’s past, but also how a documentary film, intertwined with a nation’s turbulent history, emerges as an active player in the present. Five main characters are connected by the Guatemala of 1982, then engulfed in a war in which the military exterminated nearly 200,000 Maya people. Now these five become integral to the overarching narrative of wrongs done and justice sought that they have pieced together, each adding their granito, their tiny grain of sand, to the epic tale.
In the beginning of the 1980s, a young American filmmaker named Pamela Yates set off to Guatemala with cinematographer Tom Sigel to document the civil war. When the Mountains Tremble, the resulting film released in 1983, went on to be widely screened and won several awards.
In 1992, Rigoberta Menchú won the Nobel Peace Prize and the film was updated to include the intervening ten years and footage of the Nobel ceremony. And now When the Mountains Tremble is itself the subject of another film by Yates, Granito (which means ‘grain’), about how When the Mountains Tremble became evidence, a charge, in a Spanish international court case against the Guatemalan military involved in an alleged genocide of Maya civilians.
The first part of Granito, “A chronicle foretold” centres around the making of When the Mountains Tremble. Yates takes us with her in her memories and interviews some people involved, such as the journalist who helped her get access to the guerrillas, Naomi Rohth-Arriaza, now an international lawyer. A recurrent image throughout the film is that of the young Yates tapping the microphone’s windshield, as if to assure us she was really there. In this first part, Yates also introduces most of the protagonists, including the attorney for the genocide case, Almuneda Bernabeu; forensic archivist Kate Doyle; and Fredy Peccerelli, forensic anthropologist. The extensive summary of the old film is at least helpful for those who have never seen it.