PBS ‘Granito’ shows how tiny acts can move mountains

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0623_PBS_POV_Granito_family_in_Guatemala.jpgFrom PBS POV film “Granito”: The Caba family in front of their home in Ixil highlands of Guatemala. The army massacred 95 people in their village in 1982 during the genocide. Photo by Dana Lixenberg.WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO SEE “GRANITO”
“Granito: How to Nail a Dictator” is scheduled for a national broadcast on PBS’s highly praised POV series, Thursday June 28. Check showtimes and learn about seeing the film for free on your iPad or iPhone at this POV web page. For more information about the film, including links for discussion guides and other resources, visit this POV page dedicated to “Granito.”
For more information on POV’s 25th year, including previews of upcoming films, visit the main POV site. NOTE: Even if you don’t get broadcasts of POV in your part of the country, the website continues to post updates about watching these films for free online or on hand-held devices.

Why ‘Granito’ inspires hope everyday

Reviewed by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0623_Mayan_woman_in_PBS_POV_Granito.jpgFrom PBS POV film “Granito”: Rosa Cana in Ilóm, Guatemala. An Ixil Maya, she says red in her clothing represents the blood shed in the genocide. Photo by Dana Lixenberg.Feel your daily labors aren’t making a difference? Ever fear that the your most cherished beliefs and fondly repeated stories are becoming irrelevant with time? Tune in PBS’s POV series this week (or watch this week’s documentary on your iPad or iPhone) and you will see a shining example of small actions that truly matter on a global scale.

The inspiring message of “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator” lies not in the nailing but in that very first word, Granito—Spanish for “a tiny grain.” PBS’s award-winning POV series is entering its 25th year with a lineup of documentaries celebrating the power of nonfiction video to change the world.

That’s the real theme behind Granito. Although entirely factual, the film unfolds like a detective thriller about an international effort to bring a Guatemalan general up on charges of genocide before the 86-year-old man dies and forever escapes justice. This film by long-time documentary filmmaker Pamela Yates actually is a sequel—three decades later—to her 1983 film “When the Mountains Tremble.” At that time, a rag-tag rebel force was locked in a civil war with Guatemala’s U.S.-backed military regime. At that time, Yates was young and tough. She grew up in a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania and ran away from home to New York City when she was only 15.

When she set out to make a documentary about the civil war in Guatemala—clearly aiming to support the revolutionaries against the American-backed military forces—she proved her courage by surviving a near-fatal helicopter crash. Her 1983 movie was celebrated by progressive journalists and human-rights activists around the world. It was screened at the first Sundance Film Festival. The film was told through the voice and viewpoint of Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous Guatemalan woman who went on to win the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize as a result.

So, on one level “Granito” is reminding us all of the power of preserving and retelling important stories. The rebel force Yates documented in her movie did not succeed in the way Yates hoped in the 1980s—instead, hundreds of thousands were wiped out in a genocide focused on indigenous families.

However, her film about Guatemala did wind up moving mountains. It was truly a tiny seed that now is flowering in unexpected ways. That is the second and entirely new story that “Granito” tells, focusing on a major human rights case unfolding in 2012. After many years of persistent international efforts to bring charges of genocide against the main military leader, General José Efraín Ríos Montt, an international tribunal in Spain agreed to take testimony and pursue the matter.

As reported recently by BBS News: “An estimated 200,000 people were killed or went missing during Guatemala’s civil conflict, which ended in 1996. Gen. Rios Montt’s 17 months in power are believed to be one of the most brutal periods of the war.”

The case is far from over, but a central element in making these charges stick is evidence gleaned from Yates’ original film and from the many canisters of out-takes that have been freshly explored by forensic investigators. This is where “Granito” becomes part CSI and part Law & Order. Suddenly, Guatemalans and international activists are discovering that Yates’ 1983 film has even more potency than they dreamed. Among the key scenes, she captured Montt on film boasting that he controlled every action by his military forces. That’s important evidence of his culpability in the genocide.

In the course of the new film, Pamela Yates provides a crash course on recent Guatemalan history, freshly reminding viewers why we should care what happens in Latin America. More than that, Yates argues that we should take heart in our own seemingly small efforts to do good in the world. Even helping to pass along true stories of courage and compassion—like watching “Granito” with friends or sharing links on Facebook—can make a difference, she shows us.

Her opening words in the film are: “Sometimes a story told long ago will come back and speak to you in the present.” A moment later, she poses the central question of “Granito” to viewers: “How does each of us weave our own responsibilities into the pattern of history?”

Don’t miss this stirring story!

WATCH A PREVIEW: PBS’s POV provides this 3-minute preview of the film. Click the video screen below to watch it. A brief commercial message comes before the trailer. If you don’t see a video screen in your version of this story, click here to reload this ReadTheSpirit story and the video should appear.)

Watch Granito: How to Nail a Dictator – Trailer on PBS. See more from POV.


This Spanish-language site was established by the filmmakers and their friends in an effort to connect with more men and women who might share stories about the era under investigation. The site’s Spanish introduction says, in English translation: “Welcome to the memorial and public online archive of armed conflict in Guatemala. This memorial is to start talking about these facts and avoid repeating the past. Here we can join each of our memories and help restore our history. We invite you to share your two cents about their experience of that time. Contributions may be in any way that represents your memory – you can add video clips, photographs, letters, art, or something else, and can be added anonymously. This site is for us—to save our memories, to create our history, and to educate the new generation.”

ReadTheSpirit publishes the memoir of Odawa elder and teacher Warren Petoskey. As in Yates’ film, Native Americans were subjected to human rights abuses long after the world thought the warfare in our Great Plains was over. Warren’s inspiring book includes the story of Indian boarding schools, where thousands of Indian children were held captive and often abused under federal policies to quash Indian culture.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.


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