Guatemala: El espíritu de la memoría (2014): directed by Natalia Díaz
Friday, September 18th
UNM College of Fine Arts, Room 2018
Guatemala, el Espíritu de la Memoria
Runtime: 65 min.
Director: Natalia Díaz
Release Date: 2014
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Guatemala: El espíritu de la memoría (“The Spirit of Memory”), directed by Natalia Díaz, is a documentary that follows two religious leaders as they accompany indigenous communities on the road to resistance, redemption and the rebuilding of collective memory. These two longtime community activists, Catholic priest Rafael Delgado and Lutheran minister José Pilar Cabrera, serve as a guide for us as viewers as we delve into the details of the tremendously complex and persisting issues that face the indigenous communities of today’s Guatemala, issues that include international corporate interest in the exploitation of the nation’s rich resources such as gold and water. Much of these resources reside in the land of indigenous communities, whose land rights have been threatened by outside business interests for centuries, but especially during the modern age.
For 36 years, Guatemala was embroiled in a civil war (1960-1996) between the national government and guerilla forces. This conflict resulted in the genocide of hundreds of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans. Often people would simply “disappear” and massacres went unpunished. The 1996 peace accord which officially ended the war on paper did not change everything on a day to day basis; general impunity regarding systematic violence, terror and oppression continues to this day.
In addition to getting the rare chance to learn from the inside about the work of activists such as Delgado and Pilar, director Natalia Díaz also brings us in this documentary the testimony of Amelia Martínez, a 76-year old human rights activist from Spain. In 1996, Amelia began to collaborate with a Guatemala-based human rights project called REMHI (Recuperation of Historical Memory), a project that was promoted in large part by the Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala. In 1998, the major religious and social leader behind this project, Bishop Juan Gerardi, was assassinated by a group of attackers linked to the National Military of Guatemala.
This assassination seriously shook the nation, especially those indigenous communities who had only recently started to heal and rest hope in such projects, and it served as a reminder that, despite the peace accords, this was no time to feel safe in resistance or activism. In a showing of solidarity, 76-year-old Amelia traveled to Guatemala in 2013 for a memorial service held in honor of Bishop Gerardi, and the director Natalia Díaz followed along with her camera. That was the beginning of the making of this film. Through Amelia and her network of tireless and fearless activists, we meet Father Delgado, Pastor Pilar, as well as many members of the communities with whom they work alongside to rebuild elements of collective and historical memory.
On the film’s official website, director Natalia Díaz explains that there was a common experience amongst all of the activists she met who had spent time working alongside indigenous communities in Guatemala, an experience which served as a major foundation for the ideas behind this documentary. Everyone who has worked with and struggled with the construction of historical memory in Guatemala in the post-Civil War era has been awestricken by the brutal juxtaposition between the beautiful country advertised as a tourist destination and the brutally violent and genocidal regimes that have torn apart so much of the nation in recent history. She mentions that often Guatemala is for foreigners made to seem a place “of eternal spring”, with mountains and lakes and always the picturesque indigenous peoples with their handicrafts and idealized way of life. However, this depiction of Guatemala could not be farther from the truth, and most terrifying is the prospect of us foreigners continuing into our “eternal spring” without truly understanding what has happened in Guatemala and what the stakes are for the people there today.
This is perhaps even more, or at least equally as terrifying as the prospect of Guatemalans themselves not being able to construct enduring collective memories of their own history, due to violence, intimidation, fear, terror, poverty, or whatever else. The director goes on to say: “We have asked ourselves: What can we do from the comfort of our own homes and our safe, stable lives to at least chip away at this enormous wall of unknown information and unheard stories?” The director concedes that there is no one easy answer, but, perhaps, being able to view a documentary is a start. “Our tools are humble, we are far apart, and the media does not talk about us much. But we know that an image is what makes us believe something; we know that a voice and a word can stay recorded in our minds forever. And we hope that this effort can at least plant a small seed.”
We look forward to seeing you all there for the screening of this incredible and moving piece of documentary film from Guatemala. Thank you all and see you there!!