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Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival: The Art of Political Murder

The brutal Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996) resulted in the deaths of many civilians, especially those of the indigenous Mayan population. In the days after the war, Bishop Juan Gerardi became an outspoken activist for the Mayan people, seeking justice for the crimes against humanity and giving a voice to the voiceless. He was a truly remarkable individual and one of the key members of REMHI, an organization that sought to bring to light the many human rights violations enacted by the military and government. This unfortunately made him a target and on April 26th, 1998 Bishop Gerardi was brutally murdered.

Directed by Paul Taylor, The Art of Political Murder investigates Bishop Gerardi’s state ordered assassination, the mishandling of the crime scene, the theories behind what exactly happened and the arrest and trial of the three assassins. George Clooney served as one of the film’s executive producers and the documentary is based on Francisco Goldman’s book of the same name. It features interviews with journalists, experts and those who knew Bishop Gerardi both personally and professionally. There isn’t much by way of background on either the Guatemalan Civil War or how Bishop Gerardi came to be involved with his activism. Instead the focus here is on the crime itself. In essence one could call this a biography of a crime as it dissects all the details of the murder, investigation, media coverage, trial, etc. I would have preferred more background on Bishop Gerardi but this was an interesting approach.

The Art of Political Murder is well worth the watch for anyone interested in true crime in general or Guatemalan history in particular.

The Art of the Political Murder recently screened at the 2020 virtual Double Exposure Film Festival.

La Llorona

A motherland that weeps for her sacrificed, lost, drowned, dead children.

Director Jayro Bustamante offers a compelling and terrifying twist on the popular legend of La Llorona. The original myth tells the story of a woman who, as punishment for drowning her children, must wander the world as a ghost. The living are haunted by her cries. (La Llorona is translated into English as The Crier). In Bustamante’s film, simply titled La Llorona, the ghost was a victim of the brutal Guatemalan Civil War and has come back to haunt Enrique (Julio Diaz), the former general turned dictator.

Enrique, his wife Carmen (Margarita Kenefic), daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz), and granddaughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado) all live a cushy life within the walls of their mansion. Their world is turned upside down when Enrique is put on trial and convicted for his role in the 1980s genocide of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans. Now the Mayans who lost family members during the worst days of the Guatemalan Civil War want justice. After Enrique’s bizarre and dangerous behavior, elicited by the cries of a mysterious woman, drives away their staff, they hire a new maid, an Ixil woman named Alma (Maria Mercedes Coroy). The infiltration has begun and Enrique is about to face his reckoning.

“Creating a new version of La Llorona is the perfect opportunity to try to change those stigmas that are etched into our cultural inheritance. At the same time, the psychological suspense that goes along with the character allows me to recount Guatemala’s recent, dark history to a national audience that is generally more interested in purely commercial entertainment movies.”

Director Jayro Bustamante

A Shudder original film, La Llorona is a fascinating drama that tells the story of Guatemala’s deep injustices through magical realism. The true horror of La Llorona is income inequality and how it drives those on both sides to do drastic things.  The basis of which comes from deep-seated racism against indigenous groups and rampant corruption and greed. In the film, the dictator (inspired by real life Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt) and his family depend on the extension of his impunity and his conviction shakes up their world and they can’t quite process the ire of the victims of the civil war.

Anyone who enjoyed Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and want to explore about the inequalities between white Latino and indigenous communities, will want to check this one out. I much prefer La Llorona‘s approach as it demonstrates an uprising of the disenfranchised rather than keeping things status quo. 

The climax of La Llorona was a bit too predictable for my tastes. However, the film offers plenty of atmosphere, context and haunting visual imagery that will keep viewers enthralled throughout.

“Guatemala is one of the richest and most diverse countries in Central America, but levels of inequality remain high. The historical exclusion of indigenous people, especially women, means they lack access to education, health services, political participation and land.”

Oxfam America

La Llorona is available to watch on Shudder.

Please note that this film is not to be confused with The Curse of La Llorona (2019) or La Llorona (2020).

Our Mothers/Nuestras madres

Sometimes you have to reopen a wound and let it bleed before it can fully heal. In director César Díaz’s new drama Our Mothers/Nuestras madres, the trauma of the Guatemalan Civil War is brought to light four decades later. The film addresses the emotional damage that the Guatemalan genocide caused those who were left behind. Guerilla fighters were brutally killed and buried in unmarked graves. Their wives were imprisoned, tortured and raped.

Ernesto (Armando Espitia), a young and idealistic anthropologist, is devoting his life’s work to reunited the dead with the living. His motivations go far beyond mere benevolence. Ernesto’s own father was one of the many fighters who went missing. As he searches for his father’s grave site, his mother, Cristina (Emma Dib), refuses to participate and keeps the story of her trauma closely guarded. In the search for his father, Ernesto is about to uncover the truth about himself.

“In Guatemalan Indian oral tradition things must be spoken for them to exist. When a newcomer arrives in a village, that person is told what happened at this place so that it is never forgotten.”

Director César Díaz

Our Mothers/Nuestras madres channels the grief of a hurting nation. The film is set in 2018 when war crimes of the late ’70s and early ’80s were finally being brought to trial. The story is inspired by filmmaker César Díaz’s own journey to learn about his father, a guerilla fighter who died during the Civil War. While a male protagonist and a male filmmaker guide the story, the film is essentially about the women, survivors of the Guatemalan genocide who were tortured and raped and left without the closure needed to properly mourn a lost loved one. Don’t be put off by the heavy subject matter. Our Mothers/Nuestras madres is more hopeful than it is depressing. There is a sense throughout the story that these characters are finally going to heal their emotional wounds and move forward with their lives.

Our Mothers/Nuestras madres is available through virtual cinemas nationwide. Visit the official website for more information.

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