Saturday, August 4, 2012

Look on! Granito & law's relation to film

(Part 2 of a 2-part Look On! series of posts; Part 1 is here)

What exactly is the relationship between law and film?
In his book The Memory of Judgment: Making Law and History in the Trials of the Holocaust (2001), about which I posted a couple weeks ago, Amherst Professor Lawrence Douglas analyses the screening, during the during the Trial of Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, of a 'Nazi Concentration Camps' documentary. Douglas makes the argument that Nuremberg was the first time that an international court used 'film as witness': The judges and others present in the courtroom were able to see from the footage some of the unspeakable atrocities committed during the Holocaust.
 It is now commonplace for video footage to play vital roles in trials. Some scholars – such as New York Law School Professor Richard K. Sherwin in When Law Goes Pop: The Vanishing Line between Law and Popular Culture (2000) – have stated that we can't understand the law without regard to these digital changes and their effects on criminal trials.
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Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011) provokes us to think about these claims.
In this documentary, filmmaker Pamela Yates tells about her journey to find potential evidence of criminal responsibility of the former Guatemalan Army General Efraín Ríos Montt in decades-old outtakes. The outtakes were made during the filming of When the Mountains Tremble (1983). (Both Granito and Mountains are currently viewable online on PBS, here and here.)
As I posted yesterday, the first documentary was the result of Yates' early 1980s trip to Guatemala, where she filmed scenes from a genocide. Yates, an IntLawGrrls contributor who posted about this film here, had interviewed Ríos Montt and other military commanders, currently under investigation for international crimes under Spain's universal jurisdiction laws.
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The Guatemalan genocide finally drew the attention of a national court in Spain. Granito notes how a Spanish lawyer, Almudena Bernabeu (prior IntLawGrrls posts) of the Center for Justice and Accountability in San Francisco, had the idea to contact Yates. (The Spanish case against Ríos Montt has not gone forward. However, as reported IntLawGrrl Naomi Roht-Arriaza (left) – who also appears in Granito – separate proceedings have been initiated in Guatemala. See here for the most recent news on the latter.)
I really enjoyed watching this documentary, having had the pleasure of meeting Almudena a couple of times during my period as staff attorney at the NGO Women's Link. Beyond this, the film demonstrates how lawyers, forensic personnel, and filmmakers can all work together to make accountability a reality.
Rigoberta Menchú, the 1992 Nobel Peace Prizewinner, explains the source of this film's title: granito, she says, means that we are only but one piece of sand, one piece of the puzzle, and that we must all work together to do what we are called on to do.
Granito provides a reminder, nearly 20 years after When the Mountains Tremble, that there is still to be justice for the Guatemalan people.

(Cross-posted at Human Rights Film Diary blog)

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