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POV’s ‘Granito: How to Nail a Dictator’ Reveals a Documentary Film Colliding With History in a Quest for Justice; Film Premieres Thursday, June 28, 2012 on PBS

In a Startling Loop of Time and Memory, ‘Granito’ Shows How a Filmmaker’s
First Documentary Has Been Instrumental to Indict Guatemalan Ex-dictator Ríos Montt

A Co-production of ITVS; A Co-presentation with Latino Public Broadcasting

Granito… doesn’t simply relate history; it is also part of history.” —Stephen Holden, The New York Times
In January 2012, after 30 years of legal impunity, former Guatemalan general and dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was indicted by a Guatemalan court for crimes against humanity. Decades after the events, he was charged with committing genocide against the country’s poor, Mayan people in the 1980s.

Back in 1982, a young first-time filmmaker, Pamela Yates, had used her seeming naiveté to gain unprecedented access to Ríos Montt, his generals and leftist guerrillas waging a clandestine war deep in the mountains. The resulting film, When the Mountains Tremble (1983) revealed that the Guatemalan army was killing Mayan civilians. As Yates notes in her extraordinary follow-up, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, “Guatemala . . . never let me go.” When the Mountains Tremble became central to her life again 30 years later when a Spanish lawyer investigating the Ríos Montt regime asked for her help. She believed her first film and its outtakes just might contain evidence to bring charges of genocide under international law.

Peter Kinoy, Pamela Yates and Paco de Onís, the team who made The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court (POV 2009) return to POV with Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, which has its national broadcast premiere on Thursday, June 28, 2012, at 10 p.m., during the 25th anniversary season POV (Point of View) on PBS. POV continues on Thursdays at 10 p.m. through Oct. 18 and concludes its 25th season with fall and winter specials. (Check local listings.) American television’s longest-running independent documentary series, POV is the winner of a Special News & Documentary Emmy® Award for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking, two International Documentary Association Awards for Continuing Series and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers Corporate Commitment to Diversity Award.

Granito spans 30 years and portrays seven protagonists in Guatemala, Spain and the United States as they attempt to bring justice to violence-plagued Guatemala. Among the twists of fate:

    • A 22-year-old Mayan woman, Rigoberta Menchú, the storyteller in When the Mountains Tremble, goes on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 and then initiates the court case against General Ríos Montt that eventually leads to the use of Yates’ footage as evidence.
    • A guerrilla commander, Gustavo Meoño, who authorized Yates’ filming with the insurgents in 1982, becomes a key player in uncovering the mechanisms of disappearances and state terror.
    • Naomi Roht-Arriaza, the young press liaison in Guatemala who helped arrange Yates’ filming with the guerrillas in 1982, becomes one of the key international lawyers working on the genocide case.
    • Fredy Peccerelli, the head of the Guatemalan forensic anthropology team assigned to unearth evidence of the vast killings, repeatedly viewed When the Mountains Tremble while growing up.

Granito is a film about a film and its remarkable afterlife for a filmmaker, a nation and, most dramatically, as evidence in a long struggle to give a dictator’s victims their day in court. It is an inside, as-it-happens account of the way a new generation of human rights activists operates in a globalized, media-saturated world. Granito shows how multiple efforts–the work of the lawyers, the testimony of survivors, a documentary film, the willingness of a Spanish judge to assert international jurisdiction–each become a granito, a tiny grain of sand, adding up to tip the scales of justice.

Even after Ríos Montt was deposed and a tenuous democracy restored in Guatemala in 1986, he and the generals continued to enjoy wealth, status and freedom to participate in politics. In 1999, a U.N.-sponsored truth commission concluded that genocide had been committed by the government, and that same year President Clinton declared that U.S. support for military forces and intelligence units that engaged in violence and repression was wrong. Even the Guatemalan generals, who claimed that overzealous field commanders were to blame, admitted that crimes had occurred.

The story might have ended there, had it not been for catalysts demanding change: the growing movement to assert international jurisdiction in cases of human rights abuses, the persistence of activists . . . and the persistence of memory in film. In Yates’ When the Mountains Tremble and its outtakes from 1982, Ríos Montt repeatedly guarantees that atrocities could not be taking place because he is in total command. Yet Yates’ recorded footage of a military-conducted tour, meant to show a legal war against guerrillas, appears to show the result of a mass murder of unarmed civilians.

Fast-forward to recent years, when lawyers and plaintiffs were seeking an international indictment in Spain, whose national court has led the way in such cases. This is done only when local courts fail to act, and no one expected much from the Guatemalan judicial system. And then this past January–one year after Granito‘s premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival–Ríos Montt was indicted in Guatemala for genocide, in what can only be described as a stunning precedent for that country.

Granito is a complex, generational story of crime and punishment and also a historical thriller whose last chapter is yet to be written. Like its prequel, When the Mountains Tremble, Granito could very likely become a part of the historic memory of Guatemala.

A companion transmedia project, Granito: Every Memory Matters ( has been created as an online intergenerational, interactive public archive of memories intended to expose further the history of the Guatemalan genocide.

When the Mountains Tremble was banned in Guatemala for 20 years,” says Yates. “When we were finally allowed to show the film in 2003, we learned that it had already been shown thousands of times clandestinely. People told us, ‘We wouldn’t begin a resistance meeting without first showing the film.’ And an international lawyer who was in the audience at that first public screening in 2003 asked for our help.

“Fortunately, we still had the outtakes,” she continues. “Paco, Peter and I had stored cans of 16mm film and the typewritten transcripts for years: first at a factory in Brooklyn and then at an abandoned airplane hangar in New Jersey. As the forklift with our old materials was lowered, we all gasped as the memories flooded back and a new journey began. This is what lit the spark for Granito.

Granito is a love letter to the next generation of documentary filmmakers, living proof of the importance of documenting the injustices of the world. In 1983, I had hoped that my first film would help turn public opinion against the U.S. policy of backing the Guatemalan dictatorship, but that didn’t happen. So Granito is also a film about second chances.”

Granito: How to Nail a Dictator is a production of Skylight Pictures.

About the Filmmakers:

Pamela Yates (Director)

Pamela Yates was born and raised in the Appalachian coal-mining region of Pennsylvania but ran away at 16 to live New York City. She is a co-founder, with Peter Kinoy, of Skylight Pictures, a New York City based company dedicated to creating films and advanced digital media that raise awareness of human rights issues. Four of Yates’ films as a director, When the Mountains Tremble, Poverty Outlaw, Takeover and The Reckoning (POV 2009) have been nominated for Grand Jury Prizes at Sundance. When the Mountains Tremble won Sundance’s Special Jury Award in 1984. Her film State of Fear: The Truth about Terrorism, has been translated into 47 languages and broadcast in 154 countries, and won an Overseas Press Club Award. Yates received a Guggenheim Fellowship to support the making of Granito. She has also directed the development of the transmedia project Granito: Every Memory Matters.

Paco de Onís (Producer)

Paco de Onís grew up in several Latin American countries and is multi-lingual. In addition to producing Granito, he helped launch the companion multimedia project Granito: Every Memory Matters. He also produced The Reckoning (POV 2009), including IJCentral, an interactive audience-engagement initiative promoting global rule of law, developed at the BAVC Producers Institute in 2008. Prior to that, de Onís produced State of Fear, about Peru’s 20-year war on terror based on the findings of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as documentaries for PBS (On Our Own Terms with Bill Moyers) and National Geographic (Secrets from the Grave). Before working in television, he organized music festivals in South America and the Caribbean, renovated and operated the Cameo Theater in Miami Beach and owned and operated a tapas tavern in a 500-year-old colonial house in Cartagena, Colombia. He is a partner at Skylight Pictures.

Peter Kinoy (Editor)

Peter Kinoy’s roots in social activism go deep. His father, Arthur Kinoy, was a constitutional lawyer who co-founded the Center for Constitutional Rights with William Kunstler and Morty Stavis. Kinoy, along with long-time collaborator and Skylight Pictures partner Pamela Yates, specializes in long-form documentaries about human rights and the quest for justice. He produced and edited When the Mountains Tremble, which won a Special Jury Prize at the first Sundance Film Festival in 1984. Kinoy’s other credits include Takeover, an inside look at homeless activists, and Teen Dreams (co-produced with Ilan Ziv), which pioneered self-documentation with small-format cameras. With Yates, Kinoy made Poverty Outlaw and The Reckoning. He teaches and mentors emerging filmmakers at City College of New York, Columbia University, Casa Comal in Guatemala and the International School of Film and Television in Cuba. He is a founder of The Media College of the University of the Poor in the U.S. He lives in New York City.


Producer/Executive Producer: Paco de Onís

Director: Pamela Yates

Editor: Peter Kinoy

Director of Photography: Melle van Essen

Composer: Roger Clark Miller

Running Time: 86:46

POV Series Credits:

Executive Producer: Simon Kilmurry

Co-Executive Producer: Cynthia López

VP, Production & Programming: Chris White

Series Producer: Yance Ford

Coordinating Producer: Andrew Catauro

Awards and Festivals:

      • Official Selection, Sundance Film Festival, 2011
      • Opening Night film, Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, New York, 2011
      • Jury Grand Prize, Politics on Film Festival, Washington, D.C., 2011
      • Best Creative Documentary, Paris International Film Festival, 2011
      • Peace and Reconciliation Prize, Geneva International Human Right Film Festival, 2011
      • Founders Award, Traverse City Film Festival, 2011

For a complete list of screenings, visit

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Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films. Since 1988, POV has been the home for the world’s boldest contemporary filmmakers, celebrating intriguing personal stories that spark conversation and inspire action. Always an innovator, POV discovers fresh new voices and creates interactive experiences that shine a light on social issues and elevate the art of storytelling. With our documentary broadcasts, original online programming and dynamic community engagement campaigns, we are committed to supporting films that capture the imagination and present diverse perspectives.