Filmmaker to correct 1983 film on war in Guatemala

By Mark Stevenson, AP

MEXICO CITY–“When the Mountains Tremble” was an award-winning movie that awakened wide attention to the war in Guatemala. But at least one thing turned out to be wrong — and filmmaker Pamela Yates says she’s going to set it right.

A dramatic scene from the 1983 documentary will be corrected to show that the Batzul massacre highlighted in the film was committed not by the military, but by leftist rebels disguised as soldiers.

“We intend to make a correction that will clarify what happened,” Yates said in a statement last month. “It stands as a reminder of the terrible human costs of the violence in 1982-83.”

She said she will also amend a 2011 follow-up documentary, “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator.”

In 1982, Yates and her team traveled by helicopter to a mountain village where residents were mourning over the bodies of 17 men. In the documentary, women in traditional dress are heard wailing, their stunned faces shown up close as others look over the bloodied bodies of the dead. When asked which group was responsible, one woman, speaking in the local Quiche language, responds “It was the same as a soldier’s uniform. They said, ‘We are soldiers.’”

Human rights reports, however, later determined the killings were committed by the Guerrilla Army of the Poor in retaliation for the villagers’ decision to collaborate with the government. In her statement, Yates pointed to a 1999 report published by the Commission for Historical Clarification.

Yates said that during a return trip in 2011, she spoke with the woman featured in the scene as well as with other villagers to confirm the findings. “What our guides from Batzul, victims of the massacre, asked of us is that we make clear that the guerrillas and not the Army carried it out,” she wrote in her statement.

She did not specify how the films will be corrected. In an emailed message, she said “at this point it is premature to say just how I will modify the earlier films.”

For a Batzul massacre survivor who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, a correction of “When the Mountains Tremble” is long overdue. Then 15 years old, he was sent by his father to warn neighbors when the armed men showed up. His father and uncle were killed by the rebels.