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Review: ‘500 Years’ Looks at a Guatemala Searching for Justice


Guatemalan protesters celebrating in “500 Years.”

Saul Martinez/Paladin

Heavy with emotion yet light on information, “500 Years” has the curious effect of being both passionate and pale. You may find yourself championing its subjects even while feeling confounded by the omission of details by its filmmaker.


Trailer: ‘500 Years’

A preview of the film.

By PALADIN on Publish Date July 11, 2017.

Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive.

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Subtitled “Life in Resistance,” this documentary, the last in a trilogy of films directed by Pamela Yates (“When the Mountains Tremble,” from 1983; “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator,” from 2011), is itself split into several parts. Starting with the 2013 genocide trial of Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, a former president of Guatemala, it moves into land disputes involving the Maya people, then to citizen protests in 2015 that helped bring down the presidency of Otto Pérez Molina amid a corruption scandal.

Along the way Ms. Yates touches on indigenous rights issues, political deceit, civil disobedience and several other topics, including the country’s courts. (The justice system there is “an enormous beast,” one woman says. It is a “monster dressed in a suit, tie and shiny shoes.”) The director presumes viewers already have a firm knowledge of recent Guatemalan events, as well as a familiarity with the land’s makeup and history; only a few clarifying facts and supporting materials are provided. This is a movie interested in broad statements, like the above, rather than specific points.

Unlike the recent powerful documentary “Finding Oscar,” which illuminated a major Guatemalan tragedy by focusing on an individual story, “500 Years” dives right into bigger pictures. That approach feels too wide-ranging for a single film, but Ms. Yates’s zeal is heartfelt, and the optimism of her interviewees is uplifting. Even when there’s little hard data, there’s some real energy.

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