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UC Davis Human Rights Film Festival Opens with Screening of 500 Years: Life in Resistance

The inaugural UC Davis Human Rights Film Festival began four days of programming last Thursday night, October 19, with a screening of the film 500 Years: Life in Resistance, about indigenous efforts in Guatemala to bring perpetrators of genocide to justice at the UC Davis International Center.

The documentary is the final installment of a trilogy by director Pamela Yates which has recorded the suffering of Mayan people at the hands of the state. When Mountains Tremble came out in 1983, followed by Granito: How to Nail a Dictator in 2011, and these subsequent films see Yates scouring her own films for legal evidence of atrocities.  

While harrowing, 500 Years is ultimately hopeful, telling the story of how hundreds of Mayan victims of genocidal campaigns against civilians by the U.S.-trained and -funded Guatemalan army in the 1980s gathered together to give testimony against Jose Efrain Rios Montt, the junta leader behind the attacks that destroyed more than six hundred villages.

Yates’ work is filled with anger and empathy as she dwells on the immense strength and dignity of her interviewees as they recount the horrific traumas that have haunted generations of their families. The film follows the trial and its subsequent annulment by a different court only to crescendo into the story of land disputes involving Mayan people which erupted into widespread citizen protests in 2015 which helped to end the presidency of Otto Perez Molina, himself implicated in the violence outlined in the trial.

The justice system, a Mayan reporter featured prominently in the film says, is a “monster dressed in a suit, tie and shiny shoes.” With 500 Years, Yates keeps open the possibility of justice, a stunning feat of hope in the context of so many decades of suffering and injustice.

This screening was followed by three more in the UC Davis Human Rights Film Festival series: Nowhere to Hide on October 20 at 7pm in the Shrem Museum, Black Code on October 21 at 7pm in the main theater of Wright Hall, and They Call us Monsters on October 22 at 2pm in the Crocker Art Museum.

Nowhere to Hide tells the story of Nori Sharif, an Iraqi nurse trapped in conflict and torn between staying in his city to provide medical aid, and fleeing to protect his own family, in the process becoming one of the thousands of internally displaced people in Iraq. Black Code follows “cyber stewards” from the Toronto-based Citizen Lab who travel the world to expose unprecedented levels of global digital espionage, and They Call Us Monsters follows three juvenile inmates living out life sentences in a Los Angeles prison a they take a screenwriting course. The final screening was followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker Ben Lear.

The film festival was sponsored by the UC Davis Humanities Institute, Human Rights Studies, in partnership with Human Rights Watch.


-Anne O’Connor, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral student in the Cultural Studies Graduate Group

This page was last updated: July 26, 2018



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