Judge Juan Guzman among a throng of media,
during the documentary "The Judge And The General", about his investigation of
the first criminal charges to be brought against Chile's General Augusto
Pinochet for numerous tortures and killings of Chilean political opponents and
activists during his near-30-year-reign. The documentary was directed and
produced by Patricio Lanfranco and Elizabeth Farnsworth, and was sold-out days
in advance during the current San Francisco International Film Festival.
Judge Juan and The Long Fight For Justice
In Pinochet's Chile
By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel
May 7, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO, California
This past weekend at the Sundance Kabuki Cinema here there were lines, long
lines, stretched around the block. On Sunday, the film was sold out.
In fact, all the shows for the film were sold out early on. The screening
at the Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley sold out five days in advance.
There were long lines of people who could not get in.
The long lines were not for the film "Iron Man", which made over $100 million in
its first three days last weekend, but for the documentary "The Judge And The
General", about Judge Juan Guzman, the man designated with the task of
investigating the many atrocities committed under the regime of General Augusto
Pinochet of Chile, who came to power via a brutal coup ousting Salvador Allende,
the country's first democratically-elected president, on September 11, 1973.
(Allende reportedly committed suicide shortly after the coup took place, via a
gunshot to the head.) Pinochet's brutality against whom his most ardent
supporters called "Communist pigs" was notorious, with thousands of people who
simply dared to oppose Pinochet's regime summarily murdered. Pinochet, a
U.S.-backed military man, ended his near-30-year reign in 1999 and was under
house arrest in
London, England until 2000, and then returned to Chile. He died in 2006.
In Chile however, amidst rabid support for a military dictator what hasn't died
is the pain and memories of a violent, fear-drenched nation during the turbulent
1970's, '80's and '90's. Patricio Lanfranco and Elizabeth Farnsworth
directed and produced "The Judge and The General", and though it has been sold
out here at the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival it will be shown
on PBS television in the U.S. on the program "P.O.V." on August 19. As Mr.
Lanfranco describes it, the film took its time to be hatched and completed.
" We were working for five years at least, you know, at the end of the process.
And the last two years basically have been a process of addition and
post-production," said the independent television producer, director and
researcher based in Santiago, Chile. Mr. Lanfranco, the 2003 recipient of
the Chilean National Television Council Award, has been producing film
documentaries and television news events for more than two decades, including
the live television coverage in 1995 of Manuel Contreras, a Pinochet's former
chief of his secret police, on trial for the 1976 assassination of Orlando
Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to the U.S., in Washington, D.C. Mr.
Lanfranco's film chronicles the solitary journey of a judge with the weight of
the world and victim's families on his shoulders. This is not a burden for
the judge -- certainly Ms. Farnsworth and Mr. Lanfranco's documentary doesn't
intimate that -- it is a quest, a challenge filled with twists and turns,
offering audiences a lot of food for thought, with interviews with surviving
family members whose loved ones had been killed during Pinochet's dictatorship.
So just how did Judge Juan Guzman become the designee for this undertaking on
behalf of the victims of General Pinochet's decades-long reign?
"Juan was involved because we decided that in 2003 that it was a very
interesting moment in (the) human rights situation happened in Chile.
After so many years the courts, the trials didn't do anything about this
situation and because Chile changed the way of how to provide justice, there was
a conflict between the new justice and the old justice (system). So it has
to be so, because otherwise all these cases that had been lasting for 30 years
were going to be definitely lost. So there was a situation where a special
judge had to be appointed to really push for the resolution of these cases,"
said Mr. Lanfranco. After Judge Guzman was appointed, the approach to the
cases was very different, with expedited investigating on each matter.
Prior to being appointed with the task of this enormous undertaking, Judge
Guzman had handled "more than a thousand cases", according to Mr. Lanfranco.
As stated earlier, Mr. Lanfranco and Ms. Farnsworth's journey towards what is
now "The Judge and The General" took deliberate paths, with some differences and
commonalities. "Patricio and I -- I mean, one of the things we've
discovered in preparing for these interviews and doing the interviews is we've
been wanting to do something like this -- each of us for our own reasons -- for
years. And this gave us a chance to do it," said Ms. Farnsworth, a
seasoned journalist, substitute news anchor and special correspondent for The
NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (1995-2000) who has covered events all over the world,
including in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Chile, Haiti, Vietnam,
Gaza and the West Bank. Ms. Farnsworth, who is based in the East Bay in
Northern California, has also lived in Peru and Chile and written many in-depth
stories and opinion pieces in numerous publications across the U.S., including
Mother Jones, World Policy Journal, The Nation and the San Francisco Chronicle.
She has also produced numerous award-winning documentaries on AIDS in African
countries, Chile's election campaign of 1970 (in which Mr. Allende was elected
as president) and the Vietnam war. Currently she can be seen as a
freelancing special correspondent on the NewsHour. She and Patricio have
worked together on and off for a number of years. "I've always been
obsessed -- for reasons I don't know -- with the whole concept of the good
German," Ms. Farnsworth said. "How does a good person -- why can a
good person -- how do they explain to themselves when they look the other way
when terrible things happen?"
Amidst the hubbub of the Film Society's Festival headquarters earlier this week
the producer-directors talked about Judge Juan Guzman. Both had an
opportunity to discuss numerous things prior to a questioner's arrival, and at
several moments the conversation became an observation of two filmmakers
fascinated by the complex questions about Pinochet, the families of his victims,
the political landscape of Chile and the long quest for justice that the judge
"Judge Juan Guzman was a good person -- the son of a poet. His father knew
Pablo Neruda, his father knew Salvador Allende. But his -- Guzman's
family supported the coup against Allende and supported Pinochet. And I
thought that my own obsessions meshed with this story. This is why I
wanted to make a film about it," said Ms. Farnsworth. "And (Patricio's)
obsessed with the nature of hope. Right?"
Mr. Lanfranco agreed.
"It is amazing when you are under this situation of stress of a dictatorship.
You were underground and you know, so many people were killed, and fear
dominates the picture -- how do people keep hopes under that situation?
How do people fight? How do people have the strength to fight back?"
Mr. Lanfranco then mentions a "Sophie's Choice" (for lack of a better
description) dilemma for Edita, one of the survivors of General Pinochet's reign
of terror, who in "The Judge and The General" recalls being confronted with the
unholy option of either surrendering her daughter or her granddaughter, one of
whom would be killed by Pinochet hired-guns. Edita chose to let her own
daughter go. Her daughter was murdered by Pinochet's firebrands, leaving
Edita's infant granddaughter to live. It was a choice that obviously
presented deep conflict and torment for Edita and she talks about this during
The granddaughter whose life was spared is Valentina, who has now grown up and
become a highly-talented journalist in her own right and presently lives with
Edita. Valentina, currently on maternity leave, will at some point write a
book about her experiences during the pains and strains of a dictatorship.
Understandably, as Mr. Lanfranco disclosed, Valentina did not want to talk about
anything concerning the past when the filmmaker initially approached her four
years ago. Now, Valentina, who has a child and another on the way, is a
happier person, transformed by motherhood and the gift of giving life. "Valentina
now is taking care of her grandmother and the last time that I saw them, you
couldn't believe it . . . the kid was running around . . . and Valentina was
smiling all the time," said Mr. Lanfranco, who had tried to talk to her on
several occasions. "It's very moving. It's very moving. I
mean, that's what you fight for, at the end. You know that you leave a lot
of people behind but new generations and new people came to find them, and
that's very interesting."
Just as interesting are the questions that a viewer inevitably has after seeing
the film. For one, why did so many people in Chile have such deep and
abiding reverence for General Pinochet, whom even right up to his final days of
life insisted that he had not ordered so much as even one killing of fellow
countrymen and women who had differing or opposing political beliefs? Was
it out of fear? Or fanaticism?
"It's a great question, and by the way, I've been asked this by everyone," said
Ms. Farnsworth, who said that she would always alert her questioners to wait for
Mr. Lanfranco's response to the question. "This is a really interesting
thing to analyze."
Which the Chilean-born Mr. Lanfranco promptly does, right on cue, and in some
"You have to understand, you know, the whole picture of this. There was a
moment you know, in the seventies where the different ideas -- the working class
idea, Socialists and all that. So Allende won and this was the first
Socialist president elected in the world -- democratically elected. And
then became all these military dictatorship(s) in all of South America.
Chile was the last country that got under the military dictators -- Brazil,
Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia -- all these countries were
surrounded, you know, Allende's government, the Chile of that moment -- by these
right-wing military dictatorship. And then the Chileans came into the
picture as a dictatorship (with Pinochet's overthrow of Allende) -- a lot of
hate, you know? Because the society was totally divided, totally
polarized. And then what happened, you know, there was a huge revenge, and
massive killing and fear and all that, but the worser part of this society . . .
they were actually living better. They were earning money. And they
were collecting power and companies, you know. Pinochet privatized most of
the companies (that were) owned by the state. All the companies that
belonged to the state, from the post office to the trains were privatized and
given to private hands -- for nothing. So they create a huge, let's say,
power in people that didn't have the brain to have it. So they defended
Pinochet because they gave it a lot -- let's say about twenty percent of the
population -- they have all of the power, they never have a problem, and they
have impunity to do whatever they wanted -- treat people in a really bad way.
All the labor laws were been totally taken away. So the powerful people
had all the right to exploit the workers.
"So that's why they loved Pinochet," said Mr. Lanfranco. "When suddenly
you've got all the power, you became God in your own town, in your neighborhood,
in every little place that you had, you became a god, a king . . . and there are
people that really believe in this kind of thing, you know, free market and they
don't know exactly what it means, but they really believe and they really think
that Pinochet gave them that."
Today, history come full circle. Thirty-six years after Salvador Allende's election to office as Chile's first democratically elected Socialist
leader in 1970, Michelle Bachelet, a moderate Socialist whose father was
murdered under the rule of Pinochet, is now Chile's president, the first woman
to be elected to that office in the country's history. President Bachelet
took office in March 2006, defeating billionaire businessman and former senator
Sebastian Pinera, a centrist-right wing politician, in a runoff election.
If one looks at Wikipedia online they will see that Ms. Bachelet is an
accomplished surgeon, pediatrician, epidemiologist who has studied military
strategy and speaks five languages.
By all observations Chile today, Mr. Lanfranco would agree, represents the
heartbeat of sons and daughters who have survived the past and thrived in the
liberation of the present, under a daughter who has risen to power to represent
them. Judge Juan Guzman, who has been lauded in Chile by surviving
families for his courage and steadfast approach during the investigations of
murder under Pinochet, remains alive and well, but not unaffected by a long
journey for truth and justice.
"The Judge And The General" played for three consecutive nights at the 51st
San Francisco International Film Festival this week to sell-out crowds.
The documentary, which is directed and produced by Patricio Lanfranco and
Elizabeth Farnsworth, is one hour and twenty-two minutes in length and will be
shown in the United States on PBS stations on the program "P.O.V." on August 19.
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