Cesar Diaz: genocide forgotten

César Diaz: le génocide oublié

César Diaz: le génocide oublié

The filmmaker Cesar Diaz


July 16, 2020

Updated 17 July 2020 to 4h18


Cesar Diaz: genocide forgotten

César Diaz: le génocide oublié

César Diaz: le génocide oublié

Eric Moreault

The Sun

When he was nine years, Cesar Diaz has left Guatemala to join her mother in Mexico, sought by the military police. His father, of which he has no memory, is part of the “missing policies”. Later, it will consider successively the cinema in Brussels and Paris, without suspecting that the “7th art” would allow him to exhume the genocide, which left 200 000 dead and 45 000 people missing.

The Sun has discussed with the producer of his very beautiful and moving Our mothers (Nuestras Madres), Camera d’or at Cannes in 2019 and Magritte for Best first feature film in Belgium, a country that he has represented for the Oscars.

The life of these ironies. Reached by telephone, the man, 41-year-old is stuck… in Guatemala because of the COVID-19 — he was on a visit to the home of her mother, who returned there to live. Diaz has his roots and the memories that have deeply marked, even if “it is the country that I’ve lived the least long.” It now has “one foot on two continents”.

Our mothers focuses on Ernesto, a young anthropologist at the Foundation medico-legal work, in 2018, to the identification of victims of the civil war and the massacres in mayan villages. A index the met on the track of her dead father, that her mother, who had fought at his side, prefers to forget. Then begins an investigation to enable him to exorcise this scourge that haunts it — just like the filmmaker…

Cesar Diaz insists : “My story is not as tragic as that of Ernesto, fortunately.” But “it has helped me to construct and understand the characters. After they grew up, have become self-reliant. There is no interest to tell my life, not distance, not of the artistic gesture. It looks a little bit the belly button when doing this kind of offer. I am inspired, but this is not me.”

But the director, whose career began in the documentary, did not hesitate to blur the lines between reality and fiction. Thus, when Ernesto tries to update a common grave, the women of the village were actually lived in the abduction and the massacre of their husbands and loved ones. “I wanted to integrate. This genocide has existed”, he explains.

The filmmaker also wanted to include this community who has welcomed us” with generosity during filming, despite the pain of reliving their trauma. “All that participated in the construction of the narrative. This is not a whim of the director. This is something that I held close to heart and that has been a part since the beginning of the writing of the film.”

As for César Diaz, the film was a perfect vehicle to demonstrate the impact of the murders on the population of a small country in central America, 25 years after the fact. “I wanted to explore this subject through images and sounds. Because it is a way to create a dialogue with the viewer that is unique. It is a complete experience : it’s not just the intellectual aspect, there’s also all the emotions that are involved in this experience.”

César Diaz: le génocide oublié

Ernesto and the women of the village


“A background of racism”

Our mothers — a title that refers to the many widows who roamed the country after the atrocities, but also to torture and rape they have suffered — “a witness of our history”. That the government was not very happy to see on the big screen: equipment retained at customs, permissions for filming to be delayed… We have tried to discourage the team of the film.

Which explains: the recent past of Guatemala shines little. And we would prefer it to remain so. The intervention of the CIA in 1954 to overthrow president de Guzman led the country into a chaotic succession of clashes, political assassinations and coups and military to subdue the people. A civil war, until in 1986, which still remains to this day largely unknown.

“I think that there is a background of racism in this ignorance. Most of the dead are indians. It is said: “they are Indians, it is not serious, we don’t care.” There was this vision of the military dictatorship that has contaminated the international sphere. We even had a Nobel prize [in 1992], Rigoberta Menchú, who did not stop to explain and testify of what was happening. And it has done very little. There were also economic interests strong who had no interest in what it knows, to say that human rights were not respected, that there was a civil war horrible.”

The operation of the banana, coffee and sugar cane was largely under the control of foreign companies at the time, such as the United Fruit, which had very close ties with the CIA and the u.s. government.

The Reagan years “were terrible”. “We were very scared that communism takes root on the continent and we did everything to quell the uprisings, notably in Guatemala, Nicaragua… there are a lot of reasons that we are not familiar with this war. Even in Mexico, which is the neighbouring country, when we present the movie there, the world opens the eyes like that: “We did not know.” It is interesting that it comes out now.”

In addition to its undeniable aesthetic qualities, the topic has probably also weighed in the balance when the jury awarded him the golden Camera in the past year, the prizes awarded to the best first feature film at Cannes, all categories combined.

This “big surprise”, Diaz was especially happy for his team, “who has given everything to make this film”. And an “honor for all of these guatemalan women” who continue to seek justice. “It is still there.”

The imaginary fleet

The imagination of Cesar Diaz fleet between central America and Europe. To evidence its two feature films in the works: one, an adaptation of the novel of guatemala, The judge, and the other on the relationship mother-son, strongly anchored to Brussels, “in the winter, with the snow”. It will turn the first “that will get the funding.”

What its price in Cannes will help them more easily to collect, would he. In the light of this first test, it would be a shame, really, that things are lingering in length. But “it puts pressure: I do not have the right to be wrong”.

Le Soleil

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