Cannes Critics' Week Entry Director Preps New Projects (Exclusive)

Courtesy of Mel Mencos
Cesar Diaz

Guatemala’s Cesar Diaz plans to continue making social films addressing ongoing violence in his home country following his debut with 'Our Mothers.'

Guatemalan director Cesar Diaz is preparing two more projects in a vein similar to his Cannes Critics' Week entry Our Mothers (Nuestras Madres).

Our Mothers is set against the trial of Guatemalan military officers who had a role in the country’s 36-year civil war, which left hundreds of thousands dead or "disappeared." A young anthropologist working to identify people who have gone missing comes across clues that might lead him to his own disappeared father’s whereabouts.

The film, a co-production between Belgium’s Need Productions and France’s Perspective Films with Pyramide handling international sales, marks Diaz’s debut feature. His next two projects in development will also address themes around the scars left by the country’s civil war and ongoing problems of extreme violence in contemporary Guatemala.

“In this country, there’s still another ‘war’ going on,” Diaz said. “The causes that originated the war — inequality, classism, poverty and more — are still there.”

Diaz is currently at work on a script for an adaptation of the award-winning Guatemalan novel Los Jueces (The Judges), together with the novel’s author, Arnoldo Galvez Suarez. It is a contemporary fable about social classes and justice as a group of neighbors decide to judge an accused criminal on their own.

Working again with his Our Mothers executive producers in Guatemala, Pamela Guinea and Joaquin Ruano of Cine Concepcion, and hoping to attach co-producers in Europe, Diaz anticipates a budget of around 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million) for a project he calls “more ambitious” than Our Mothers in terms of casting, story and shoot.

He added that he is working with social organizations and anti-violence groups to gain entry into the conflictive neighborhoods where he wants to film The Judges with local, nonprofessional actors. His goal is to hold acting and other film-related workshops and use the project as a way to give back to young people in these neighborhoods.

Before The Judges, Diaz is also talking with potential backers in Europe to make another project, a documentary about a Guatemala City morgue, which he plans to film in a cinema verite style on a budget of less than 500,000 euros ($562,000).

“It’s as if I needed to start with the past in my work to arrive at the present,” he added. “I started with Our Mothers in order to get to Los Jueces and La Morgue now.”

Citing a statistic of 18 murders a day in Guatemala City, particularly among young women, and naming Mexican director Tatiana Huezo’s 2016 film Tempestad as inspiration, Diaz said he wants to capture the daily activities in La Morgue, including filming the bodies with an infrared camera, while telling the stories in voiceover of the families coming to find their loved ones.

“They remind me a lot of families that were searching for their ‘disappeared’ relatives during the war,” he said. “It’s another way to talk about violence without showing the violence.”

“I think it’s important, on the one hand, for Guatemalans to hold up a mirror to ourselves, see ourselves portrayed and question ourselves about whether we want to continue living in a country like this and how we can transform it. On the other hand, we need to sound an alarm for the international community and tell them that something really serious is happening here and we need to do something about it.”