'Burden of Peace': Film Review

Burden of Peace Still - H 2015

Burden of Peace Still - H 2015

An inspiring subject sustains an uneven doc.

Joey Boink's documentary is a portrait of an attorney trying to prosecute crimes the establishment prefers to forget.

A crucial episode in Guatemala's history gets a spotty retelling in Burden of Peace, Joey Boink's portrait of reformist Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz. The story of Paz y Paz, a human rights activist who came to office intent on prosecuting the perpetrators of genocide in that country, is a rich one, but Boink's storytelling lacks focus; the resulting film will be welcomed by activist communities but have a hard time getting traction elsewhere.

How did Paz y Paz, a soft-spoken woman with few of the personality traits one associates with politics, get this unlikely job? The film doesn't say. But it does offer a clear picture of her ideals as she takes the office: extreme openness, investigation of crimes committed during the military dictatorship, and accountability for those responsible for present-tense violence, who until now have rarely been hunted down. Though the sense of chronology is sketchy, we watch as she starts to turn things around, firing incompetent or corrupt prosecutors and dramatically increasing the conviction rate in homicides.

Her most impressive feat was the prosecution of Guatemala's former military dictator Efrain Rios Montt for genocide. While Boink shows some dramatic scenes of that trial, including testimony from the indigenous Mayas who saw their loved ones slaughtered, he offers nearly no information about the investigation and maneuvering leading up to the prosecution. Montt was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison, a huge victory for a traumatized people; but a higher court annulled the ruling, and he spent only a single night in jail. (An effort to retry Montt is currently underway, though he has now been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial.)

Boink doesn't explain anything about this reversal, nor does he explain how, not long afterward, a Constitutional Court got away with decreeing that Paz y Paz's four-year term would be terminated early. She tries to run again, but is rejected by a system whose workings are not explained for viewers unfamiliar with Guatemalan law. For a doc about a champion of transparency, Burden of Peace is frustratingly opaque.

Production company: Framewerk
Director-Director of photography: Joey Boink
Screenwriter: Sander Wirken
Producers: Annemiek Munneke, Bart Voorsluis
Editor: Ruben van der Hammen
Music: Mihkel Zilmer

No rating, 76 minutes