Movie review: ‘Granito: How to Nail a Dictator’ loses urgency with studied tone

Guatemala’s long, violent civil war pitting its right-wing military leaders against the country’s poor, indigenous peoples was given a world-shocking airing with Pamela Yates’ 1983 documentary “When the Mountains Tremble,” in which the government’s Mayan genocide was first exposed.

When her interview footage of notorious generals and shots of the military’s policies in action became essential to later war-crimes investigations, Yates turned on her camera again to revisit the tragedy, its aftermath and her part in it. The result is a sober if only intermittently effective follow-up, “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator.”

Though ostensibly an examination of the power of film to further social justice, Yates’ insertion of herself – either in “Mountains’” outtakes or carefully composed shots of her at an editing bay or with the Spanish prosecution team — too often feels awkwardly self-serving and conventionally arty.

“Granito” is tonally stronger when focused on the nuts and bolts of bringing a brutal regime (with a death count of 200,000) to light, including the discovery of a treasure trove of police records, interviews with human-rights activists and an archaeological dig unearthing bodies of the disappeared.


But there’s a naggingly studied tone to the whole enterprise that makes it feel like history class rather than a complex, urgent reckoning.

“Granito: How to Nail a Dictator.” No MPAA rating. In Spanish and English with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. At Laemmle’s Sunset 5, West Hollywood.