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Review: Powerful ‘500 Years’ doc concludes trilogy on Guatemalan resistance

Mayan survivors of the Guatemalan genocide cheer the guilty verdict against dictator R’os Montt. He
Mayan survivors of the Guatemalan genocide cheer the guilty verdict against dictator Efrain Ríos Montt in the documentary “500 Years.”
(Daniel Hernandez Salazar)

Serving as the final chapter in her Resistance Saga trilogy of documentaries chronicling Guatemala’s human rights struggles, filmmaker Pamela Yates’ “500 Years” is a palpably passionate if somewhat less contained effort than the two films preceding it.

As in 1982’s “When the Mountains Tremble” and 2011’s “Granito,” Yates traces the tireless pursuit of justice by the country’s Ixiles, the indigenous population who were victims of a Reagan-era massacre that claimed more than 100,000 Mayan lives under the watch of former dictator Gen. Efrain Ríos Montt.

As seen through the vigilant eyes of journalist Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, the film maintains a compellingly up-close-and-personal approach while covering the 2013 trial during which Montt was tried and convicted for genocide and crimes against humanity, although his 80-year-sentence was later overturned by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court.

Yates’ cameras also bracingly gauge the groundswell of national support for a nonviolent movement responsible for forcing the resignation of Otto Pérez Molina, the former Guatemalan president, who in 2015 was arrested on corruption charges.

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If the middle section, which focuses on protests against the extractive industries whose pending “genocide of the land” threatens to again displace the Ixiles, might not pack an equally potent immediacy, the overriding message is one that reverberates loud and clear in our own backyard: Resistance is seldom futile.

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‘500 Years’

In Spanish with English subtitles

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena

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