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'1991' Is A Reminder Of Guatemala's Genocidal Past — And Guatemalan Cinema's Promising Future

Characters from the Guatemalan film '1991.'
Characters from the Guatemalan film '1991.'

Sergio Ramírez's film, debuting at the Miami Film Festival this week, tells a lesser known — but no less brutal — story of racist hatred amid Guatemala's civil war.

An important but disturbing film about Guatemala’s indigenous genocide has its world premiere at the Miami Film Festival Thursday night — and it's just the latest showcase of a Guatemalan cinema boom.

Guatemalan director Sergio Ramírez’s film “1991” reminds us of the genocide of indigenous Maya during Guatemala’s late 20th-century civil war — an urban as well as rural phenomenon. The atrocity played out on the streets of Guatemala City as well as the villages of the country's rural highlands.

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“1991” tells the lesser known story of gangs of white, upper-class teens who stalked the capital hunting down and often killing indigenous people. Ramírez uses a tragically poignant coming-of-age story to show us Guatemala’s violent, systemic racism.

“This was a horrific manifestation of a racist desire of many upper and middle-class Guatemalans to erase indigenous Maya from their world,” Ramírez told WLRN from Guatemala City.

1991 by Sergio Ramirez | 38th Miami Film Festival

“1991” is among several films declaring a coming-of-age for Guatemalan cinema. Movies like “José,” “Tremors” and “Our Mothers” have won European festival prizes in recent years — and the supernatural horror drama “La Llorona” was nominated this year for a Best Foreign Film Golden Globe Award.

"Oh, for sure it's an important moment," said Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante, who was "La Llorna's" director and "1991's" co-producer.

"There are a lot of Guatemalan directors today who went to other countries for their film studies and have come back to Guatemala to use that formation they received here," Bustamante, who also studied film in France, told WLRN from Guatemala City.

"Right now we're seeing the fruits coming from that. What we need now is a film production system in Guatemala that we've seen emerge in other Latin American countries."

“1991” will be shown Thursday at 8:30 pm at the Silverspot Cinema at 300 SE 3rd St. in downtown Miami – and can be seen virtually for 48 hours starting Friday at noon.

You can access tickets and information at this Miami Film Festival event link.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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