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The germ of Uli Stelzner’s La Isla: Archives of a Tragedy is something out of a political thriller. In 2005, nine years after the end of Guatemala’s civil war, the explosion of old munitions housed in the national police headquarters revealed what human-rights activists had long suspected Guatemalan leaders of hiding: a massive archive of secret police activities dating back more than half a century. Unearthed from the rubble, these archives provide revelations about the hundreds of thousands of people who “disappeared” over the 36-year war between successive right-wing military regimes and, essentially, everyone else. The historical narrative is nothing new for anyone who’s read a bit about 20th-century Central American politics: Aided by the CIA, anti-Communist generals overthrew popularly elected leaders and embarked on years of crackdowns and arrests. Stelzner focuses on a selection of the young researchers sifting through the 80 million documents uncovered at La Isla, as the archives came to be called. There, they find tales of their own family members who vanished during the civil war. There are also a few communiqués penned by our own intelligence officers, conveying a bit of squeamishness toward the Guatemalan army’s interrogation tactics, but not enough to change the United States’ unyielding support of successive anticommunist regimes. The history lesson is nothing new, either: Military dictatorships are violent and regressive, human rights are a continuing struggle, and the Cold War made villains of American heroes. But the personal stories in La Isla should appeal to any fan of the theater of statecraft.
At 1:30 p.m. at AFI Silver Theater 3; also on Thursday, June 24, at 1:45 p.m. at AFI Silver Theater 2.