Breaking Silences: Latin filmmaker Anaïs Taracena speaks in Poynter lecture
Filmmaker Anaïs Taracena speaks about the power of telling the story of human rights in Guatemala through film.
Owen Curtin, Contributing Photographer
On Monday, Nov. 14, Latin filmmaker Anaïs Taracena visited Yale as a guest speaker for the Poynter Fellowship. In conversation with María Aguilar, a postdoctoral associate at Yale in Latin American & Iberian Studies, Taracena spoke on the importance of storytelling in post-war Guatemala and how to keep memories alive, persuasive and informative.
“When we make a film we are never objective. We are subjective [in regard to] the truth.” Anaïs Taracena said in her opening statement in her presentation on documentary making in post-war Guatemala.
Taracena’s latest documentary on human rights in Guatemala, “El Silencio del Topo,” explores the moments that the tradition of silence is broken within Guatemala’s turbulent past. From 1960-1996, a brutal civil war ravaged Guatemala with countless human rights violations committed by the Guatemalan government against leftist rebels and civilians.
Much of this history of Guatemala is shrouded in mystery as the government led a campaign to destroy evidence of its actions. Few people within the government or within the rebel groups managed to keep an intact record of the conflict for various reasons. In her talk Taracena noted that, “the existence of an archive is always political … [their] worst enemies are human beings.”
The political science-trained director set out to capture this broken history, creating a visual and “living memory” of Guatemala. “By using archives, nonfiction filmmakers create the memory of specific spaces” she stated in her talk. “We create a new story from archives. We are giving a new sense to these images.”
Taracena’s documentary combines the story of individual people from the time of the conflict, following parts of their lives in reenactments, with images gathered from various sources. The difficulty for Taracena was finding reliable information, as she noted that there was not a “movement in Guatemala to save archives. However, various images, film reels, testimonies and documents serve as a cornerstone of her narrative.
Naz Soysal ’26 asked Taracena about “getting access to archives and whether or not [people] should hold onto these types of spaces for recording history.”
Taracena said that she would “trade favors” with archive works, helping them organize and catalog information in exchange for access. Taracena also noted that official archives are not the only place one can find information, “personal archives exist [where] people have photos of the past.” She emphasized the importance of finding these images and using them to craft a more subjective and persuasive telling of history.
Taracena’s emphasis on subjectivity revolves around “personal stories.” To Taracena these stories, like the identity of those the film covers, “[They are] not fixed, [they’re] always moving.” Subjectivity isn’t something to shy away from in films, rather to Taracena it’s something to celebrate. It’s what makes films human.
Ultimately, Taracena brings awareness to the very real suffering citizens of Guatemala experienced for almost four decades. Her film is a shout in a quiet room, a flash of hope in a dark time.
María Aguilar echoed this sentiment during their conversation.
“We have inherited so much silence,” Aguilar said. “We have memories and the privilege of history. Some people can’t trace their ancestry. If you take someone’s history [away] it is hard to demand change.”
Taracena strives to give memory and voice back to people who historically have not possessed the ability to create change. Her film “El Silencio Del Topo” stands as a testament to this mission and a guide to others on breaking silence through film.
The Poynter Fellowship will continue with more presentations throughout the semester with Anjali Singhvi giving a talk on reporting and graphics editing at the New York Times on Nov. 30.