Human Rights Watch FF 2017 Women Directors: Meet Pamela Yates — “The Resistance Saga”
Pamela Yates is a co-founder and current creative director of Skylight, a media company dedicated to creating feature length documentary films and digital media tools that advance awareness of human rights and the quest for justice. Her film “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator,” for which she awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, was used as key forensic evidence in the genocide trial against Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala.
“The Resistance Saga” will premiere at the 2017 Human Rights Watch Film Festival on June 11.
W&H: Describe the event for us in your own words.
PY: “The Resistance Saga” is an immersive cinematic event that includes all three films of my Guatemalan trilogy: “When the Mountains Tremble,” “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator,” and “500 Years.”
It’s 35 years, three films, and one story presented over five hours. This is topped off with a joyful live concert by Mayan singer-songwriter Sara Curruchich.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
PY: It may be only once that I will get to present a lifetime of work precisely at the moment when it is most needed.
“The Resistance Saga” tells the evolving story of the creative movement building in Guatemala. The trilogy of films also deals with universal themes of justice, environmental sustainability, and indigenous rights, as well as racism, greed, and corruption.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
PY: “The Resistance Saga” event is meant to energize and galvanize the newly minted activists that have emerged across the U.S. in the wake of the Trump election — look at the millions of young women who first marched in the Women’s March in January 2017, as well as the thousands of Native Americans and their allies who came together at Standing Rock last summer!
I want to share strategies for sustained citizen engagement and draw on the wisdom and nonviolent resistance skills of the Guatemalan Mayans.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in creating the event?
PY: I wanted to do something different and artistic. So, I set out to convince my colleagues at Human Rights Watch. The challenge lies in getting people to see the value in an immersive cinematic event where three stand-alone films actually have a deeper, more profound impact when they are seen in succession, because it then becomes an epic of historical memory. It’s not a matter of revisiting the films you’ve already seen, but rather experiencing them all together.
“The Resistance Saga” on June 11 at Lincoln Center will be the pilot program.
W&H: How did you get the event funded? Share some insights into how you’re getting the event off the ground.
PY: We are officially pitching “The Resistance Saga” at the upcoming Miami Good Pitch. Our aim is to get funding and outreach partners so that we can celebrate and stimulate activism on a ten-city tour in 2018 through the U.S. heartland, which could be extended if popular demand calls for it. We hope to team up with local organizations in each city, and highlight the fundamental role that the arts can play in creative resistance strategies.
“The Resistance Saga” will also serve as a catalyst to build networks of solidarity amongst the participants and their organizations. To reinforce solidarity, we want to build an online favor economy platform where there is no quid pro quo or monetary exchange between participants. Rather, they can offer and receive skills and services from one another as members of communities in resistance.
We will also launch a crowdfunding campaign, not only to raise funds, but to build an active constituency for “The Resistance Saga” tour with a special focus on communities that want to bring the event to their city. Our funding formula will include in-kind support from organizations at each location.
W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival?
PY: It means acceptance by a preeminent international human rights organization. The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, in particular, has a sharp artistic sensibility about how films create impact.
It also means that the 41 film festivals in the Human Rights Film Network will take a close look at playing “The Resistance Saga” when submitted. This is quite an important film festival circuit; it can ensure that our films are seen all around the world by important audiences, including the international human rights movement.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
PY: I received the best advice from writer Alma Guillermoprieto. She said, “Stay connected to people and places where you’ve made films.” This helped me understand the importance of collaborative filmmaking, and our films are so much richer for it. It led to my return — time and time again — to Guatemala and the Mayan perspective.
The worst advice was when a festival director told me that only films that denounce are human rights films. My films go beyond exposing human rights crimes. They take you to a place where we can celebrate our shared humanity, with stories told by courageous protagonists and gorgeous cinematography. Additionally, they show a way forward, seeking solutions to seemingly intractable social problems.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
PY: Come to the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. If you live in the New York area, great! If you don’t, come anyway.
The films and discussion will charge your batteries for the coming fight. It’s a supremely well-curated festival with extended Q&As led by human rights defenders. You’ll learn a lot. The films, the directors, and the inspiring Mayan women in “The Resistance Saga” will all charge those internal batteries.
Get connected to the Human Rights Film Network and submit your film.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
PY: Since I’m writing about a body of work, I have to say that I’m pretty high on Ava DuVernay right now. Come on! She directs, produces, writes, promotes, markets, and distributes! She creates groundbreaking feature narratives and documentaries. And what about “Queen Sugar,” the television series she executive produces, writes, and directs for the Oprah Winfrey Network? This woman is a national treasure.
W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have on this topic.
PY: As a human rights defender who uses the power of cinema to tell inspiring stories, I’m always optimistic about the possibility that humans have for change.
Still, let’s fight like hell and mentor the new generation of women that are coming on the scene. Let’s learn from them as well.
Together we will prevail.