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Literature | Testimonios | Websites and Directories

Guatemala: The War in Film and Literature

This bibliography represents selected films and prose works depicting the roots of civil unrest in Guatemala and the effects of the thirty year civil war. Also included are website resources emphasizing human rights organizations and information about the indigenous peoples of Guatemala.

Guatemala: The War in Film and Literature was prepared in conjunction with the photography exhibit Shadows of the Truth: the Archaeology of State Terror in Guatemala at the University of Washington,February-March, 2001, Odegaard Undergraduate Library, 2nd Floor North.


Approach of Dawn (1998)
Documentary tells the stories of three Guatemalan women whose lives are forever changed by the civil war. (UW Libraries Media Center)

Caminos del Silencio (1987)
Gives a brief history of the the 30 year civil war and the military campaign against the indigenous peoples of Guatemala. In Spanish with English subtitles. VHS format. (UW Libraries Media Center)

Central America Close-Up (1998)
A documentary comparing the lives of a young Mayan girl and a young El Salvadoran boy. (UW Libraries Media Center)

Crimes against Humanity; the Search for Justice (1998)
A BBC production depicting the torture and murder of thousands of people in politicallly unstable nations (Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Mozambique, South Africa, and elsewhere). (UW Libraries Media Center)

Dark Light of Dawn (1987)
Commissioned by the Guatemala Human Rights Commission USA, this documentary presents a factual account of the civil war, the struggles of families to find the "disappeared," and how repression of the indigenous peoples continues. (UW Libraries Media Center)

Daughters of Ixchel:Maya Threads of Change (1993)
This documentary examines Guatemalan Indian weaving traditions and the forces at work that are changing this culture. (UW Libraries Media Center)

Guatemala: Jeramias and El Salvador: Flor (nd)
A Maryknoll Media production, this film shows the consequences of political strife and violence on two youth. (UW Libraries Media Center)

If the Mango Tree Could Speak (1993)
Depicts the effects of the civil wars on the children of Guatemala and El Salvador. In English and Spanish with Spanish subtitles. VHS format. (UW Libraries Media Center)

Ixcan (1991)
This short documentary follows the fate of people in the refugee camps after the Guatemalan military disrupts community life. Environmental and land reform issues are also addressed. (UW Libraries Tacoma Media Center)

Mayan Voices; American Lives (1994)
Interviews with Guatemalan refugees living in the United States. In English and Spanish with some English voice-over translation. (UW Libraries Media Center)

El Norte (1983)
Independent American-made hit feature film describing the struggles of a brother and sister who flee Guatemala and end up as illegal immigrants in Los Angeles. In Spanish with English subtitles. VHS format.
(UW Education Media Center: restricted to classroom use only)

Popol vuh; Sacred Book of the Quiche Maya (1988)
Portrays the Mayan creation myth, as described in the ancient Popol vuh texts. (UW Libraries Media Center)

School of the Americas, School of the Assassins (1994)
First documentary describing the assistance and training given by US military personnel to Latin American special forces, and how that training has led to police atrocities and state-sponsored terrorism throughout the region. (UW Libraries Media Center) See also Father Roy: Inside the School of Assasins (1997), a revised version of Inside the School of Assasins (1996) by human rights activist Father Roy Bourgeois, who has long led the battle to close down the School of the Americas. (UW Libraries Media Center)

El Silencio de Neto (1994)
A boy comes of age during the 1954 coup in Guatemala, in this first Guatemalan produced feature film aimed at international distribution. In Spanish with English subtitles. (UW Libraries Media Center)

Todos Santos Cuchumatan: report from a Guatemalan village (1979) The first documentary to depict Indian life in this small Indian town. English narration. (Note: this film is in U-Matic format.) (UW Libraries Media Center)

Todos Santos: the Survivors (1989)
A second documentary made of this Indian town showing the changes brought about by guerrilla activity and government reprisal in the ten years since the first documentary was made. In Spanish with English narration and some subtitles. (UW Libraries Media Center)

Under the Gun; Democracy in Guatemala (1987)
When a new president is elected in Guatemala in 1986, the country hopes for a return to democracy. (Note: 16mm film) (UW Educational Media Center)

We are Guatemalans(1995)
A Maryknoll documentary account of the return of Guatemalan refugees after a 12 year absence from their homeland. (UW Libraries Media Center)

When the Mountains Tremble (1983)
This documentary tells the personal story of Rigoberta Menchu against the background of the civil war in Guatemala. Perspective is that of the guerillas working against government forces. (UW Educational Media Center; restricted to use by Washington State institutions of higher learning)


The literature of Guatemala has been greatly affected (some would even say contorted) by the long civil war and its impact on content, style and availability. Censorship within the country has left many worthy texts still unpublished and many more are not yet available in English translation. Most authors have experienced varying lengths of time living in exile in Mexico, Europe and the United States. But as Guatemalan writers become better known in the United States, their reputations will grow, both as social thinkers and as literary figures. Many of these works are considered "difficult," but reward the patient reader with a rich and enduring view of one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking countries in the New World.

(This list is limited to works available in English.)

Arturo Arias (1950- )
One of the best known Guatemalan authors, Arias continues to write ground-breaking works, in terms of both style and content. His political ideas have evolved from support of the leftist intellectuals to a more critical view of the attempt of radicals to link their agenda to that of the Indians. He is now sometimes criticized for being an outsider trying to represent indigenous "otherness" but has also gained praise for his study and apparent understanding of Indian culture. Unfortunately, many of his most important works are not yet translated into English.
Despues de las bombas was first published in 1979 and translated into English in 1990 as After the Bombs. The novel successfully blends the subjective viewpoint of a boy in Guatemala City against a political backdrop of military coups.
Los Caminos de Paxil, written between (1991-92), and available in English in a 1995 English thesis Translation and Analysis of The Roads to Paxil demonstratess Arias' effective use of an Indian narrator.

Miguel Angel Asturias (1899-1974)
Winner of the Noble Prize for Literature in 1967, Asturias is Guatemala's most enduring author. Many of his writings have been translated into English. Influenced by surrealism, Asturias went on to develop a remarkable style which portrayed the political, cultural and social clashes that have plagued Guatemala. Two novels that reveal social and political conditions which contributed to the Guatemalan civil war are:
Hombres de maiz first published in Buenos Aires, 1949, first published in English in 1975 as Men of Maize, is one of the most important novels published in Latin America. It describes the difficulties faced by indigenous peoples to maintain their culture in the face of overwhelming change and discrimination.
El Senor Presidente first published in Mexico City, 1946, first published in English in 1963 as The President, this novel is a grim indictment of the political corruption and despotism that characterized Guatemala's government during the 1930's and 1940's.
Viento fuerte (1950), el Papa verde (1954) and Los oyos de los enterrados (1960), in English translation known as Strong Wind or The Cyclone, The Green Pope, and The Eyes of the Interred, or all three together as the "banana trilogy," is Asturias' denunciation of U.S. imperialism and economic exploitation. The role of the United States government in the political fortunes of Guatemala has been a constant theme in much of the literature of Guatemala.

Francisco Goldman (1950- )
The Long Night of White Chickens published first in English in 1992. Its Guatemalan-American-Jewish author places his story in the frightening labyrinth of Guatemala City during the worst of the killings.

Victor Montejo (1951- )
The Bird Who Cleans the World; and Other Mayan Fables was published originally in English in 1991. The author, a ladinized Mayan teacher and anthropology graduate student, contemporizes Indian myths and fables told to him by his mother. Each story has a direct link to modern social/political situations, particularly the state sponsored violence waged against indigenous Guatemalans. (See also his testimonio works, below)

Victor Perera (1934- )
U.S.-born Perera has written a variety of works himself and has translated other Guatemalan writers into English.
Rites: a Guatemalan Boyhood was published originally in English in 1986. It is a highly regarded sociological study of the hatred that Guatemalan lower-elite society feels for Indians and everyone else who is somehow "different."


Testimonios (testimonials) have become an important and powerful form of writing in Guatemala, particularly following the publication of Rigoberta Menchu's I, Rigoberta Menchu. Testimonial writing has been interpreted as representing the "true" indigenous Guatemalan experience: simple, linear, value-affirming, spontaneous expressions of "the people." And in some more recent fictive writings mentioned above, one can see the intellectual elite creating narrative styles which attempt to accurately understand and represent indigenous perspectives.

Ignacio Bizarro Ujpan [pseudonym] (n.d)
Son of Tecun Uman: a Maya Indian Tells His Life Story (1981), Campesino: the Diary of a Guatemalan Indian (1985), and Ignacio: the Dairy of a Maya India of Guatemala (1992) are autobiographical works edited and translated by James D. Sexton working with a Guatemalan informant.

Rigoberta Menchu (n.d)
Me llamo Rigoberta Menchu y asi me nacio la conciencias was first published in France, Spain and Cuba in 1983, and first in English as I, Rigoberta Menchu (London) in 1984. It has been republished many times, and now has been rewritten by Menchu. This single work is credited with finally drawing international attention to the genocidal policies of the Guatemalan military governments and, indeed, resulted in a Nobel Prize for the author. The book has since drawn much controversy, sparked primarily by the publication of anthropologist David Stoll's work Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans (1999). Stoll is a U.S. trained anthropologist who has studied in Guatemala and, after reading Menchu's book, became concerned about discrepancies in the text. His criticism of Menchu has raised heated discussion about the motives of both Menchu and Stoll, and about the literary devices of the testimonio genre. Stol has now just published jointly with Arturo Arias another study of this issue The Rigoberta Menchu Controversy (2001).

Victor Montejo (1951- )
Testimonio: muerte de una comunidad indigena en Guatemala (1993) and published in English as Testimony: Death of a Guatemalan Village (1987).

Mario Roberto Morales (1947- )
Senores bajo los arboles was published in Spanish in Guatemala in 1994, and then in English as Face of the Earth, Heart of the Sky in 2000. This work represents a sort of "testinovela," a cross between novel and testimonial.

Mario Payeras (1950- )
Dias de la selva (1980) was published in English in 1983 as Days of the Jungle; the Testimony of a Guatemalan Guerrillero, 1972-1976. This work and its author had considerable influence over younger leftist writers, some of whom have now questioned the link between radical political ideas and the plight of the Guatemalan Indians.

Thomas F. Reed and Karen Brandow
The Sky Never Changes: Testimonies from the Guatemalan Labor Movement (1996).

For a remarkable glimpse of Guatemalan literature, Marc Zimmerman and Raul Rojas have published Voices from the Silence; Guatemalan Literature of Resistence (1998), in which they have pieced together portions of poetry, fiction, testimonio, and other writings to create a literary collage of resistence writing. Samples from the works of many authors--most of which have not yet been translated into English--are arranged in a narration which, when taken as a whole, gives the reader an overwhelming sense of the culture, history, politics, violence, hatred and beauty that is Gautemala today.


GUASO: The Guatemala Soidarity Committee of Seattle

Guatemala Human Rights Commission USA Guatemala: State of Impunity (Amnesty International Site)

Guatemala Memory of Silence; Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification, Conclusions and Recommendations Guatemala Truth
International memorial to the more than 150,000 Guatemalans and others who were killed by the Guatemalan army and its paramilitary support units, 1954-1996.

Maya, the Guatemalan Indian Centre: Film/Video Archive MINUGUA; Mision de Verificacion de las Naciones Unidas en Guatemala

Network in Solidary with the People of Guatemala

Peace Brigades International, Guatemala

Rights Action [formerly Guatemala Partners]

1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Guatemala
U.S. State Department annual report


"The most extensive directory of web pages on Guatemala" "El directorio mas extenso de paginas web sobre Guatemala"

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Last updated February 14, 2001.