How can an open society balance demands for security with democracy? Based on the findings of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, State of Fear follows events in Peru, yet serves as a cautionary tale for a nation like the United States. Filmmakers Pamela Yates, Peter Kinoy, and Paco de Onis masterfully blend personal testimony, history and archival footage to tell the story of escalating violence in the Andean nation and how the fear of terror undermined their democracy, making Peru a virtual dictatorship where official corruption replaced the rule of law. Terrorist attacks by Shining Path insurgents provoked a military occupation of the countryside. Military justice replaced civil authority, widespread abuses by the Peruvian Army went unpunished, and the terrorism continued to spread. Nearly 70,000 civilians eventually died at the hands of Shining Path and the Peruvian military.

"State of Fear shows all too clearly how terror can contaminate a country... As if trapped in a suspense film, we are forced to follow this escalation of violence step by tragic step, slowly understanding how so many Peruvians were poisoned by this maelstrom of madness and cruelty." 
 

 

Ariel Dorfman, THE GUARDIAN
Synopsis: 

State of Fear takes place in Peru, yet serves as a cautionary tale for a world engaged in a “global war on terror”. It dramatizes the human and societal costs a democracy faces when it embarks on a “war” against terror, a “war” potentially without end, all too easily exploited by unscrupulous leaders seeking personal political gain.

An unforgettable array of characters takes us down a troubling road peopled by perpetrators and victims, and bystanders who only watched as the horror unfolded. But it is also the story of courageous Peruvians who fought to maintain their democracy and defend human rights, and persevered in their quest for truth and justice.

With support from The Ford Foundation, the Sundance Documentary Fund, and the US Institute of Peace, Skylight Pictures has released this feature length documentary directed by Pamela Yates. “State of Fear” brings a new level of documentary storytelling to an epic tale of one nation’s journey through a war on terror.

How can an open society balance demands for security with democracy? State of Fear dramatizes the human and societal costs a democracy faces when it embarks on a “war” against terror, a “war” potentially without end, all too easily exploited by unscrupulous leaders seeking personal political gain. The film follows events in Peru, yet it serves as a cautionary tale for a nation like the United States.

Filmmakers Pamela Yates, Paco de Onís and Peter Kinoy masterfully blend personal testimony, history and archival footage to tell the story of escalating violence in the Andean nation and how fear of terrorism was used to undermine democracy, making Peru a virtual dictatorship where official corruption replaced the rule of law. Terrorist attacks by Shining Path guerrillas provoked a military occupation of the countryside. Military justice replaced civil authority, widespread abuses by the Peruvian army went unpunished, and terrorism continued to spread. Nearly 70,000 civilians eventually died at the hands of the Shining Path and the Peruvian military.

“State of Fear” is set in the magnificent deserts, mountains, and jungles of Peru, filmed by a US/Peruvian team, and tells a gripping story of escalating violence and repression, and of courageous resistance by human rights defenders. Terrorist attacks by the Shining Path guerrillas provoked a military occupation of the countryside. Military Justice replaced Civil authority, widespread abuses by the Peruvian Army went unpunished, and the terrorism continued to spread. Eventually nearly 70,000 civilians died at the hands of the Shining Path and the Peruvian military.Old-fashioned police intelligence finally subdued the terrorist threat but Peruvian leaders continued to use the fear of terrorism to gut the democracy, making Peru a virtual dictatorship where a vast web of corruption replaced the rule of law.

In 2000 this autocratic regime collapsed beneath the weight of its own corruption, and the new democratic government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that opened a door to the past, throwing light on the relentless violence that had engulfed this Andean nation for twenty years. The Truth Commission granted Skylight Pictures access to its extensive testimonial evidence from 20 years of violence, as well as hundreds of hours of rarely seen archival material and thousands of exquisite still photographs that will help bring this timely story to an international audience

Reviews

"State of Fear offers a more comprehensive view of Peru's battle against terrorism and for democracy. It is also having an unexpected international impact. It has been translated into 45 languages....and last month, it provoked a fierce debate between critics and supporters of the Russian government at a human rights festival in Moscow." 
 

Alan Riding, NEW YORK TIMES

"Based on the findings of Peru's extraordinary Truth and Reconciliation Commission, ....State of Fear is one of the most remarkable explorations of recent history ever conducted... this electrifying, frightening and profoundly inspiring work of nonfiction ...seems committed to understanding how and why (a) nation ran amok, and what lessons can be drawn from it." 
 

Andrew O'Hehir, SALON.COM

"Suppose you declared a war on terror and nobody won---or, to be more precise, everybody lost? This is the sobering rhetorical inquiry posed by State of Fear, a fiercely detailed, yet scrupulously balanced documentary." 
 

Gene Seymour, NEW YORK NEWSDAY

"State of Fear ...is really intended as a cautionary tale for the current war on terror. Fujimori exploited his extra latitude to bypass the rule of law, punish his political enemies and bully a nation into choosing security over freedom. Remind you of anyone?" 
 

Scott Tobias, THE ONION
Director's Commentary: 

"State of Fear" is a continuation of my long journey of filmmaking in Latin America, which began in Guatemala with the story of Rigoberta Menchú in ("When the Mountains Tremble") 10 years before she won the Nobel Peace prize; as well as "Witness to War", the story of an American doctor behind rebel lines in Central America; and most recently to Mexico to tell the tale of human rights icon Digna Ochoa in "Cause for Murder". I was in Peru in 1992 at the height of Shining Path's power and now I've returned to make "State of Fear" with the idea of telling a story that will engage the viewers to reflect on today's global "war on terror": what are the hidden costs and dangers in the fight against terrorism? Peru is a country of extreme contrasts: between the whites and the Indians, between the majestic and timeless beauty of the country and the horrific violence which engulfed it. While the story I am telling is complex, these stark contrasts will help us tell it in an engaging and direct way.

My approach to "State of Fear" is to shape and tell the story through the voices of many Peruvians that I have met. Some of the characters were perpetrators, some were victims, and some unwitting accomplices; but all are people linked by extraordinary events that shook their world.

Pamela Yates
January 2005