How to Nail a Dictator
Year Released
Film Length(s)
82 mins
Remote video URL


In a startling loop of time and memory, Granito shows how a filmmaker's first documentary has been instrumental to indict Guatemalan ex-dictator Ríos Montt on genocide charges.

Featured review

Granito...doesn't simply relate history; it is also part of history.
Stephen Holden
New York Times


Sometimes a film makes history; it doesn’t just document it. So it is with Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, the astonishing film by Pamela Yates. Part political thriller, part memoir, Yates transports us back in time through a riveting, haunting tale of genocide and returns to the present with a cast of characters joined by destiny and the quest to bring a malevolent dictator to justice.

As if a watchful Maya god were weaving back together threads of a story unraveled by the passage of time, forgotten by most, our characters become integral to the overarching narrative of wrongs done and justice sought that they have pieced together, each adding their granito, their tiny grain of sand, to the epic tale.

Awards and Screenings

Official Selection Sundance Film Festival, 2011
Emmy Nomination, Outstanding Investigative Journalism: Long Form, 2013
Opening Night Film, Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, 2011
Grand Prix for Best Creative Documentary, Paris International Human Rights Film Festival, 2011
Peace & Reconciliation Prize, The Geneva International Human Rights Festival, 2011
Jury Grand Prize, The Politics on Film Festival, 2011
Honorable Mention, Overseas Press Club Award, 2011
Founder's Award, Traverse City Film Festival, 2011

Director Commentary

For me Granito is a second chance to help right a terrible wrong.

I first went to Guatemala in 1982, to make a film about a hidden war, a film that would become my first feature length documentary, When the Mountains Tremble. We now know that hidden in that war was a genocide the Guatemalan military dictators committed against the Maya people. None of these war criminals have ever been brought to account, none punished. The anger I feel towards those Generals is almost unbearable. Today, more than 25 years later, When the Mountains Tremble and all the outtakes, are being used as forensic evidence in an international case against two of the generals who appeared in my original film.

Digging through the outtakes and preparing evidence for the court case made me realize that a story I had thought was over was very much alive and needed to be told. This sequel to “When the Mountains Tremble” would be called “Granito,” Spanish for tiny grain of sand. It is a concept I first learned in the Guatemalan highlands and carried it with me throughout my filmmaking life. It reflects the communal values that guide Maya communities and means that each of us can make a small contribution to positive social change, and together we can make great changes in favor of equality and human rights.

As fate would have it, the central character in “When the Mountains Tremble” was a 22-year-old Maya human rights defender named Rigoberta Menchú whose family members had been killed and who’d fled into exile. Ten years later she became the first indigenous woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Leveraging her stature as a Nobel Laureate, Rigoberta originated the case against the Generals that breathed new life into the quest for justice, and inspired the new film “Granito”.

As filming began on Granito, I was surprised to discover that Guatemalans had never given up on finding justice and uncovering the collective memory of their buried past. I wanted to find a way to highlight the courage of these empowered individuals. This sentiment is at the heart of “Granito”, which is how it became such a hopeful and transformative film. But for me, this new film held a deeper filmmaking challenge. After three decades of involvement with Guatemala, I had become a character in the story I needed to tell. This demanded that I examine my feelings and beliefs back when I started. I had to find a way to use the narrative power of documentary filmmaking to combine the beauty with the anger: the beauty of youthful idealism --- mine as well as the Guatemalan revolutionary movement’s, and the anger I now feel towards the war criminals who continue to flaunt their impunity.

I realize that the collective concept of Granito has permeated my filmmaking life, a journey I have traveled with Peter Kinoy, my fellow filmmaker and co-founder of Skylight Pictures. Peter was the Producer and Editor of When the Mountains Tremble and is the Editor of Granito. Together we’ve developed our approach to political documentary storytelling, embracing the same techniques of cinematography, scoring and editing used by narrative filmmakers to evoke drama and urgency.

Although Granito is rooted in the past --- how I got started, the choices I made along the way, and how what I thought I was doing back then has a different meaning today --- it is really a film about the future. Granito is meant to inspire the next generation of young, engaged filmmakers to see and embrace the power of documentary filmmaking to make a difference.

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Subtitles
  • Resources for Educators

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • Spanish

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