Breaking a 40-Year Long Silence on Forgotten Crimes, ‘The Silence of Others’ premieres Monday, September 30, 2019
“The film that wants to stop Spain forgetting” – The Guardian
“Clear-eyed, clear-headed, and artful... It has made a difference in the world.” – The Nation
Victims of Spain's dictatorship fight a state-imposed amnesia of crimes against humanity.
Filmed over six years, The Silence of Others reveals the epic struggle of victims of Spain’s 40-year dictatorship under General Franco, as they organize a groundbreaking international lawsuit and fight a “pact of forgetting” around the crimes they suffered. A cautionary tale about fascism and the dangers of forgetting the past.
Directed by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar and executive produced by Academy Award-winning Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, The Silence of Others is the winner of over 30 international awards including the 2019 Goya for Best Documentary Feature (Spain’s Academy Award) and was shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature for the 91st Academy Awards. The Silence of Others has its national broadcast debut on the PBS documentary series POV and pov.org on Monday, September 30 at 10 p.m. (check local listings). The film is a co-production of Semilla Verde Productions, Lucernam Films, American Documentary | POV, Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB), in association with El Deseo. POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series now in its 32nd season.
Unbeknownst to much of the world, in Spain today, torture victims live just blocks from their notorious police torturers, who walk free every day. Tens of thousands of parents continue to search for their children who were likely stolen at birth. And families desperate to recover their loved ones’ bodies from thousands of mass graves across Spain are blocked by their own government from doing so.
The Silence of Others reveals the struggle of victims of these, and other crimes, from General Franco’s 40-year dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975), whose perpetrators have enjoyed impunity for decades due to a 1977 amnesty law. It brings to light a painful past that Spain is reluctant to face even today, decades after the dictator’s death. And it tells the story of how victims and their descendants are fighting back, seeking justice more than 7,000 miles away from home.
Over six years, Emmy-winning filmmakers Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar follow a movement that begins in someone’s kitchen and evolves to bring together hundreds of victims and their descendants, who break Spain’s “pact of silence” to join an international lawsuit to prosecute these crimes.
The story unfolds on two continents: in Spain, where survivors and human rights lawyers build a case that Spanish courts refuse to admit, and in Argentina, where a judge takes it on using the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows foreign courts to investigate crimes against humanity if the country where they occurred refuses to do so.
The case marks an astonishing reversal, for it was Spain that pioneered universal jurisdiction to bring down former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and yet now it is an Argentine judge who must bring Spain’s own past to light.
As the years advance, the case makes history, yielding the first-ever arrest warrants for perpetrators, including alleged torturers, former cabinet ministers, and doctors implicated in cases of stolen children. It brings the nearly forgotten story to the front page of The New York Times, and is generating support for victims of Spain’s dictatorship in Spain and around the world.
The Silence of Others itself has made an impact in Spain, where it has been seen by more than a million people, with the film’s hashtags reaching the #2 trending topic in Spain (with over 50,000 tweets) including a tweet from Spain’s Prime Minister urging everyone to watch the film. Spain’s public broadcaster RTVE called it “The film that everyone is talking about” and Spain’s influential cinema magazine Fotogramas called it “The most necessary documentary of the last 80 years”.
With the global rise of authoritarian regimes and ultra-right parties, The Silence of Others offers a cautionary tale about fascism’s long shadows, and the dangers of forgetting the past. It raises profound questions about how societies grapple with legacies of state violence and what to do with perpetrators of crimes against humanity in their midst.
“What does it mean to forget, and how might that prevent a nation from moving past its historical sins?” said Justine Nagan, executive producer/executive director for POV/American Documentary. “At a time when many countries are re-examining their histories, The Silence of Others holds important lessons for democracies all across the world, and for the people who intend to keep them strong and vibrant.”
Executive Producer and Academy Award-winning Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar says “The Silence of Others is beautiful, essential, overwhelming nonfiction cinema. From María’s first whisper, to the final frame on the mountaintop, we live and breathe a six year struggle as basic as Antigone’s: to bury the dead with dignity, to learn the truth before it is too late, and for justice to have its day. I proudly present this film and hope it will be seen in every corner of the world.”
How We Started
In 2010, the story of Spain’s “stolen children” began to come out. The story of these crimes, with roots in the early days of Franco’s rule, led us to explore the marginalization and silencing of victims of many Franco-era crimes, ranging from extrajudicial killings at the end of the Spanish Civil War to torture that took place as recently as 1975. As we began to learn more, we were baffled by basic questions: how could it be that Spain, unlike other countries emerging from repressive regimes, had had no Nuremberg Trials, no Truth and Reconciliation Commission, no national reckoning? Why, instead, was a “pact of forgetting” forged in Spain? And what were the consequences of that pact, 40 years into democracy, for the still-living victims of Franco’s dictatorship?When we began filming the process of the Argentine lawsuit in 2012, which challenged this status quo, few thought that it would amount to much. But as we filmed those early meetings, we could see that the lawsuit was stirring up something vital, transforming victims and survivors into organizers and plaintiffs and bringing out dozens, and then hundreds, of testimonies from all over Spain. As the number of testimonies snowballed, the case was building into a persuasive argument about crimes against humanity that demanded international justice.We thus discovered that The Silence of Others was going to be a story about possibilities, about trying to breach a wall, and that, rather than focusing on what had happened in the past, it would be all about the present and the future. For many of the plaintiffs, the case would offer the last opportunity in their lifetimes to be heard. Yet even as we set out filming those early meetings, we could scarcely have imagined that we would follow this story for six years.
Perspective and Process
The stories that we were uncovering touched each of us deeply: Almudena is a Spaniard whose parents were raised under Franco, and who grew up in Spain during the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Robert is an American who has been involved with human rights issues since he was 19, and the fight against Fascism during the Spanish Civil War had always been close to his heart.We make films slowly, with a very small team, over a long period of time. We shoot as a two-person crew, with Almudena filming and Robert doing sound. We patiently follow many storylines over the years, and see where they lead. But, in a bigger sense, we always knew that, whatever happened in each story, justice was not just an end goal for the plaintiffs. Justice was being made each day through their journey. Justice was their horizon.This slow process leads to a lot of material – in the end we shot over 450 hours – but it also immerses us in the story on a day-to-day level, and sometimes there is no replacement for just “being there.” Our edit process, too, is long, slow and patient. The Silence of Others is an intricate, complex mosaic, and we spent 14 months in the cutting room, slowly writing, editing and building the film, with wonderful collaborators Kim Roberts and Ricardo Acosta.Parallel to the shooting and editing there was another struggle that is common to documentary-making – we raised funds piece by piece, and nearly ran out of money several times. But we believed fiercely in what we were doing, and, in the end, we managed to stay afloat for 7 years to complete the film.
The Silence of Others is structured around the Argentine lawsuit and we follow the case as it unfolds over six years in front of our camera, capturing breaking developments and emotions as they happen. With the lawsuit as backbone, the film delicately interweaves vérité scenes with interviews and rarely-seen archival materials to viscerally bear witness to the past. The film is lyrical and reflective at times, and suspenseful at others. Sparse poetic voiceover narration from director Almudena Carracedo provides space for essential context and reflection.A powerful but restrained score by Leonardo Heiblum and Jacobo Lieberman, and the meticulous sound design by Steve Miller, are also important cinematic elements, and we have aspired to create a powerful and affecting soundscape.We look to films like Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia For The Light and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look Of Silence as deep and poetic models for exploring the shadows that past crimes cast upon the present. Like these films, we hope that The Silence of Others delves sensitively and artfully into the past, posing questions rather than answering them.
This is a film that has to work inside and outside Spain. It needed the cultural sensitivity, the shared subconscious, and intricate contextual details of a film made by a Spaniard, and Almudena, who was born just before Franco died, returned home to Spain, after 12 years in the US, to make this film. While most of the crew was Spanish, it was also crucial that there be an international team, and Robert’s outsider perspective has greatly shaped the film, unpacking assumptions and making it more bigger and more universal. We believe that this unique inside/ outside perspective has been absolutely crucial to the film’s success – both narratively and also in its impact on audiences around the world.In Spain, we recognize that the issues explored in The Silence of Others can be sources of division to this day. In families. Among friends. Across sectors of society. Yet we feel strongly that the stories of the victims and survivors in The Silence of Others transcend the political, and should be seen in the frame of human rights. As Judge María Servini says near the end of the film, “If the judges in Spain could hear what I have heard, they would open these cases here, too”. Likewise, we hope that when people hear the stories that we have heard over the seven years of making The Silence of Others, and see the fear and the pain that we have seen, they too will view this less as a political issue, and more as a human rights – or just a human – issue.
The Silence of Others speaks far beyond Spain, and fits into a movement of films that address transitional justice in post-conflict societies. Yet often these films (and discussions of these issues) focus on crimes that occurred in the so-called “global south”, with Western European actors facilitating justice-seeking processes abroad. In The Silence of Others, by contrast, the crimes occurred in Spain, in the heart of Europe. The film interweaves one huge macro-political issue - universal jurisdiction and no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity - with very human stories. And yet, the more personal the film becomes, the clearer the political and human rights questions become. Why, today, in 2019, in a well-developed democracy, must this suffering continue? Why is there no access to truth or justice for these survivors and their families? And why, like Antigone herself, must these families struggle to give their dead a dignified burial?
—Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, Directors and Producers, The Silence of Others
About the Filmmakers:
Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, Directors/Producers
The Silence of Others was written, produced and directed by Emmy-winning filmmakers Almudena Carracedo andRobert Bahar. After 7 years of work, The Silence of Others premiered at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale), where it won both the Audience Award (Panorama) and the Peace Film Prize. Following Berlin, The Silence of Others has won 30+ international prizes, including the 2019 Goya for Best Feature Documentary (Spain’s Academy Award), Grand Jury Award at Sheffield Doc/Fest, Hamptons International Film Festival Social Justice Award, Thessaloniki Audience Award, Encounters International Documentary Festival Audience Award and #2 Audience Favorite at IDFA, among many others. It was one of five films nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2018 European Film Awards and one of 15 documentaries shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature for the 2019 Academy Awards.
Almudena and Robert’s previous film, Made in L.A. (MadeinLA.com), which tells the story of three Latina immigrants fighting for better working conditions in Los Angeles garment factories, was praised by The New York Times as “an excellent documentary... about basic human dignity.” Made in L.A. screened at 100+ film festivals, premiered on United States public television’s POV series and won numerous awards including an Emmy, the Henry Hampton Award and the Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism, among others.
Born in Madrid, Spain, Almudena developed her professional career in the United States, where she directed and produced her short documentary Welcome, A Docu-Journey of Impressions (which won Silverdocs' Sterling Prize) and her debut feature documentary, the Emmy-winning POV film Made in L.A. In 2012, Almudena returned to her native Spain to begin work on The Silence of Others in collaboration with Robert. Almudena is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Creative Capital Fellow, a Sundance Time Warner Documentary Fellow, a United States Artists Fellow, and holds an honorary doctorate from Illinois Wesleyan University.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Robert lives and works between Brooklyn and Madrid, where he moved to begin work on The Silence of Others in collaboration with Almudena. He won an Emmy as producer/writer of the POV documentary Made in L.A., and he spearheaded a three-year impact campaign that brought the film to audiences around the world. Prior to Made in L.A., he produced and directed the documentary Laid to Waste, and line produced several independent films. Robert is a Creative Capital Fellow, a Sundance Documentary Fellow, and holds an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television.
Directors: Almudena Carracedo, Robert Bahar
Producers: Almudena Carracedo, Robert Bahar
Director of Photography: Almudena Carracedo
Editors: Kim Roberts, Ricardo Acosta
Original Music: Leonardo Heiblum, Jacobo Lieberman
Sound Design: Steve Miller
Location Sound: Robert Bahar
Executive Producers for El Deseo: Pedro Almodóvar, Agustín Almodóvar,
Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan, Chris White
Executive Producer for ITVS: Sally Jo Fifer
Executive Producer for LPB: Sandie Viquez Pedlow
Co-Executive Producers for Blue Ice Docs: Steven Silver, Neil Tabatznik, Robin Smith
The Silence of Others is a co-production of ITVS, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that has, for over 25 years, funded and partnered with a diverse range of documentary filmmakers to produce and distribute untold stories. ITVS incubates and co-produces these award-winning films and then airs them for free on public television through weekly series and stand-alone specials and through its digital platform, OVEE. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. For more information, visit itvs.org.
Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) is the leader in the development, production, acquisition and distribution of non-commercial educational and cultural media that is representative of Latino people, or addresses issues of particular interest to Latino Americans. These programs are produced for dissemination to public broadcasting stations and other public telecommunication entities. Latino Public Broadcasting provides a voice to the diverse Latino community throughout the United States and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Latino Public Broadcasting produces VOCES, the signature Latino arts and culture documentary series on PBS devoted to exploring the rich diversity of the Latino cultural experience. Between 2009 and 2019, LPB programs won over 125 awards, including two prestigious George Foster Peabody Awards as well as Emmys, Imagen Awards and the Sundance Film Festival Award for Best Director, Documentary. In addition, LPB has been the recipient of the Norman Lear Legacy Award and the NCLR Alma Award for Special Achievement – Year in Documentaries. Sandie Viquez Pedlow is executive director of LPB; Edward James Olmos is co-founder and chairman.