Franco on Trial by Dietmar Post & Lucia Palacios
Cinematic documentaries give people a voice otherwise not heard, as Peter O’Rourke once said – but there is more. It is the tradition of poetic cinema to allow not just an argument to develop but to invite the audience as citizens, on eye level and as eye witnesses, to form their own opinion about an event, fate, topic. The traditional documentary approach which is cinematic standard primed by Vertov and Ivens, still used by international awarded filmmakers as Guzman or Mettler, enables the audience to familiarise themselves with a situation. As the audience we are allowed to get to know the people involved and their individual stories, as well as the complexity of the interaction of personal destinies and a historical situation or period. This is the quality of that aesthetic tradition which is flexible enough to be adapted for particular stories, such as the one told here. And, this form allows to unfold the particular in the general.
From my point of view, living in a time of populistic media, fake news and neo-liberal opinion making, a film such as Franco on Trail creates a good counterweight to latent and indoctrinated media productions.
In Franco on Trial the filmmakers are introducing us to a dark and not much known period of European history which influenced many parts of the world. And, it gives an idea of hidden processes involved in contemporary politics in Spain and behind.
Together with the central figures of the judge and lawyers from Argentinia, we – the audience – get to know facts and memories which are told, and actions connected to the investigation are shown and explained. Thus, we can experience the dimension for individuals as well for society. Post and Palacios are introducing us to the complex work involved in such a trial, and the importance for so many survivors and relatives of the victims as well as for the families of the perpetrators.
The exceptional quality of the film results from both sides getting a voice - those against whom the killing has been directed; and the side of the perpetrators. By enfolding the dimensions of the time and events of the Franco dictatorship slowly but steadily the pure horror of what happened there becomes more and more apparent. The judges and anthropologist involved allow us to get a bigger picture, to reflect on the events, motivation and importance of the trial – although after such a long time. It is important to get to know about the crime committed against democratic thinking people, about a calculated genocide against republicans, Jews and women who wanted to live on their own rights.
By deciding for the aesthetics of a poetic documentary the filmmakers are gently introducing us into the story. No emotionally heated up comments require us to provide an immediate response here. The filmmakers look the protagonists in the face, giving them space - and so us. We can relate to them, understand their pain or their desire to provide enlightenment. This cinematic method achieves long lasting emotional and intellectual response, thus initiating a discussion about the film and its topic.
Thus, the film is about the events there and then but at the same time it is a metaphor for genocides happening again and again all over the world.
I wish the film, the filmmaker and in particular the protagonists, all people involved in this production a broad audience and vibrant discussion.
Kerstin Stutterheim, Dr phil, Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at Bournemouth University, UK, February 15th, 2018