Interview: Kimberly Bautista on 'Justice for my Sister', a Documentary Film

During this year’s ‘Movies that Matter Film Festival’ the Peace Palace Library had the opportunity to interview the Award Winning documentary filmmaker Kimberly Bautista. Her film ‘Justice for my Sister’ deals with sexual violence against women in Guatamala and focusses in particular on the issue of Femicide (the killings of women) and the ongoing struggle women face in the Guatamalan criminal justice system that is plagued by impunity and mistrust of law enforcement officials.

Your film mainly deals with the issue of Femicide in Guatamala. During the Question & Answer Session after the screening you also mentioned the term Feminicide. Can you explain the difference between these two terms and how did Femicide become a common practice in Guatamala?

Basically the term feminicide encapsulates the phenomenon of the rise of extremely brutal gender-based killings of women, and this concept also evokes the system that allows this violence to be as pervasive as it is. Two core factors that contribute to feminicide are patriarchy (which legitimizes the devaluing of women’s bodies) and impunity (because if there’s no accountability, then perpetrators essentially feel that they have a license to kill, because no one will hold them accountable for their crime). In 2008, Guatemala passed the Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women. This law speaks specifically to a singular case of gender-motivated murder, in which the suspect and the victim had a history of violence (threats, sexual abuse, physical violence, etc.), and in which he had premeditated the murder, and/or took advantage of certain things, such as the time of day, among other elements. So feminicide refers to the overarching social issue and structural elements that allow it to flourish (similar to the concept of genocide), whereas femicide is referring to the specific case and crime in question (similar to the concept of infanticide - or killing of a child). Both terms reflect the importance of the victims’ gender identity as the primary motivating factor of the violence, and the brutality with which these murders are carried out.

Did you get support from the Guatamalan government from the beginning? Were they cooperative?

To a certain extent, I fell a bit under the radar of the Guatemalan government when I first started shooting. I think I gained access to lots of public officials and spaces in part because this film began as part of my Master’s thesis and state agency officials did not see me as a real threat. So for instance, I was easily granted access to interview the suspect while he was in jail, plus I was allowed to film in the police station and Public Prosecutor’s office. The most difficult interview to get was the one with Dina Donis, the defense attorney.

What do you hope your film will accomplish? Do you think films can bring about changes in human rights policies or politics? If so, in what way?

Image removed.I think films can be great advocacy tools, and they can function as such on various levels. Initially what I hoped to accomplish with JUSTICE FOR MY SISTER was to create a consciousness in Guatemala among the general public about the importance of holding governments and public institutions accountable, and to inspire other survivors to come forward and denounce violence. But the more we show the film, both in Guatemala and abroad, the more I recognize that it has great potential to hold a mirror to governments, and to pressure state agencies to be more proactive in investigating cases of femicide. Bringing the eye of the international community to any human rights issue can put pressure on policy makers to at the very least put these issues on their agenda, and ideally to not only enact policy change, but to identify the causal factors of these problems, and propose prevention plans and strategies to address these issues at their core.

Do you think it is important for lawyers and students to supplement their knowledge from written legal materials with films & documentaries about legal issues?

Absolutely, documentaries are really first-hand accounts of the struggles and accomplishments of people on the ground, who face systematic oppression and exclusion from the state, and indeed their perspective and voice are many times not included in legal documents. I think the special thing about JUSTICE FOR MY SISTER is that audiences far and wide can identify with Rebeca, and this empathy that we feel for her in seeing her testimony is something that I believe would be hard to convey with the same impact in written legal materials.

You trained to be become a Filmmaker and not a Lawyer, yet your film deals with highly complicated legal procedures in a foreign country. How did you prepare for this? During filming did you have difficulty understanding legal technicalities? How did you deal with that?

You know, that’s a great question and after completing production, I actually entertained the idea of studying law because it was something that I was able to comprehend and navigate quickly. I suppose my work as an activist and women’s rights advocate and my emphasis in Feminist and Women’s Studies was what prepared me formally. Ultimately, as informed citizens we all need to feel empowered to navigate the justice system, and I believe that as citizens of the world, we should do our best to ask questions from reliable sources as we expose ourselves to legal procedures in any context that we are unfamiliar with.

What was your experience like at the ‘Movies That Matter Film Festival’? Would you like to come to The Hague again?

Image removed.The Movies That Matter Film Festival was an extraordinary experience. I had the opportunity to meet incredible activists from around the world, exemplary filmmakers, and engaged audiences, concerned with how they could best contribute to changing society for the better. I have to give high recognition to Taco and his team, it was a really well-planned event. I would love to return to The Hague. I hope to coordinate a tour in Europe with Rebeca in the fall, or sometime in 2014, and I would love to hold a screening at the Peace Palace.

What will be your next Project? Will you continue to focus on women’s rights issues in the future?

I’m currently developing a series of short documentaries of portraits of women who have fled their home countries in Latin America due to gender-based violence. This project will be house in the same overarching campaign of JUSTICE FOR MY SISTER, and explore issues of immigration, seeking refugee status, the process of breaking the cycle of violence, and healing. After this, I plan to direct a series of animated shorts, and I have ideas for other projects that will have a broad appeal for international television markets. Please stay posted!

On March 27 2013, Justice for My Sister won the Camera Justitia Award at The Movies that Matter Film Festival in The Hague.


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