The Silence of Others: JCU Screens Documentary on Victims of Franco's Regime

John Cabot University welcomed directors Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar for a screening of their award-winning 2018 documentary The Silence of Others on February 12, 2020. The screening, organized by the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs, the Communications Department and the History and Humanities Department, was followed by a discussion with the directors, moderated by Communications Professor Erika Tasini.

The Silence of Others, which is the result of 7 years of work, tells the story of a group of victims of General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975), and their struggle to seek justice for the crimes that they suffered.

Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar

Directors Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar

The Amnesty Law
In 1977, two years after Franco’s death, the Parliament of Spain promulgated the “Spanish 1977 Amnesty Law,” also known as the “Pact of Forgetting,” or “Pacto del Olvido,” which freed political prisoners and allowed exiled people to return home. However, the law also pardoned the crimes of Franco’s government and guaranteed impunity to the perpetrators, who are still free today. This law has been used by the Spanish government as a reason to not investigate and prosecute human rights violations carried out both under the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and Franco’s dictatorship.

In 2008, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzòn opened an investigation for the crimes against humanity committed during the Civil War and Franco’s regime, but the government forced him to drop it and later suspended him for exceeding his authority by ignoring the Amnesty Law. Since the Spanish government would not allow survivors to file a lawsuit to prosecute, they appealed to the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, by which foreign courts are allowed to investigate crimes against humanity if the country where they occurred refuses to do so.

The Argentine Lawsuit
In 2010, Argentine lawyer and judge María Romilda Servini agreed to assist with the international lawsuit, which by 2016 had 311 plaintiffs. In 2014 Servini called for the indictment and extradition of Antonio González Pacheco, also known as Billy el Niño, or Billy the Kid, a police inspector during Franco’s regime who was charged with 13 counts of torture. The Spanish High Court rejected the request for extradition on the basis that the statute of limitations had run out on the accusation against Pacheco.

The Victims
The Silence of Others follows, among others, José M. Galante (also known as Chato), imprisoned in the early 1970s and tortured by Billy el Niño, who now happens to reside “just meters away” from him. Marìa Martìn and Ascensión Mendieta are also featured in the documentary. Marìa Martìn was only six when her mother was murdered and thrown into a mass grave, on top of which a road was later built. Maria passed away before she could recover her mother’s remains. Ascensión Mendieta struggled to have her father’s remains exhumed from the mass grave he was placed in so that she could give him a proper burial.

The Silence of Others

The Silence of Others

The Red Gene
A number of women who had their newborn babies taken away from them are also featured in the documentary. Spanish psychiatrist Antonio Vallejo-Nájera (1889–1960) is considered the leading figure behind these kidnappings, which stemmed from the idea that Republican women carried what he called a “red gene.” Vallejo-Nájera believed that children had to be separated from mothers who were involved with the Republican Party, whether they were politically active or simply related to political dissidents and prisoners. After Vallejo-Nájera’s death, and even after Franco’s regime ended, these kidnappings continued, and it is suspected that 30,000 children were taken from Republican families and placed with Nationalist ones.

The Directors
Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar were the two-people crew behind this project. Carracedo was the camerawoman and Bahar was in charge of sound. One of the reasons to not have a larger crew was that it would be easier for the people portrayed in the documentary to trust the filmmakers. As the topics discussed are very delicate and personal, earning the trust of the people involved was essential. “We made sure that they knew that they could leave whenever they wanted to and that whatever part they were not comfortable with would be left out of the final product,” said Carracedo.

The directors said that “documentary is the art of patience,” and that perseverance is key in filmmaking. “We had to condense seven years of work into a 96-minute documentary that expressed exactly what we wanted it to,” said Bahar. The initial idea was to investigate the stolen children’s case, but as the project progressed, the directors realized that the Argentine lawsuit would make a better “backbone” to the story.

The Silence of Others
The documentary, produced by Pedro Almodóvar, had its world premiere at the “Berlin International Film Festival 2018,” where it won the Berlinale Panorama Audience Award and the Berlinale Peace Film Prize. The Silence of Others also won the 2019 Goya Award for Best Feature Documentary and was shortlisted for the 2019 Oscars.

In Spain, the documentary premiered in theaters in 20 cities in November 2018 and had the third-highest per-screen average in its opening weekend. A few months later, The Silence of Others had a primetime broadcast on a Spanish public TV channel, and more than a million people saw it. The film’s title #ElSilenciodeOtros trended on Twitter for 21 hours and peaked as the number 2 topic in Spain.

“This documentary is a tool to learn about this issue,” said Bahar, explaining that it impacted both people who were aware of it and people who were not.