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“The Silence of Others”: New Film Warns Against Spain’s Fascist History Repeating Itself

StoryDecember 06, 2018
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Image Credit: "The Silence of Others"

A far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion political party in Spain has made gains in regional elections, prompting protests in the streets. Members of Spain’s younger generation are too young to remember the brutal 40-year military dictatorship under General Francisco Franco. But a remarkable new documentary titled “The Silence of Others,” or “El Silencio de Otros,” hopes to remind Spaniards of the country’s fascist past, lest history repeat itself. The film follows several survivors of the Franco regime in their pursuit of justice. We speak with Spanish filmmaker Almudena Carracedo, who, along with Robert Bahar, wrote, produced and directed “The Silence of Others.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Monday, thousands marched across southern Spain to protest the rise of the far-right Vox party, which recently won multiple seats in a regional parliamentary election in Andalusia. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon threw his support behind Vox earlier this year and has apparently been advising the far-right party. Vox campaigned on an anti-immigrant, anti-abortion platform and has many worried about the rise of far-right political populism in Spain. This is Ana Gonzalez, a resident of Madrid.

ANA GONZALEZ: [translated] Unfortunately, I think they will keep on rising. And I think it’s like a marketing technique, as the one Trump had. I think it’s very dangerous, because it’s a marketing technique which is gathering people and taking them on its side, people that perhaps don’t have a very clear ideology.

AMY GOODMAN: Vox’s victory marks the first successful election for the far right in Spain since the country returned to democracy in the '70s after the death of the fascist military dictator Francisco Franco. Today, many Spaniards are too young to remember General Franco's brutal 40-year dictatorship, but a remarkable new film hopes to remind the younger generation of Spain’s past, lest history repeat itself. The film is called The Silence of Others. It follows a number of survivors of General Franco’s regime in their pursuit of justice as they organize an international lawsuit to investigate crimes against humanity. This is the film’s trailer.

XABIER ARZALLUZ [translated] It’s simply a forgetting, an amnesty for all, by all, a forgetting for all, by all.

MARÍA MARTÍN: [translated] I was 6 years old when they came for my mother. This is the gravesite. This is the mass grave.

JOSÉ MARÍA GALANTE: [translated] I lived just meters from the person who tortured me.

MARÍA MARTÍN: [translated] The thing is, all this has been covered up until now.

CARLOS SLEPOY: [translated] There’s not a town in Spain without victims of the Franco regime, right?

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] We want our children, alive or dead.

JOSÉ MARÍA GALANTE: [translated] This is not about looking at the past. We’re fighting for the future.

PAQUI MAQUEDA: [translated] It’s the first time the voice of the victims will be heard before a court—10,000 kilometers away from our country.

ASCENSIÓN MENDIETA: [translated] In this case, there are several protagonists. Time is one of them.

JOSÉ MARÍA GALANTE: [translated] We, and hundreds of thousands of victims, have been denied the right to justice.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] Perhaps all of us, perhaps we have all collaborated in that silence.

MARÍA MARTÍN: [translated] How unjust life is. Not life. We humans, we are unjust.

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for the new film The Silence of Others.

For more, we’re going to Los Angeles, where we’re joined by the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Almudena Carracedo, who, along with Robert Bahar, wrote, produced and directed The Silence of Others.

Almudena Carracedo, welcome to Democracy Now! I know you’re headed back to Spain, where you live. This is just an astonishing film. But before we go deeply into the film, if you could comment on what’s taken place in Spain and how it so directly relates to what you cover in this film?

ALMUDENA CARRACEDO: Right. Well, thank you, Amy, and thank you for having me on the show. It really is beautiful to be here to share the story of the film.

So, what’s happened in Spain is that, yes, for the first time since the death of Franco in 1975, the far right has taken over certain parcels of power. What we tried to do in the film was precisely to bring back the past, to make a film about the legacy of the Franco regime in the present, so that new generations could actually learn what had happened, because if you don’t know what happened in the past, it is very hard to fight for your future and for your present. We just never understood that the future that we were trying to avoid was going to become present, like so fast.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about your film, the lawsuit that it is based on, and who the people are who have brought this lawsuit.

ALMUDENA CARRACEDO: Right. So, the film follows, for six years—we filmed for six years—the journey of a group of survivors, victims and survivors, who decide to take on this international lawsuit. It is based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows courts in any part of the world to prosecute crimes in other parts of the world, if the country where they occurred refuses to do so. This is actually the same principle that was used to detain Augusto Pinochet in London and to start trying some of the military junta in Argentina. And so, based on the same principle, but with the reversal that now it is Argentina that is trying Spain, is that the characters in the film embarked on this journey.

And so, the film tries to actually get into their skin and understand, you know, to feel what it feels like to be them, you know, go through their moments of success and their moments of sadness and moments of frustration, so that people can actually understand what it feels like to be a victim and survivor in Spain, 40 years in silence, and with their—even with their status as victims completely denied, you know?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Almudena, you mentioned this issue of universal jurisdiction. Spain passed an amnesty law in 1977. Part of the reason that Spain can’t try people who were associated with Franco’s dictatorship is because of this amnesty law. But as you point out in the film, this law was followed by many in Latin America, but once countries in Latin America became democratic, they overturned this amnesty law. Spain did not. Could you explain why, and then this issue of universal jurisdiction and this case taking place in Argentina?

ALMUDENA CARRACEDO: Right. So, there are all these reversals that are played in the film, right? Because Spain was a pioneer in the application of universal jurisdiction, but when it was the turn of Spain to judge its own crimes, then the judge that started to do that, Judge Garzón, was actually disbarred. And so, what’s really sort of fascinating now is that Spain is an outlier in international law right now, because it breaks international law.

So, all these countries, yes, modeled after Spain; Spain’s sort of model of transition and amnesty law was very much a model in many other countries transitioning from a past dictator. But now a lot of these countries have actually, as you well mentioned, have put it behind, and they have overturned their amnesty laws and are dealing with their past differently.

And this is kind of something that the film tries to do. It actually puts a mirror to many other countries, as well, and say, you know, there are many ways to deal with your past and with the legacy of the past in the present. And so, it actually allows people to think about those past crimes that their countries or those dark shadows that the country has and that project themselves into the present, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s really interesting that the way this law is referred to by many in Spain is called the pact of forgetting, the idea—and you see this repeated over and over in the film, Spanish officials saying, “We must move forward. We must forget together.”


AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip from The Silence of Others, the first few minutes of your film, in which an 84-year-old woman, María Martín, walks through her village to lay flowers at the side of a road, a highway. Martín’s mother was killed when she was 6 years old.

MARÍA MARTÍN: [translated] This is the gravesite. This is the mass grave. Look, there, in those brambles. They threw the clothes and left the women naked. How unjust life is. Not life. We humans, we are unjust.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s María Martín, and we follow her story throughout, this haunting, breathless, whispery voice of this elder sick woman, who could not make it to Argentina to testify with the others. Tell us what happened to her mother.

ALMUDENA CARRACEDO: So, María Martín’s mother was captured. Her hair was shaved, and she was eventually executed along thousands and thousands of Spaniards at the very beginning of the Spanish Civil War, in areas, actually, were not experiencing war. They were areas that had been taken over by Franco in his coup d’état.

María has been fighting since she was little. And then, you know, when her father passed away, he asked her, in his bed—that we would call it the—you know, he was dying—to please bring his wife to him. And she fought all her life for that. And, you know, her case really represents the case of so many thousands and thousands of people in Spain who are passing away without seeing something so fundamental as to be able to bury your loved ones in a dignified way.

And that’s exactly what we try to do. We didn’t want to deal with this issue from a political point of view. It’s a fundamentally political film, because it deals with issues that are around us, but we wanted to deal with it through the human stories, right? It transcends politics in that way, to be able to understand what it feels like to be María Martín, when you have to go for all your life to sit by the side of the road to put flowers to your mother.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Almudena, I want to ask about, you know, what Amy mentioned earlier, which is the fact that in the film you show, repeatedly, government officials saying that it’s their collective responsibility to focus on the future and to not dwell on the past. One of the most striking moments in the film itself is when you take your cameraman and go into a square and ask all of these young people, you know, what they know of Franco, and they say—you know, and whether anything should be done, and they say either they don’t know or that it’s not relevant. So, could you talk about the significance of that, and also the fact that the executive producer of your film is this world-renowned director, award-winning director, Pedro Almodóvar? So, you know, how many people give this moment significance? And is it a generational thing?

ALMUDENA CARRACEDO: Right. So, in the transition to democracy in Spain, there was this pact of forgetting, el pacto del olvido, el pacto de silencio, this pact of silence, that basically forced people or basically stated that it was much better to leave things behind. Let’s put everything under the carpet. Let’s start over. And obviously, the problem is that you cannot legislate forgetting. You know, forgetting is something individual, and people have the right to memory, precisely so we learn about the past so we can avoid future issues the same, right?

And so, during the whole transition—and it’s been 40 years of democracy in Spain right now, where, essentially, it’s taken all this time for new generations to actually come into the political sphere or come into a position where they can actually demand to know and to learn. This is not taught in schools. It’s not taught in the streets. It’s not talked about in the families. And a lot of people under 40 come to us very indignant and say, “They stole my history,” you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s—

ALMUDENA CARRACEDO: And so, it is a different—

AMY GOODMAN: You illustrate this so—


AMY GOODMAN: —so well in the film, and we want to go to two more clips. This is the first, from The Silence of Others.

CARLOS SLEPOY: [translated] There’s not a town in Spain without victims of the Franco regime, right?

JOSÉ MARÍA GALANTE: [translated] This is not about looking at the past. We’re fighting for the future.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] We’re joining as Lora del Rio’s Historic Memory Association.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] We’re joining this project, with great enthusiasm.

JOSÉ MARÍA GALANTE: [translated] We want to bring this to little towns, to gather signatures and also statements of support from town halls, one town hall at a time.

CARLOS SLEPOY: [translated] If the judge decides to issue international arrest warrants for these people, our possibilities open up completely. All this is going to snowball.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this lawsuit continues, interestingly, being brought in Argentina, which has universal jurisdiction, the very place where Human Rights Watch attempted to get the crown prince of Saudi Arabia arrested, Mohammed bin Sultan [sic], when he went there—Mohammed bin Salman, when he went there for the G20, for crimes against humanity. In this last 10 seconds, Almudena, the response in Spain to this film?

ALMUDENA CARRACEDO: We really feel like Spain was needing a tool, another tool, but like a really powerful, emotional tool, to be able to discuss, for families to talk about it, for people to bring their parents into the theaters. Theaters keep filling out. We’re in our fourth week in theaters. And there’s been viral videos that are seen millions of times. So, it’s been a really amazing and beautiful moment to bring the film in to the people.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. I thank you so much. Almudena Carracedo, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, together with Robert Bahar, produced and directed The Silence of Others. Thank you so much.

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