We had both wanted for many years to explore in a documentary what happened in Chile after General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende in 1973. Patricio is Chilean and lived through it all. Elizabeth helped make a film in Chile in the early 1970s and has been haunted ever since by what happened there. She brought to The Judge and the General years of work as a print and television foreign correspondent. Patricio, a producer and musician, brought an insider’s view of the matices, the different shades of inference and doubt at work in a place like Chile.
Elizabeth was especially interested in understanding the phenomenon of “the Good German,” the conscientious person of high ideals who goes along with state terror because it offers safety and order in a time of chaos. Patricio was driven to explore more deeply the nature of hope. Faced with state terror, how did Chileans from so many different backgrounds dare to hope and act as if someday justice would return?
We had first worked together in Chile in early 2000, producing reports for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Later, when we separately met Judge Juan Guzmán, we each realized his was the story we had been waiting to tell. He had been appointed by judicial lottery to investigate the first criminal charges filed against Pinochet in Chile in 1998. (Judges there investigate, as well as try, cases.)
Because Guzmán was politically conservative and had welcomed the 1973 Pinochet coup, human rights lawyers and victims’s families feared he would never seriously investigate the alleged crimes of the general he had supported. Those skeptics had often risked their own lives gathering evidence during the Pinochet years in hope of eventually bringing torturers and murderers to trial. Why should they trust a Johnny-come-lately? There was little basis for hope that Guzmán might change.
By the end of The Judge and the General, viewers will know whether the skeptics were right or wrong. The documentary is a detective story told by Guzmán and his witnesses, focusing on two specific crimes. As a NewsHour correspondent, Elizabeth was used to leading viewers through the labyrinth of a complex story with a voice-over narration, but here the main characters tell the tale. Our toughest job in editing was sticking with this mode of storytelling and keeping the present in the forefront while also flashing back to the past to explore the context of the crimes.
At our sides as we solved creative dilemmas were executive producer Dick Pearce, a documentary and feature filmmaker (Hearts and Minds, Country, The Long Walk Home, Leap of Faith), who also had experience in Chile and continually urged us craft a film which spoke to the heart as well as the head, and editor Blair Gershkow, who argued for the primacy of suspenseful story-telling every step of the way.
As Guzmán travels ever deeper into what he calls the “abyss” of the past, he benefits from evidence gathered, as the crimes were occurring, by victims’s relatives, journalists, and human rights lawyers. The hope implicit in their determination to gather every available shred of evidence to lay the groundwork for future trials is a defining moment in the worldwide human rights movement and stands in direct contrast to the actions of those who went along with — or even aided — the repression, including Judge Guzmán. We believe his journey — as he uncovers long-buried truths from the past and confronts his own role in the tragedy — holds meaning for us all at a time when terror, torture, rendition, and secret prisons, all part of the Chilean experience, make news in the United States most every day.
— Elizabeth Farnsworth and Patricio Lanfranco
(Courtesy of P.O.V.)
Elizabeth Farnsworth, Producer/Director
Elizabeth Farnsworth was chief correspondent and principal substitute anchor on PBS’s The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer from 1995 to 2000. She then became a senior correspondent, reporting mostly from overseas. She now freelances for The NewsHour and makes documentaries. In the past four years, she has reported from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Chile, Haiti, and Vietnam. Her 2001 four-part NewsHour series on the AIDS crisis in Botswana and Malawi (produced by Joanne Elgart) received the 2001 Silver World Medal from the New York Festivals and a national Emmy nomination. Her documentary Thanh’s War (co-directed with John Knoop), which aired on PBS in 1991, garnered a CINE Golden Eagle, among other awards, and The Gospel and Guatemala (co-produced with Stephen Talbot), which aired on PBS in 1983, received a San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award.
Farnsworth’s writings have appeared in Foreign Policy, World Policy Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation, Mother Jones, and other publications. She has lived in Peru and Chile and has a master’s degree in Latin American History from Stanford University. Farnsworth was assistant producer of Que Hacer?, a feature film set during the Chilean election campaign of 1970, and has followed Chile closely ever since. She lives in San Francisco.
Patricio Lanfranco, Producer/Director