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At the end of March 1976 the Argentinean armed forces staged a coup d'etat, with general Jorge Rafael Videla emerging as the nation’s dictator. Seven years later, after the Malvinas War, Argentina recovered its democracy with the victory in free elections of Dr. Raúl Alfonsín. In 1985 the former dictators were judged for their crimes against humanity. It is known as “The Trial of the Juntas“.

As in Nuremberg after World War II, the trial was filmed in its entirety. Over 90 days, accounts of the horror were heard, followed by a final sentence: Nunca más (“Never again“).

The entirety of the trial was captured on U-matic video. There are 530 hours of practically unknown footage that—owing to Argentinean political circumstances—have never been examined or seen by a mass audience.

I started looking for the archive in 2012. It was a difficult road, and I felt the material was still charged. The General Archive of the Nation and the Public Television Channel denied me any kind of collaboration. It wasn't until 2019 that I gained all the necessary permissions thanks to the Human Rights Organization Memoria Abierta—which manages the archives of the Federal Chamber of Justice—to analyze their holdings and turn them into a film. EL JUICIO is made entirely and exclusively with the U-matic footage shot during the trial.

We began viewing the 530 hours of archival material in August 2019. It took us nine months to record, catalog, and index this material. We created the necessary tools to handle so many hours of audiovisual archive in the editing of the film and produced several documents: a full index of timecoded subjects and tags (a Google sheet with over 55,000 lines), an AVID project with thousands of locators, and over a thousand handwritten pages with director's annotations.

The trial, which had been silenced for decades, was suddenly coming to light. While we were working on the documentary approach to this story, we learned that a fiction project was being prepared that dealt with the same subject, finally released as ARGENTINA, 1985.

The victims testify despite the risk: although they had lost the government, the military was still threatening.

The trial against the juntas of the final dictatorship was the beginning of a justice process that is still ongoing. It was the foundation upon which the process was built over more than 35 years.

This is not a document of the past; it is a starting point.

By way of the more than 800 witnesses who gave testimony we began to learn about the repressive actions and crimes committed by the military governments between 1976 and 1983.

In the voices of defense lawyers we hear the political and ideological positions of those who supported a dictatorship that left over 30,000 people missing, the desaparecidos.

The tension in the courtroom resonates in the exchanges between prosecutor Strassera and the defense lawyers. All kinds of rhetorical devices are used to hinder or challenge the judgment. The public participates emotionally, with the judges insistently demanding they keep quiet.

Inside the courtroom, our democracy feels young and fragile. Violence is latent. The accused are the “owners“ of Argentina. The gestures, looks, and ways of speaking by the defense attorneys and the accused suggest a threat of retaliation by the armed forces. Against all odds, the court is trying to deliver justice against the state terror that was designed and commanded by these same military officers a few years earlier. The judges work without guarantees for their safety.

Neither do the prosecutor nor the witnesses. The victims testify despite the risk: although they had lost the government, the military was still threatening. The commanders-in-chief of the army, navy, and air force had their firepower still intact.

To venture into this archive is to venture into the darkest depths of the history of the Argentinians, which is a sample of the history of humanity.

Ulises de la Orden



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