In Guatemala, 25 years after numerous army massacres of indigenous peasants, which left 160,000 known dead, the filmmaker of the award-winning Mayan trilogy returns to Guatemala to document the work of the Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAF). This non-profit organization exhumes as many as 1,000 bodies a year, attempting to identify the victims and to return the remains to their families for burial.
SACRED SOIL shows the FAF team at work, recovering bodies from a mass grave, and features interviews with relatives of the deceased and Fredy Peccerelli, the Foundation's Executive Director. He describes the various aspects of their efforts, including social anthropology, or meetings with village residents, archaeology, or the physical recovery of bodies, and physical anthropology, the analysis of the remains to determine the cause of death and the identity of the victim.
Peccerelli also discusses the increasing difficulty of their work, with many eyewitnesses dying, physically difficult exhumation sites, the organization's lack of funding and a DNA lab. He also explains that, since the Foundation's work can provide evidence for criminal trials, he and other Foundation members have received death threats and must be protected by bodyguards.
Despite these difficulties and dangers, the FAF is presently working on the creation of a national database of information and DNA samples, which will prove an invaluable resource for future criminal and humanitarian investigations.
"Excellent... a particularly sensitive portrayal of many of the issues and struggles involved in doing such work, both for anthropologists and for the families of victims."—Jennifer Burrell, Department of Anthropology, University at Albany SUNY
2009 Official Selection, 9th Annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival
"'Sacred Soil' is a fine film demonstrating the forensic aspect of anthropology, how the various subdisciplines of anthropology can cooperate, and what ‘applied anthropology’ really can mean. Forensic anthropology classes would certainly benefit from it, but all anthropologists would gain from it a sense of the serious contemporary issues to which anthropology can, and must, contribute." —Dr. David Eller, Anthropology Review Database