A Massacre Foretold

Directed by Nick Higgins

58 minutes / Color
English subtitles
Release: 2008
Copyright: 2007

On December 22, 1997, in the southernmost Mexican province of Chiapas, 45 indigenous residents of Acteal, who had taken refuge in the village church, were massacred by paramilitary troops. Most of those killed were children and women (five of them pregnant).

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The Acteal villagers were members of the pacifist group "Las Abejas" (The Bees), supporters of the newly emergent Zapatista Army of National Liberation, but who renounced that organization's violent methods. Although the murders of the unarmed peasants garnered worldwide news coverage, no serious government investigation of the atrocity was ever conducted.

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A MASSACRE FORETOLD chronicles these historic events, including the 1994 emergence of the Zapatistas, the Mexican army's attacks on rural peasant communities — involving destruction of homes, forced displacement of entire communities, and "disappearances" and murders meant to terrorize the indigenous population — and government "negotiations" with the Zapatistas.

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In addition to archival footage — including scenes of those seeking refuge in the church photographed just hours before they were killed, as well as meetings between Zapatista and Mexican government representatives, and comments by Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos — the film features moving interviews with massacre survivors and eyewitnesses, the Bishop of Chiapas, human rights activists, and a lawyer for Las Abejas.

A MASSACRE FORETOLD thus historically and socially contextualizes the massacre, the role of clandestine government death squads, the failure of the government's negotiations with the Zapatistas to even begin to address necessary social reforms (no peace talks have taken place since 1998), as well as the background of racial and economic discrimination against Mexico's indigenous, impoverished population.

"Thoughtful, visually striking… features incredible footage."-Stephen E. Lewis, The Americas

"Easily accessible to audiences with some grounding in the relevant issues. It will be a useful addition to courses on globalization, Mexico, Latin American studies, and in surveys of political violence and terrorism."-Daniel S. Margolies, Anthropology Review Database

"A powerful, moving film… tells the horrific story of the Acteal massacre with the restrained clarity and empathy which the woeful tale deserves."—Emma Davie, DOX Magazine

"An excellent documentary… an urgent reminder of the need for justice and an end to paramilitary violence in Chiapas."—Professor Neil Harvey, Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, author of The Chiapas Rebellion

"Locates the Acteal massacre within the Mexican government's dual strategy toward the Zapatista conflict; observes the reality both in the light of the San Andres agreements, and also in the context of the paramilitary strategy of terror for which nobody has taken responsibility or yet faced justice."—La Jornada Michoacan

"Certainly one of the most urgent tasks of documentaries, particularly in this era of lightweight, portable equipment, is to bear witness. Nick Higgins's A MASSACRE FORETOLD does so admirably."—Dennis West, Cineaste

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Select Accolades

  • 2007 WACC/Signis Prize, Best Human Rights Documentary
  • Morelia Festival de Cine
  • 2007 Festival International du Film Des Droits de l'Homme - Paris
  • 2007 Kosmorama Trondheim International Film Festival - Norway


At early age children begin to work in the Mexican countryside. This is a portrait of theirs lives and their daily struggle for survival.

Eugenio Polgovsky | 2009 | 90 minutes | Color | Spanish | English subtitles