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Case Study - STATE OF FEAR: The Truth about Terrorism

STATE OF  FEAR: The Truth about Terrorism


Pamela Yates, Paco de Onís, Peter Kinoy

94 minutes, 2005



Abstracted from

Jessica Clark and Barbara Abrash: DESIGNING FOR IMPACT

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Overview _________________________________________________________________________

State of Fear, a project of Skylight Pictures, is a longform documentary film at the center of a multiplatform local/global strategic human rights and social justice campaign. The film dramatizes the human and social costs of a twenty- year politicized “war on terror” (1980-2000) in Peru, and its contemporary resonance in a post 9/11 world. It poses the question, “How can an open society balance demands for security with democracy?” and demonstrates the positive example of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions for restorative justice.

A local story with universal resonance, the film was launched in international human rights festival circuits and became a resource for human rights activists both internationally and in the Peruvian movement for restorative justice. It shows how a project with strategies that cross cultures and platforms can strengthen transitional justice initiatives and provide a model for social issue media makers. The film was an instrumental component of a larger campaign to bring former Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, to justice for crimes related to corruption and human rights abuses during his regime.

Formats __________________________________________________________________________

State of Fear was released in Spanish and English versions on television, and in theatrical and festival circuits. It was accompanied by websites and web 2.0 tools. The film is also available on DVD through New Day Films, iTunes and digital download.

A Quechua-language version of the film was created in order to reach Quechua-speaking Andean Indians, who suffered 70% of the casualties during this period. An accompanying website, EDMQ 2.0 (www.edmquechua.com) (EDMQ 2.0), is a hub for human rights activists, victims, educators, and young people.

Issues ____________________________________________________________________________

State of Fear calls attention to the dangers that arise in democratic societies when governments manipulate fears of terrorist activity for political purposes and conceal the truth of the past. It highlights the important role of truth and reconciliation commissions in restoring justice.

Catalyst __________________________________________________________________________

Skylight Pictures (Pamela Yates, Paco de Onìs, and Peter Kinoy) has produced award-winning social issue documentary films linked with social movements since 1983. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the filmmakers wanted to call attention to growing threats to civil liberties in the name of national security. After a meeting at the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), the team decided to focus on the work of the newly convened Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (PTRC), which was revealing the impunity of government figures and terrorist groups within a process of restorative justice.

Goals _____________________________________________________________________________

A global/local campaign was designed to reach both international and Peruvian networks and audiences. The overall goals were:

  • to inspire and frame public discussion about the dangers to democracy of politicized “wars on terror;” 
  • to introduce the transitional justice process to audiences in the U.S. and worldwide; and 
  • to provide tools for human rights advocates.

In Peru, the goals were:

  • to provide a counter-narrative to the “official version” presented by political figures who sought to repress the truth of past impunity; 
  • to publicize the findings of the PTRC; 
  • to provide tools for  the campaign to bring ex-President Alberto Fujimori to trial; and 
  • to enable Andean Indians to become participants in Peruvian civil society. 

Target Publics ____________________________________________________________________

State of Fear was designed to reach general audiences in the U.S., Peru and worldwide. In addition, the project targeted human rights advocates and Peruvian victims of terrorist activity, especially Andean Indians.

Strategic Design __________________________________________________________________

State of Fear is a feature-length documentary film composed of interviews, archival film and photographs, and verité footage shot in Peru. It was designed for television broadcast, theatrical and educational distribution, and especially for use by human rights activists in Peru and globally. The EDMQ 2.0 project incorporates Twitter, photo-sharing, text messaging technology, Google maps, web streaming, and blog feeds. It also serves as an archive of video clips of testimonials by Andean Indians, which were produced with Flip video cameras.

The strategic campaign reflects the filmmakers’ customary practice of working closely with advocacy organizations and human rights networks. State of Fear was shaped by the ICTJ partnership, as well as the filmmakers’ longstanding relationships in Latin America. Yates and de Onís quickly earned the trust of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which made its evidence, images and witnesses available and provided credibility in Peruvian human rights circles. Stakeholder support was built with screenings and meetings
throughout the production process, as well as the filmmakers’ openness to collaborations as the political situation in Peru evolved.

While the goals were clear, the strategic plan was sufficiently flexible to respond to challenges and opportunities in shifting circumstances. This was enhanced by the easy adoption of freely available appropriate technologies.  

Partners __________________________________________________________________________

Skylight Pictures, which has always built outreach partnerships with activist organizations into its work, has longstanding trusted relationships with human rights organizations throughout the world, and particularly in Latin America. 

The strategic campaign for State of Fear engaged human rights groups in Peru and internationally.


  • International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) is an international nonprofit organization that seeks to help societies that have had massive human rights violation create a stable trustworthy government: ictj.org
  • Amnesty International, which seeks to end abuses of human rights:  www.amnesty.org 
  • Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that seeks to combat human rights abuses through education: www.facinghistory.org/ 
  • Human Rights Watch, which seeks to expose human rights abuses:  www.hrw.org 
  • Cinema Tropical, which distributes Latin American films in the U.S. and internationally: www.cinematropical.com 


Funding Model ___________________________________________________________________

Skylight Pictures is a non-profit organization, supported mainly by foundation grants, supplemented by television and educational sales. The $550,000 State of Fear budget was supported by grants from the Ford Foundation ($300,000), Sundance Institute Documentary Fund ($50,000), and United States Institute of Peace ($40,000). There were television presales totaling approximately $150,000 to National Geographic International Channel, History Channel en Español, Sundance Channel, and multiple European stations. 

As a member of New Day Films, a social issue media distribution collective, Skylight is experimenting with streaming, subscriptions, and iTunes sales, which had produced over $100,000 by 2008. 

Obstacles & Responses ___________________________________________________________

Lack of national visibility: A national broadcast and launch at the Sundance Festival would have sparked the public conversation that the filmmakers anticipated. However, as the film neared competition, it faced unexpected  competition from The Fall of Fujimori, a documentary covering much the same subject (albeit from a different perspective). The Fall of Fujimori was selected over State of Fear for both the Sundance Festival and the PBS nonfiction strand, P.O.V.—the two major U.S. venues for social issue documentary.
Response: Skylight launched the film in human rights circuits through international film festivals and conferences, and special tours in the U.S., Brazil and Europe. While State of Fear was finally broadcast in the U.S. on the
Sundance Channel (2007), the timely opportunity for broad public debate had been lost.

Political volatility: The film appeared in a turbulent period in Peru, with the return and trial of ex-President Alberto Fujimori, the release of the PTRC report, and the announcement of a reparations plan for victims. In this context, politicians and the military were attempting to repress the truth of the past. 

Response: The filmmakers worked with advocacy organizations to make the film available for television broadcast and local screenings during the extradition campaign and trial, and partnered with Peruvian NGOs to reach Andean Indian communities with screenings and access to information.

Language: The film was originally conceived for English- and Spanish- speaking audiences, and was released in English and Spanish-language versions. It was not accessible to Quechua-speaking Andean Indians, however,
who were marginalized in Peruvian civil society and lacked information and access to mechanisms for redress.
Response: A Quechua-language version was produced and widely circulated through the Estado de Miedo Quechua project (EDMQ 2.0), which featured a website and platforms for civic participation.

Impact ____________________________________________________________________________

The State of Fear project encapsulates the transition from social issue documentary intended to inform, to storytelling as a core component of a long- term strategic transmedia campaign. The film and its accompanying resources successfully reached international audiences and fortified a network of human rights advocacy organizations during a crucial period in Peru. Finally, State of Fear has been an incubator of inclusive models of cross-cultural projects that function transnationally, nationally, and locally.

Evidence of quality
State of Fear has received the imprimatur of professional organizations, educators, broadcasters, and human rights advocates, including: 

  • 2005 Official Opening Night Selection, New York Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 
  • 2006 Overseas Press Club Award for Best Reporting in any Medium about Latin America
  • 2006 First Brazilian Human Rights Film Festival
  • Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film & Video, Council on Foundations 
  • 2006 London Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (Best of Fest) 
  • 2006  New York premiere, Film Forum 
  • Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch screening circuits in Europe, US and Latin America

State of Fear has circulated beyond human rights circuits:

  • Theatrical screenings in 45 U.S. cities, following New York premiere.
  •  Broadcast on the National Geographic International Channel’s No Borders strand (2005), where it was translated into 48 languages and received in 170 million homes in in157 countries. 
  • Broadcast on the History Channel en Español (US) (2006) Broadcast on Sundance Channel (2007) 
  • Stalker Film Festival, Moscow (2005)


It has resonated with pro-democracy and restorative justice advocates:

  • Russian human rights activists circulate DVDs informally.
  • Nepalese pro-democracy activists translated the film and circulated 300 DVDs.
  • In Colombia, the film sparked interest in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The film is now embedded in human rights law courses and TRC training seminars. It has also been incorporated into high school curricula prepared by Facing History and Ourselves aiming to teach youth about the effects of hate through historical lessons.

Policy-makers have incorporated the film in their programs, including:

  • 2006 Human Rights Defenders Forum at the Carter Center, Atlanta, Georgia, hosted by President Jimmy Carter and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 
  • Transatlantic Dialogues, a symposium at NYU Law School, hosted by Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzón
  • International Criminal Court in The Hague 

In Peru, State of Fear framed public discourse in a period of political turbulence, and provided support for the transitional justice process by:

  • publicizing the findings of the PTRC;
  • participating in the successful campaign to arrest and try Alberto Fujimori; 
  • providing a counter-narrative  to official versions of the Peruvian “war on terror” within a framework of restorative justice; and 
  • amplifying the work of Peruvian human rights organizations.

The EDMQ 2.0 project served the Andean Indian communities, which bore the brunt of the terror but were essentially invisible Peruvian civil society. The heart of the project was www.edmquechua.com, a multiplatform hub for human rights activists, victims, educators, and young people. This website incorporated news feeds, digital distribution and web 2.0 tools including Twitter, photo-sharing, text messaging technology, Google maps, and blog feeds. Local activists were trained to use simple Flip video cameras to document the testimonials of victims and post them online.  DVDs are freely distributed and broadcast throughout the Andean region.

The film has influenced policy makers, human rights advocates, and educators in Peru and internationally:

  • The Ford Foundation office in Santiago, Chile developed plans for a joint funding pool $300,000 for documentary film production.
  •  The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court (2009) was the first ICTJ-Skylight Pictures co-production.
  • IJCentral (IJcentral.org), the centerpiece for The Reckoning outreach plan, is a social networking website modeled on methods and tools developed in the State of Fear campaign that links human rights organizations around the world.
  • The film is embedded in human rights law courses, TRC training seminars, and high school curricula prepared by Facing History and Ourselves.

Network Building
The State of Fear project has been an incubator for new tools, circuits, and practices that provide models for other social documentarians. 

  • Festival successes led to the development of new human rights media circuits as evidenced by the fact that the Human Rights Watch Traveling Festival was expanded to Eastern Europe after the London screening of State of Fear, and a five-city Brazilian tour was established after the screening of State of Fear on the opening night of the first Brazilian Human Rights Film Festival.
  • EDMQ 2.0 provides an adaptable model for bringing information, technology and participatory skills to marginalized and isolated communities, offering replicable models for adapting available free technologies. These technologies have been adopted for the filmmakers’ new film, Granito.
  • Storytelling practices that incorporate video clips and web archiving contribute to building multi-vocal narratives with multiple perspectives.
  • As noted above, the work of national, regional, and local human rights organizations are linked and strengthened by materials and practices developed in the case of State of Fear.


* Note:

This case study has been slightly revised in November 30, 2011. For details of corrections please refer to: