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Screenshot of the film series 'Guardians of Truth' a documentary series by DW.
The film 'Guardians of Truth' premiered in Berlin on May 3Image: Jan Roehl

'Guardians of Truth' premieres in Berlin

Andrea Kasiske
May 4, 2022

Turkish journalist Can Dündar and Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez both live in exile. They share their stories in a new documentary and at the Berlin premiere.

https://p.dw.com/p/4AokL

The premiere of the first film of DW's new documentary series "Guardians of Truth" was celebrated at the Kulturbrauerei cinema in Berlin on Tuesday. Among the 200 guests attending the event were Mexican ambassador Francisco Quiroga Camero and DW's director-general, Peter Limbourg, as well as the main protagonists of the documentary.

The film follows Turkish exile journalist and author Can Dündar as he meets Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez, who has also been living in exile in Italy since 2017.

Dündar was charged with treason following his reporting on Turkey's arms deliveries to Syria; Hernandez has received numerous death threats for her years of investigations on drug cartels and their links with the changing governments.

While Dündar can't go back to Turkey, Hernandez continues to return to Mexico to research, despite receiving death threats. In the film, Dündar asks her why she takes such risks: "It's my home and we journalists are the country's prosecutors. There is no independent judiciary, no justice. The people need to know what is happening," answers Hernandez.

Even drug lords talk to her

The film shows the difficult conditions of her work as an investigative journalist in a country where people disappear or are killed every day.

When she returns to Mexico, Anabel Hernandez doesn't go to her old apartment, but to a hotel. She secretly photographs villas owned by government employees whose standards of living do not match their salaries. She pours over files to verify witness statements and meets various informants, including men who are active in the drug business.

Perhaps they talk to her like one would confess to a priest, speculates Can Dündar. According to Hernandez, it's simply because they trust her, she explained in an interview after the film's premiere in Berlin on May 3.

Can Dündar sitting at a tables with glasses of water while Linda Vierecke talks into a DW microphone.
Documentary director Linda Vierecke talks about her experiences during the productionImage: Jan Roehl

Winning the protagonists' trust and ensuring the safety of the team — those were the two biggest challenges in making the film, explained Linda Vierecke, who co-directed the documentary with Can Dündar. The veteran DW reporter has faced difficult reporting situations in the past, but working with bodyguards was new to her.

She admits that she was afraid to shoot in and outside of Mexico City, but in the end she was inspired by the courage of Anabel Hernandez, who repeatedly appealed to the responsibility of journalists.

Nevertheless, Vierecke continued to wonder if she was putting herself or the team in danger unnecessarily. 

Anabel Hernandez constantly asks herself this question. Each farewell to her family could be her last. When she goes to Mexico to do research, she has her son's papers ready for "emergencies," she explains. The little boy was accompanied by bodyguards before he could even walk, she says in the film, almost apologetically.

Tragedy and humor

One of the most moving moments in the nearly one-hour documentary is the scene with a man called Mario who is looking for the remains of his murdered brother. Every day, risking his life, he drives to the region where his sibling was killed by drug dealers and digs in the ground with a stick.

Dead bodies have a very particular smell, he explains. Mario does find human remains, but not his brother's. This smell, says Can Dündar afterwards, is something he will never forget.

But humor and optimism also emerge from the film. For example, when Anabel Hernandez visits her 83-year-old mother together with Can Dündar, there is an impromptu WhatsApp conversation with his own mother of the same age that leads to genuine laughter.

A man holds a cell phone and smiles while two other people look towards the phone, smiling too.
Smiling despite the difficulties: The journalists' mothers meet through a video call Image: firsthandfilms

The duty to expose the truth

In general, the evening is characterized by strong emotions. Not only in the film, but also in the discussion following the screening.

When asked how she feels after the premiere on the big screen, Hernandez hesitated a bit before answering. She then called for the recognition of all people, not just journalists, who courageously fight and die every day for human rights, for the investigation of crimes against their families and elsewhere.

Despite being portrayed as such in the film, she is not a heroine, she added. She is lucky to still be alive, as hundreds of her colleagues have been murdered. She therefore sees it as her duty to expose the truth.

Uncovering the truth can be life-threatening in Mexico, but even in Europe, people don't necessarily want to hear the truth, she pointed out. Because the criminal structures worldwide function in part because the West, for example, profits from the drug trade. Heroine and cocaine use are directly linked to illegal drug trafficking, she added.

Linda Vierecke, Peter Limbourg, Anabel Hernandez, Can Dündar pose for the camera in front of cinema posters.
From left to right: Linda Vierecke, Peter Limbourg, Anabel Hernandez, Can Dündar all attended the premiere in BerlinImage: Jan Röhl/DW

The high value of freedom of expression

Anabel Hernandez and Can Dündar both share combative courage in the face of violence and death threats, as well as warmth and humanity. These two impressive people are now commemorated in an important film.

The premiere of "Guardians of Truth" was timed to mark World Press Freedom Day. In his speech, DW director Peter Limbourg pointed out that the current war in Ukraine is another clear reminder of the importance of freedom of the press.

This year, the DW Freedom of Speech Award goes to Ukrainian journalists Evgeniy Maloletka and Mstyslav Chernov, who risked their lives to report from Mariupol.

The next film in the DW documentary series "Guardians of Truth" will also present Russian and Ukrainian freedom and human rights fighters, though their names have not been revealed yet. More to come soon.

DW gives Freedom of Speech Award to Ukrainian journalists

This article was originally written in German.

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