I approached this documentary with some trepidation — thinking it was likely to be yet another well-meaning, but not very persuasive issue-oriented film — but Pamela Yates’ State of Fear isn’t “yet another” anything. This is a singularly impressive — and disturbing and important — work that carries an emotional punch. It also carries with it an undertone (and sometimes more) of uneasy warning about current events. It starts out being about the rise of the radical militant group Shining Path in Peru in the 1980s, carefully documenting the history of the terrorist group under the leadership of former philosophy professor Abimael Guzman.
It details the group’s approach and beliefs and the atrocities committed by them, but then it goes a step further by examining the extreme methods used by the Peruvian government (often killing or imprisoning innocent people in the guise of fighting terrorism) to deal with the situation. More disturbing still is the discovery that the government — under the rule of President Alberto Fujimori — continued to create and instill fear in the citizens for eight years after Shining Path had all but been eliminated. Why? To retain their hold on the power they had granted themselves in their war on terrorism, of course.
That might sound absurd, but with the government virtually controlling the media, it wasn’t that hard for Fujimori to feed that fear — to the degree that 70 percent of Peruvians approved of all the drastic curtailments of civil rights by that government for “security.” It gives one much to think about, and that’s the first order of the day for any documentary.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke