Chato Galante (1948-2020)

August 27, 2020
By and

Chato Galante in a still from The Silence of Others.

José María “Chato” Galante passed away on March 29, 2020, in Madrid, Spain, due to coronavirus, following treatment for lung cancer. Chato was a lifelong activist fighting for justice for victims of Spain’s Franco dictatorship and was one of the protagonists in The Silence of Others, by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar.  

“Look for the big guy with really white hair. His name is Chato.”

That’s how we met José María “Chato” Galante in Madrid in 2012, early in the seven-year journey of making The Silence of Others. Chato, then 64, was helping to organize an international lawsuit that would attempt to prosecute crimes against humanity committed during Spain’s 40-year dictatorship. As Chato would later retell with a mischievous smile, at the time, the lawsuit had hardly gotten any press, so when we showed up to that meeting with a big camera and a long boompole, everyone stared at us in disbelief. It was a moment when nothing that would later unfold seemed possible. It also marked the beginning of our journey with this white-haired man who would become our friend.

In 1969, one of Chato’s friends, Enrique Ruano, who had been organizing fellow university students against Spain’s dictatorship, died at the hands of the Spanish police’s “political brigade.” The killing galvanized a generation, and Chato decided to dedicate his life to fighting the dictatorship. As a result of his activism, Chato was jailed and tortured—experiences that marked his life forever.

The Silence of Others picks up the story 40 years later, as Chato and dozens of other victims and activists come together to demand the justice that they were denied in the 1970s, when Spain transitioned to democracy. Over six years of shooting, we would often find ourselves at Chato’s place, filming him working tirelessly for the cause, strategizing with the lawyers about the lawsuit, preparing testimony, and so much more.

Chato soon became accustomed to the camera in front of Almudena’s eyes, and Robert at boompole distance. As our trust grew, Chato would share wisdom from decades of activism and we learned much history and strategy, but above all, we came to admire how Chato had truly built a life living by his core beliefs. Two years before we finished the film, Chato was one of the first to embrace the possibility that it could be a tool for impact, and joined us at Good Pitch (a forum to support potential high impact documentaries) in Stockholm to make an emotional appeal: “In jail, we political prisoners used our spoons to dig an escape tunnel that would lead us to freedom, he related. “Now this film must become our spoon… But we can’t do it alone. This is the moment when we need all of you to pick up your spoons. We need your help so that millions of people see this film and we can break this impunity.” The audience rose in a standing ovation and, in that moment, surrounded by people who had come together because of their belief in the power of film to transform societies, Chato got his first taste of what would one day come with the film.

When The Silence of Others premiered in Spain—where it was eventually seen by more than a million people and won the Goya (Spain’s Academy Award)—people began to stop Chato on the street, recognizing his white hair immediately, to share stories of suffering or resistance, or simply to give him a hug. In these moments he would savor that the impunity of torturers and other perpetrators was now widely known, and that people were starting to see it not just as “the victims’ problem” but as something affecting society as a whole. But his hard work of activism never ceased.

Chato traveled internationally with the film, with boundless energy, to seize the opportunity of bringing the discussion to other societies – and he never, ever forgot the International Brigades. At Sheffield Doc/Fest he visited the Plaque remembering the International Brigades and deposited flowers. At Toronto’s Hot Docs (North America’s biggest documentary festival) he said, deeply moved, “the Brigades represented the best of humankind”. After the screening an older lady approached him. Crying, she told him her name was Mora. “My father named me Mora because that was where he was stationed in Spain as a brigadista”. They embraced with tenderness.

Once we asked him how long we would fight. He responded: “Until we win. With the spoon in hand.”

Hasta siempre, white-haired warrior. We will carry on your spoon.

Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar are the directors/producers of The Silence of Others, which won the 2019 Goya for Best Documentary Feature (Spain’s Academy Award) and was shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature for the 91st Academy Awards. Their previous film, Made in L.A., won an Emmy. This article originally appeared in March 2020 in the online platform for Documentary magazine, published by the International Documentary Association, a nonprofit media arts organization based in Los Angeles.”


One Response to “ Chato Galante (1948-2020) ”

  1. Kutxi on August 28, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    Querido Chato! Pensar en ti es una forma de estar contigo. Gracias Almudena y Robert por el trabajo que habéis hecho con el documental El Silencio de Otros