A Life for the Freedom of Chile

in 15th Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival

by Alberto Castellano

The tribute to the cinema of Patricio Guzmán at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival provided an important possibility (mainly for young people and students) not only to know the work of a great international director and a symbol of the political battle related to the Chile of Pinochet and Allende, but also to approach another period of making cinema and another stylistic and narrative concept of documentary. The almost complete retrospective (nine long documentaries and one short) was supported by a good monographic book edited for the festival by Dimitris Kerkinos. Guzmán was unable to participate in the roundtable entitled “From The Battle of Chile to Europe in Crisis: Mistakes, Precepts and Hopes” due to a recent accident, so he replied via Skype to the many questions of participants. The filmmaker talked about the Chile of the past and of the present, of political, economic and financial European disaster, and of the importance of documentary for preserving historical memory.

The films in the program — showing Chile’s political and social development from the early 1970s onwards — express the personal reflection of Guzmán on the history and collective memory of his homeland and are a prime critical contribution to the country’s effort to face its past and restore democracy. The Battle of Chile (La Batalla de Chile), which is in three parts — The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie (La insurrección de la burguesia, 1975), The Coup d’État (El golpe de estado, 1976), The Power of the People (El poder popular, 1979) — runs for four-and-a-half hours. It follows day-to-day the social processes that took place between February and September of 1973 and then examines the crisis of October 1972 through workers’ views of the events. The wonderful The Southern Cross (La Cruz del Sur, 1992), shot in Argentina, deals with “popular religiosity” in Latin America, portraying it as a sacred territory where millions of indigenous people seek refuge. With Chile, Obstinate Memory (Chile, la memoria obstinada, 1997) Guzmán returned to Chile to revisit the original settings of the earlier film The Battle of Chile and meet with some of the characters of the ’70s to observe the transition to democracy after Pinochet’s long dictatorship (1973—1990). With The Pinochet Case (El caso Pinochet, 2001) he intensified his critique, exploring how the dictator after his arrest in London in 1998 accused of genocide, terrorism and torture spent about two years in an estate outside London thanks to the British legal system and Tony Blair’s government without being tried for crimes against humanity. Salvador Allende (2004) is an emotional homage to Chile’s ex-president, a leading figure of the Chilean Left whose operate was interrupted by the coup of Pinochet, and who became a legendary social figure for democrats of the entire world. Guzmán continues his battle for democracy not only in his country and “to not forget” with other documentaries but with employing a different perspective, style and language. In 2010 he shot the short Chile, a Galaxy of Problems (Chile, una galaxia de problemas) in which several journalists, historians, lawyers and psychologists talk about Chilean amnesia with respect to the historical past, while Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgia de la luz) is an existential, philosophic and scientific essay with which the author emphasizes the subjectivity of his viewpoint. With poetry and metaphor, while astronomers examine the most distant galaxies in search of probable extraterrestrial life, at the foot of the observatories, women are digging through the desert soil in search of their disappeared relatives.

Edited by Carmen Gray