Nostalgia For The Light, 2010
A revolution is an organ, a body, a flock of birds flying in the same direction, but there are thousands of birds moving and some leave the flock. It's like a galaxy moving. – Patricio Guzmán
Patricio Guzmán's name is immediately associated with The Battle Of Chile (La batalla de Chile, 1972-79), the three-part documentary epic that gives account of the last months of president Salvador Allende's government, his attempt to move the country towards socialism within a democratic framework and the American-sponsored coup that ended it all. Despite being forced into exile under Pinochet's regime, Guzmán continued exploring his core subject in films including Chile, Obstinate Memory (1997), The Pinochet Case (2001 and Salvador Allende (2004).
By his own admission, the 71-year old filmmaker is like the time traveller from La Jetée (1962), a man haunted by an image of his past: the collective infatuation with Allende's project. In his latest film, Nostalgia For The Light (Nostalgia de la luz, 2010) Guzmán continues his work around memory, yet taking his thoughts beyond the facts that are steeped in the history of his country as he relates them to the mysteries of life and the universe.
Nerina Moris: When you started working as a documentary filmmaker, Chile was going through a unique political process, followed with interest by the rest of the world. Tell me about the films you made during Allende's government.
Patricio Guzmán: I made three films during Allende's government: The First Year (Primer año, 1971), October's Response (La respuesta de octubre, 1972) and The Battle Of Chile. October's Response is actually a 40 minute short film. I saved the negative of this film, took it apart and used it for the third part of The Battle Of Chile. In other words, October's Response is included in the third part of The Battle Of Chile. So actually I made two films, The First Year and The Battle Of Chile. These films were shot in a democratic state with free press, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to make them. What is interesting about starting a revolution within a democracy is that, under the rule of law, everything is open, everything is free. Circulation is free, nothing is banned. In that sense, Allende did not touch any newspaper, radio or TV station, even though the majority of the media was against him. I took advantage of these circumstances, of living under the rule of law, where shooting the class struggle was like shooting the landscape.
NM: However, the tumultuous political situation in Chile at the time required you to take certain precautions like having false IDs and the team's secrecy regarding the project they were working on. Not to mention the near kidnapping incident during the lorry drivers' strike...
PG: Yes, sure. Chile was in a situation of civil war at the time. There was a strong generalised radicalisation. The right-wing group Patria y Libertad was dangerous and if we came across them, we had to get out; they were very violent. They were armed with guns, batons and helmets – they looked like a military squad, like plain-clothes policemen dressed in Patria y Libertad's uniform. Their uniforms were white and they had a band on their arms with a swastika-looking insignia. They were scary, dangerous people. Every time we encountered them while filming, we had to be very careful. There is a sequence in The Battle Of Chile where the camera approaches a squad and the kid that is at the centre of this group pushes us to the side with the shield.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
Once, during the strike organised by the trucking company owners in August 1973, we were kidnapped by this group. At the time, the government attempted to expropriate the lorries from the drivers on strike, but the army didn't comply with the government's request in the end. We were near of one of the strikers' campsites to film the expropriation, because we thought it could be a very good sequence. We had been waiting with our vehicle at the side of the road for about two hours when people from the campsite saw us. They surrounded us with two cars, one in front and one behind our vehicle. The one behind us started hitting our car, forcing us to follow them to the campsite. Once we arrived there, they tried to turn over the car. It was an outrage; it was like a party for them trying to turn over a car with four people locked inside. At this point, a right-wing MP turned up – I never knew his name. He explained to them that this incident was distracting the camp's security, for people who were not important journalists, while the real problem was the army coming, who were their main adversary at that point in time. After that, they let us alone and we could get out. This man saved us, otherwise we would have been beaten up for sure. What's worse, they would have broken our only camera, our most valuable asset. We didn't have any other way to carry on with the film if that camera had been destroyed. That was a very strong and tense experience.
NM: Do you think all these precautions you took are necessary in the production of any political documentary?
PG: When you make a political documentary in a country that is going through a phase of radicalisation, class struggle and division, the least you can do is take security measures. For example, I didn't keep the negatives at home and nobody in the team could talk about what we were working on. We were not visible.
NM: How did The Battle Of Chile start as a project?
PG: The film was born as a private initiative between myself and a group of friends. The rest of the team were Jorge Müller [Silva], the film's cameraman; Jose Bartolome, the assistant director; Federico Elton, the production manager and sound engineer Bernardo Menz. The five of us made the film independently. At that time there was a restriction in Chile on the import of film stock, due to a US blockade. So I asked Chris Marker for help. Why Chris Marker? He came to Chile when I was releasing my first feature film, The First Year, a 100 minute film that nobody knows, about the first year of Allende's government. He was in Chile with Costa-Gavras, who came to shoot a film [State of Siege, 1972] about the Tupamaros [a guerrilla group from Uruguay] and used Chile as location. Chris didn't come as part of the team – he was a friend of Costa-Gavras – he simply came to observe what was going on in Chile. After he saw The First Year by chance, he turned up at my doorstep. When he introduced himself I nearly fainted because I was a great admirer of La Jetée (1962), which I had seen many, many times. So we became friends. When I found myself without a job at the end of 1972, beginning of 1973, I wrote Chris a letter telling him that what was happening in Chile was fascinating, but we couldn't shoot because we didn't have film stock. He replied saying, "I'll see what I can do." A month later a big box with film stock arrived at the airport. There were approximately 44,000 feet of 16mm black and white film stock, around 18 hours of material with which we made The Battle Of Chile.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
The film left Chile after the coup d'état. We shot until the last day, until the day of the coup itself. In the following days, Jorge kept shooting images broadcasted on TV. As we couldn't go out because it was dangerous, he put the camera in front of the TV set and that's how we obtained images of the first discourse by the Junta and some other things. After the coup, I was imprisoned in the National Stadium for two weeks. I had instructed my collaborators and my then wife, to take the material to the Swedish Embassy. The wife of Sergio Castilla – a film director friend of mine – was the Swedish ambassador's secretary. The ambassador was a liberal man, a Swedish social democrat, with a reputation for supporting humanitarian causes. So we asked his permission to take the material inside the Swedish embassy and from there it was taken to Valparaiso. It arrived to Stockholm three months later where I went to receive it.
NM: How did you finance the production of The Battle Of Chile? You worked briefly for Chile Films, so was the film a project of Chile Films at some point?
PG: The Battle Of Chile was never a project of Chile Films. After I made The First Year, Chile Films hired me to make a fiction film about Manuel Rodríguez, a guerrilla fighter in Chile's war of independence against the Spanish rule. When the first major strike organised by the right took place, the October Strike of 1972, the impact was such that Chile Films was left without funding. The state decided to finance more lucrative institutions than a small film company and Chile Films was always a small enterprise. They were only making a fortnightly newsreel and some short films of varying quality, but they never produced a big project. Chile Films' major projects were going to be this film about Manuel Rodríguez and another film about [José Manuel] Balmaceda, a Chilean president of the 19th century. It was at that moment when I was an eventual collaborator of Chile Films. Once the strike ended and Chile Films lost its funding we were dismissed, as the project was over. That's when I contacted Chris Marker, and he sent the film stock. We started to shoot in January 1973, right until the coup.
With this project I had the upper hand as I had the film stock. At this point, all I needed was a business partner who could finance the whole or part of the shooting. We were paid subsistence salaries, we used my own car as transport, a borrowed camera and a tape recorder. Our salaries were paid by Pablo de la Barra, a filmmaker who decided to invest in this documentary. He later went into exile in Venezuela, where he still lives. However, when the coup took place, Pablo told us that he couldn't do anything for us, that we had to look after ourselves and he would do the same. He was very worried because his own brother had disappeared. Pablo was making a film when the coup took place, and after that everything was so chaotic that he felt he couldn't look after me and the team. At this point we broke the deal, we each went our own way and I kept all the rights for the film. By the time I went to Paris and met Chris with the hope to find a way to finalise the project, I had become the sole producer of the film.
NM: How did you devise a working method? How was the day-to-day shooting?
PG: We got the film stock just before a parliamentary election, the last election during Allende's government. So we couldn't start by making theoretical plans. The election was coming so we had to get out there and start shooting. We went out and shot everything in the few days leading up to and during the election day. That is the material we used for the opening sequence of The Battle Of Chile. That was shot in a direct style, on the go, following people.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
Once the election was over, we had to stop shooting in this way, otherwise we would have used the film stock in two months, and I didn't want to let Chris Marker down. The five of us had a meeting in this little room that we used and we talked and talked, trying to figure out how to go on about shooting the film. As a result we devised six working methods: chronological, by chapters, by specific cases, with dialogue between opposites, by testimonials and the nuclear method. Finally, we agreed that the film was going to be the sum of these parts. In this meeting, we drafted a list of things that would be allowed and not allowed during the shoot. For example, one of the things that was not allowed, was telling any journalist or anyone else what we were doing, to be as discreet as possible. We kept the film in a secret place that only I knew about. The shooting times were Monday to Sunday, between 10am and 10pm. It was very hard, although some days we had nothing to film, so we rested or we just hung out in the office. There was some sort of balance, because there wasn't always something interesting going on.
In that meeting, we also decided things like where to process the film and so on; in other words, the team's regulations. After we came to an agreement on all these points and processed them in our heads, we started shooting.
This film was shot against the shortage of film stock. Every time I thought that I had enough material from a political assembly, I would switch off the light. Sometimes the cameraman would ask me why, and I would tell him that the most important things had been said. We would stay sitting there just in case. We shot the film with caution, with the worry of running out of film stock.
There is of course archival material in The Battle Of Chile. The most important [clips] are Heynowsky and Scheumann's sequence of the bombs falling on La Moneda and the planes bombarding the presidential palace, shot by Pedro Chaskel, who later became the editor of The Battle Of Chile. Pedro said to me, "I give you this material," so I thought that I could ask Heynowsky and Scheumann to send me the sequence of the planes in exchange for the sequence of the bombs, so we could edit the whole sequence. They agreed and sent the material as a gift.
The other important archival footage is the sequence where Henricksen filmed his own death. This footage was saved by some workers who were around in the area where Henricksen was shot. They took the negatives to Chile Films, where the film was developed and blown up to 35mm. The footage was used in a wonderful newsreel, perhaps the best newsreel made by them. I went to Chile Films and I asked for a copy of the footage and they gave it me. This was around about three months before the coup. I had that copy with me because I knew I was going to need it at some point.
There were also other small support sequences that I took from Chile Films' newsreels. These newsreels arrived in Cuba every fortnight, because there was an agreement with the ICAIC [Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos – Cuban Institute of Film Art and Industry]. Chile Films would send their newsreel to La Havana every two weeks and the ICAIC would send theirs to Santiago. There were probably about 15 cans of newsreel in Cuba for the whole of 1973. Each newsreel was 15 minutes long. The newsreels had many shots I was interested in. For example, shots of parades that we needed, or a lorry track, or signs, or factories. They were very conventional shots but I didn't want to use still photography. At the time I felt a completely unjustified rejection towards still photography.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
The Battle Of Chile has only one still photograph in its four-and–a-half hours. Chile Films' material saved me from filling the voids with still photography. In that sense, I'm very grateful to them. Unfortunately, these films were not preserved in Cuba. During the crisis, when the lab was closed and the air conditioning cut, those films did not survive. In a sense, The Battle... saved a few frames of Chile Films' newsreels. That's all that is left of them. The newsreels kept in Chile were burnt [during the dictatorship] and those stored in Cuba were kept outside the vault that was reserved for Cuban cinema.
NM: Did you have any contact with other Latin American filmmakers or film collectives at the time, like Grupo Cine Liberación [The Liberation Film Group] or Cine de la Base in Argentina?
PG: No, I didn't have contact with other filmmakers or with Cine Liberación or Cine de la Base. I knew about Cine Liberación; I admired Fernando Solanas and The Hour Of The Furnaces (La hora de los hornos, 1968) but I didn't have a direct contact with him, we hadn't met each other in person. The only one I had some contact with, by correspondence, not in person, was Raymundo Gleyzer. When I was at Chile Films, Gleyzer asked the company for some help. I replied, or someone at Chile Films did, that we had so few resources, that it was impossible to help anyone – the situation at Chile Films was very chaotic. In the end, I never met Raymundo; at the time he was finishing a film about the Mexican Revolution called Mexico: The Frozen Revolution (1973).
I didn't have any contact with Cuban filmmakers either. I had seen some Cuban films; I knew some of the work of Santiago [Álvarez], but I had never been to Cuba. I wasn't a MIR [Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria – Revolutionary Left Movement] activist or an activist of any other party. My relationship with Cuba was more "literary" in a way. I received some books published by the ICAIC but I didn't have a dynamic contact with ICAIC. I had seen the film Santiago made about Chile, De America soy hijo... y a ella me debo (1975), which I thought was terrific. I had also seen Now (1965), Cerro Pelado (1966), Ciclón (Hurricane, 1963) – his first short films, which are the best by the way. Basically, neither I nor the rest of the team had contact with other Latin American filmmakers, or with other cinema directors who were working at the time. For example, William Klein's film about May '68, Grand Soirs et Petit Matins (Maydays), made in 1978, is very similar to The Battle Of Chile, if you compare them. The same with Wiseman's films from around 1972, 1974. That is to say, direct cinema is very similar anywhere it was produced because it was basically shooting what was going on with a camera on your shoulder, following the action. Generally, the type of frame and camera movement, the type of image texture in black and white 16mm, is the same. Similarly, the sound, direct sound, using the clapperboard on the go, etc.
Thus, regarding form and style, The Battle Of Chile is nothing special, it is like many other films. What is unique in this film is its sense of narrative. The narrative approach takes the audience from the first part to the last. The film keeps you on your seat for four-and–a-half hours, because the exposition of the counterpoint, the powerful struggle between opposites, is further emphasised by the editing. This is why the film hasn't dated. In the US the DVDs are sold as if the film had been made a couple of years ago. This year for example, documenta requested the film specially and it is still being requested by many places.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
My point is that the sense of narrative is different. It's less fragmentary than in the other films I have mentioned. This storytelling approach is unique, in my opinion. The other unique point of The Battle Of Chile is that never before in Latin America had someone filmed a revolution day to day. It's as if someone had filmed an everyday account of what happened with Evo [Morales] in Bolivia, which hasn't been done, to my knowledge.
There haven't been films made giving a day-to-day account of all the crises in Argentina either. The Hour Of The Furnaces is an essay, it uses material from different origins. It's a construction, parting from an essay with a voiceover guiding the audience. It's a reflection. On the other hand, The Battle Of Chile is a film that shows the audience what happened, and allows them to reach their own conclusions.
This is a subjective film. I completely supported the process of transformation that Chile was going through. However, the film does open the door to Allende's opposition. The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie has more interviews with the bourgeoisie than with the left. I felt the opposition had to have their say, because they exposed the fascism that was starting to flourish. That was very important to all of us, and to the film. There isn't a day-to-day chronicle of what happened during Chavez's government either. Perhaps there is, but only as a newsreel.
NM: What kind of cultural and media initiatives were created by Allende's government? How was the production, distribution and circulation of films during this time?
PG: My first film, The First Year – a propaganda film – was screened in regular cinemas in Santiago, because Chile Films had a network of expropriated cinemas. At the time there were other things that the government was doing. For example, there was a state publishing company of books and magazines, which was very important and very well managed and organised, called Quimantu. Quimantu published hundreds of low-cost books from a left-leaning perspective analysing current affairs; others were about Chile's history, geography or Chilean identity. They also published very good magazines and weeklies.
There were some good, small radio stations. There was also a good magazine called Chile Hoy [Chile Today], edited by Marta Harnecker. From this magazine we got lots of information for the shooting of The Battle Of Chile. It was a magazine of limited circulation, similar to Uruguay's Marcha magazine. Both publications had a similar format, and many collaborators on Marcha travelled to Chile and worked for Chile Hoy.
There were a couple of films, about the CIA, about what happened with ITT [International Telephone and Telegraph]. A film with ITT's documents, published by an ex-CIA agent, demonstrated that Chile was a victim of a plot by ITT. It was a film by an Argentinean filmmaker, whose name I can't remember.
Raul Ruiz made three, four, perhaps five feature films during this time. But they were films of a different kind. They were symbolic, metaphoric films about Chile, but not precisely about the process that Chile was going through. They were typical of Raul's films, a reflective and avant-garde cinema, which didn't have distribution in Chile at the time. They eventually were distributed in Chile many years later. In addition, Raul left Chile around the time I did, and he didn't return until a short while ago, about five or six years before he died.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
Miguel Littin made The Promised Land (La Tierra Prometida, 1973), a feature film based on a short-lived Chilean socialist republic that took place during the 20th century. The film wasn't finished by the time of the coup; it was distributed overseas and Chileans living under the dictatorship didn't get to see it. Miguel Littin was the director of Chile Films at the beginning of Allende's government.
NM: Could you tell us more about Chile Films? How did the company work?
PG: Chile Films was a very precarious organisation. I think it was created in the 1940s with the intention of making films in Chile. They made some films at the time, but they are lost now. The studio was abandoned for many years. There was a huge set, enormous, a couple of administrative buildings next to it, and a sound-mixing studio with very obsolete equipment.
Under [Eduardo] Frei's Christian Democratic government, prior to Allende's, the studio was cleaned and restored. There were a couple of films made at the time and they started a propaganda newsreel. The production of this propaganda newsreel carried on during Allende's government. The newsreel wasn't bad but how can I say this – it wasn't Santiago Alvarez's work. It wasn't good or bad, it was correct. Many good directors worked on the newsreels. They were well-prepared people, most of them from the Communist Party. The newsreels worked quite well, but they didn't justify the existence of a state production company. You could say that there was a great need for documentaries and feature-length fiction films.
At some point, when I was about to finish shooting The Battle Of Chile, I went to Chile Films to synchronise some footage to save time. Chile Films was then directed by Eduardo "Coco" Paredes, a person who was not suitable for this job. He was part of Allende's security entourage. He was murdered on the day of the coup itself. Paredes was a man who liked guns and armed defence. When he fell from grace, he was sent to Chile Films, which had nothing to do with his profession. He told me one day that it was my duty to transfer the production of The Battle Of Chile to Chile Films, without carrying on my work independently. I refused, and told him that our small group was enough to make this film, that bringing the production to Chile Films didn't make any sense.
I always worked in small and mobile teams. Going around in Chile Films' vehicles was not going to be the same. You became a sort of official correspondent and that was what we wanted to avoid. Workers in the grassroots factory organisations, and people everywhere, opened up to us because we were a group of young, left-wing independents. We didn't really work for the present – it was a film that was going be released many years later. The film had a different trajectory from a reportage.
When I refused to transfer the production to Chile Films, Paredes got very angry. He had a terrible temper. Apart from this discussion, which I remember perfectly, nothing happened. I continued with my independent work and he didn't insist. Besides, things got really complicated and I don't think they would have been interested in producing this film.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
PG: The First Year was shot in 16mm and I went to Buenos Aires to blow up the film to 35mm. We made six copies, which we released in Santiago and inland Chile. These copies got worn out; they were screened so many times that there was little left of them in the end. The film was produced by Catholic University Film Institute, a small organisation with a good 16mm laboratory. They also had some copies, between three and five of them.
Chris Marker took one of the negatives with the soundtrack to Paris. The First Year screened in Paris, Switzerland and Belgium, and it did well. It wasn't an extraordinary film, it was quite a modest documentary, but it was the first film about the Unidad Popular and Allende to be screened outside Chile. After the coup, the army occupied the Catholic University and appointed a colonel as its head. He swept all the left-wing material, including The First Year. Nobody knows what happened to the negative. It was probably handed over to him by staff. I tried to find out what had happened, but I sensed a bit of guilty conscience when I asked people there. They couldn't have done any different, though. By having The First Year hidden, they were risking their lives.
To start the restoration, I need to take what is left of the film from ISKRA, Chris Marker's group. I have many fragments of the film in 35mm, because the Cubans had a copy and I made a negative, which I kept. I also have the soundtrack that Chris handed over to me in Paris over 40 years ago, which is in perfect state. I have almost everything I need. I have to modernise it – the film needs a new commentary and a re-edit. I would love to do this, but I haven't had the time yet. I have used long fragments of this film to complement Salvador Allende. People often think that these fragments belong to The Battle Of Chile, but in fact this is new material. I don't really know when I'm going to find the time to pursue this project, which is quite expensive too. Maybe in the next three years.
NM: It would be very interesting to see this film after so many years.
PG: Yes, definitely. There are some copies with missing footage in Santiago. The Chilean Cinémathèque was abandoned for many years. Someone who worked for the Ministry of Education, I think, had access to their material. He made VHS copies of some films. He gave me a VHS, but it has missing footage, including the end. In short, there is something out there, but of terrible quality.
PG: The film couldn't have been edited in any other place than Cuba. We couldn't have edited it if there wasn't a place like the ICAIC, because it was a film that demanded lots of work. The ICAIC helped Latin American filmmakers who didn't have any resources, but they worked on fiction films that took three or four months for the editing and a couple of weeks for the mixing. It's not the same to spend six years on a film. We were the only filmmakers who actually lived in Cuba. The other Latin American filmmakers were guests, passing by. We, on the other hand, lived there, we had our homes there and we lived the Cuban reality in a way that other filmmakers didn't.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
It would have been very difficult to find a big space somewhere else with a Moviola that we could use exclusively. The ICAIC never worked in 16mm. In fact, using the only 16mm editing suite wasn't much of a problem for them. However, their help was extraordinary. Otherwise, we would have had to find someone with left-wing sympathies, perhaps in France, who would let us use a Moviola – some people had them at home. Then we would have had to mix the sound somewhere else. However, if Pedro had been with us, with me, somewhere else, we would have made the same film. Because the material itself goes in a certain direction. The material organises what is going to happen next. An editor brings the best out of this material, but the editor can't create something that is not there already. It's going against the footage, and the audience is the first to notice that there is something weird going on, that they are not seeing the real story. The Battle Of Chile was simply a chronicle of what had happened.
It would have been difficult to find a generous character, a millionaire who'd be willing to help. Chris Marker didn't have a penny. He liked going around on a dilapidated motorbike dressed like a working-class man. He was terribly sophisticated and cultured, an erudite, but he very much liked dressing up as a proletarian. He didn't have any possessions, he lived in a small flat. He was never the kind of person to frequent festivals. I think he never wore a dinner jacket in his whole life. So he didn't have any money, he was poor too. It was funny, Chris was a spectacular character who at the same time was a secular priest of the revolution.
NM: You spent six years editing The Battle Of Chile. You mentioned in interviews that it took you quite a long time to realise that it had to be a three-part film.
PG: Yes, we wasted lots of time at the beginning. We were cooped up, working too many hours a day. Because it was all historical material, we didn't know where to start. We were invaded by this sense of responsibility, a negative one, which instead of being helpful, paralysed us. We went around in circles looking at the footage, taking notes, going back to another roll of film. At the end of the day, we were not editing. When we finally started to work on the edit, the problem was that the film was getting bigger and bigger. Evidently, we couldn't fit everything in and, at the same time, we couldn't cut material because it was very good. By the time we got to the footage of the copper miners' strike, we already had an hour and fifteen minutes of film and a great deal of material left. The main problem we had was that, in those days, once you cut the negative, it was cut forever, you couldn't go back. Deciding where to cut each part to make the film work was quite a headache. We tried to find a solution, until one day I told Pedro: "We cut the first part from here to here, the second one from here to here and we leave the third one for now, because it's going to be completely different." That same day we showed the film to our consultant, Julio García Espinosa. He was a great guy, very open. The Cubans never put any kind of pressure on us. That was terrific, because many people thought that by editing in Cuba, the film would be restricted and the ideology of the Cuban Communist Party would be embedded in it. None of that happened; everything that is in the film is what Pedro and I came up with. The screening with García Espinosa was at three or four o'clock in the afternoon. That day at ten o'clock I had told Pedro how I thought the film had to be cut. Pedro agreed and we started to work at great speed, editing what was a gigantic roll into two films. It was ready by the time of the screening. When Julio saw the film, he said: "Great, you've found a solution. This is a diptych or perhaps a trilogy," to which I replied: "A trilogy, because we still have lots of material."
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
Popular Power (1979) has a completely different rhythm compared to the first two parts. It's slower, there aren't great events in the film. The work of the grassroots workers' organisations was important, but not in the general context. They were small organs of workers' democracy, only supported by a part of the left. Even the trial of the civil servant working for the ministry of agriculture was also a very local and small event in the big scheme of things. While there was a kind of civil war going on, there were people still trying to build socialism. This seems crazy, but revolutions are like that. The film by Ken Loach about the Spanish Civil War [Land of Freedom, 1995] shows this perfectly: people trying to implement an agrarian reform while the republican front is losing the war. It was similar in Chile. I believe the same happens in every revolution, because there isn't a script to make a revolution. A revolution is an organ, a body, a flock of birds flying in the same direction, but there are thousands of birds moving and some leave the flock. It's like a galaxy moving. Allende knew that perfectly. One of his good qualities was his flexibility. Perhaps at the end, things got out of hand for him precisely because of this, although there wasn't a solution to the dilemma of the Unidad Popular. It was dying or not, and Allende died. His trajectory as a leader was consistent. He could have avoided suicide, but it was a political suicide. From the moment Allende shots himself, Pinochet was left without a prisoner. Nevertheless, what happened during his government was proof that the people of Latin America can organise themselves and are capable of carrying on a revolution with responsibility. That's the opposite of what's going on Chile now. Chile does not take responsibility for the repression inflicted during Pinochet's dictatorship. If you ask people in Chile, all they can say is: "I didn't do it, I didn't know, I wasn't there." Nobody takes responsibility for the 3,250 "disappeared" and executed men and women. Nobody takes responsibility for the people that were thrown into the sea. Nobody takes responsibility for the mistreatment suffered by the Mapuches or the Fueguinos, the indigenous people shot dead by the Argentine and Chilean governments. There are only eight direct descendants of the Fueguinos, from a whole race that had lived for 6,000 years. Chile evicted the indigenous people of Atacama when it won the Pacific war against Peru and Bolivia, only because these people were considered foreigners. Chile is a cruel state; it has always been racist and has always hidden what it has done. I personally do not believe in the Chilean heroes. If they say what they say about the Unidad Popular and Allende, why should I believe what they say about anything else?
NM: There are three Spanish-language versions of The Battle Of Chile. There is one with a Cuban voiceover, the one screened in the recent UK retrospective with a Spanish narrator, and the DVD with your own voice. Has the text of the narration changed at all?
PG: The first version was narrated by Méndez Vila, a very good Cuban newsreader who was able to read at a great speed. He was a terrific guy who worked for Radio Reloj. This version was translated into French, Italian and English. The first version available in the US was read by a woman, the Italian version by an Italian man who lived in Cuba, and the French voiceover was narrated by a French man who also lived in La Havana. I supervised the Italian and French versions; nothing was changed. When I transferred the film to digital, a Spanish newsreader recorded the voiceover, in part because the film had been bought by a Spanish distribution company. I changed some of the wording, as this newsreader couldn't read as fast as Méndez Vila. Also, some phrases seemed repetitive. There was an excessive use of the words fascism, bourgeoisie and imperialism. So I replaced imperialism with Washington's government, Nixon's government, the White House's government. I diversified the wording because otherwise it seemed too stereotyped. The same with the term fascism. I think I had abused it. You have to be careful with the use of this word, it has to be used correctly. The right in Chile weren't all fascist. Unfortunately, a very important segment of the middle classes took a fascist stand without really being conscious of what they were getting into. These people would say: "Kill all the communists. If Pinochet doesn't kill them, he won't be doing his job properly." They were Christians, well educated, university graduates, many of whom had been educated in expensive public schools. However, they spoke like cavemen. On the other hand, a worker spoke in plain language, without any hate. It was quite curious. A worker without formal education was more sensible and made a better use of adjectives than a furious, university-educated bourgeois who didn't know what to do to get rid of this government. So, I made between 20 and 22 changes in the voiceover, all concerning these words that I just mentioned. The nature of the text remained the same, although it's a more fluid version. I'm not interested in making another one. I am going to record a version using my own voice shortly. There is one with my voice in Chile – recorded in Santiago – but it's not a stereo recording. I want to record this in France or Belgium, where I usually record the sound for my films. It's one of those pending things, like the restoration of The First Year, which I'll do when I have sufficient funds.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
NM: There is also an American DVD released by Icarus, with your voice.
PG: Yes, Icarus re-mastered the recording in New York that I had made in Chile. They didn't want to wait for the new one. There are other versions, too. There is one in Polish and one in Czech I think. When the film was sold to Planète, as they have TV stations in many countries, they made versions in different languages. There is even a Korean version.
NM: Incidentally, there is an FBI warning in the American edition. Given the role of the Nixon administration in supporting the coup against Allende, it seems ironic to think that the American authorities could be so concerned with the copyright of The Battle Of Chile. I was wondering if I was going to see a CIA warning next...
PG: Well, Icarus Films is overly zealous in preventing piracy. However, there is a quite serious anecdote about what you just said regarding the CIA. The Battle Of Chile was first distributed in the States by New Yorker Films, a company that still operates today. The distributor was Dan Talbot, a very good guy. When the contract ended, the film changed hands and went to Tricontinental Film Center. This company was managed by an Argentine man. He distributed all the Cuban cinema and cinema that could be called more revolutionary. One day, this man told me: "Look, the CIA is going to see this film. As they are going to pirate the film anyway, why don't we just sell it to them at a high price?" Naturally, I told him that it wasn't the right thing to do. Although it was probably true that the CIA would try to see the film and that they may even try to use it to identify someone. But I said that we couldn't sell it to them, it was immoral. And that was the end of the story. He was a very commercially minded man, always looking for a business opportunity. Afterwards, the company went bust and they ended up owing me quite a bit of money. It was an announced bankruptcy, which wasn't really announced to me. The film's distribution was left up in the air in the States, until Icarus got in charge.
NM: I find it hard to imagine your distributor trying to sell The Battle Of Chile to the CIA...
PG: Well, it was a completely crazy idea... that's why the company went bust. He wasn't an ill-intentioned person, but he didn't have the political experience required to handle the material that he was distributing. At the time it was very difficult to get a distributor with left-wing sympathies in the US and that's why the Cubans trusted this person a lot and they gave him everything: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's Memories Of Underdevelopment (1968), the works of Santiago Alvarez, everything by Titón and Humberto Solas. It was a great responsibility.
NM: While you were working on the editing, Jorge Müller, who remained in Chile after the coup, disappeared. Were you worried about the exposure that your team or the people in the film would have?
PG: While we were in Cuba, we asked ourselves to what extent The Battle Of Chile, a gallery of faces in a way, could be used by the Chilean police to find people. Pedro and I discussed it a lot. We also asked many people for advice. The conclusion was that anyone who appeared in detail in the film – leaders of grassroots workers' organisations, radical left-wing activists, the spokespeople and general secretaries of the different parties – had already been identified [by the secret services]. We realised that we were paralysed by something that the DINA had already known about for a while. I don't think they needed that gallery of faces to arrest people. They had already carried out their sinister operations in Santiago by taking prisoners for rides in the front seat of cars, forcing them to identify people on the street. In the end I thought we had to show the film. All the activists had taken responsibility for their roles in politics. Some had left Chile, others were murdered, some stayed and resisted in the underground. The film's positive impact for the future was important and defied the idea of having the film kept away for 10 or 15 years to avoid possible arrests. I believe that anyone who carried on with clandestine activism was at risk, but not because they had appeared on screen in some demonstration.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
NM: You talked briefly about the distribution in the US. What about other places?
PG: I was the distributor with Federico Elton, who was the producer. We asked for copies from the ICAIC, which was a great advantage. We had a lab at our disposal, where we could make copies and sell the film to different cinemas in Europe. The Cubans allowed us to make the copies; it wasn't a problem for them at the time. Especially since they were black and white, which was cheap. The film was distributed in 35 countries, but only in cinemas. Almost no TV channel bought it, except for Spanish and Venezuelan TV. Cuba, of course, broadcast the film and soo did the GDR [German Democratic Republic] , although in a censored version. The film scared TV stations. It was seen as left-wing propaganda. TV stations in France didn't buy it. Planète only did twelve years ago, almost 30 years after it was made. In Chile, the film was used as a counter-information tool. I managed to smuggle in copies of The Battle Of Chile and it was distributed to the extent that there were copies of copies of copies, in which you couldn't see anything. People went to see the film in garages, basements and houses with the sound at a very low volume. The film provided information about Allende's government to young people who had been children during that time. To this day, the film hasn't been screened in Chilean cinemas because no distributor dares, which is scandalous. It's a typical reaction from an amnesic country like Chile, with plenty of credit cards but little analysis about past events. People want to run away from that period of history as fast as they can, because they consider it chaotic, painful, difficult. In other words, they do not want to appear as sympathisers of the left, which failed.
NM: After The Battle Of Chile you suffered a deep depression. You have mentioned that making your next film helped you to get over it. Your next film was La Rosa de los Vientos (1983), your only fiction film.
PG: Yes, that was my only fiction film. Not many people have seen it and I don't want anyone to see it, because it's a terrible film.
NM: I'm very curious about it. I've been trying to see it, but I haven't been successful in getting hold of it.
PG: Well, you are going to waste plenty of time trying. It's a film maudit with good reason, because it was a bad film. It probably has some sort of mystery to it, but it's a film that I made against the grain. It was a complete failure, it received bad reviews. It did screen at the Director's Fortnight in Cannes, but that only happened because I had made The Battle Of Chile. Otherwise, I would have never been invited. The film that I considered a rebirth, the film that helped me to regain my lost vocation, was In The Name Of God, made in 1986. I really liked making that film and I like the film very much. It had a restricted distribution, because the Spanish are not very good at that, but I have a master copy that I try to circulate. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy with English subtitles. It is another one of those pending tasks.
NM: In The Name Of God is a compelling film. I can imagine why it had that effect on you while you made it. How was the production of this film? Pinochet was still in power in 1986. Would say that it was a clandestine film?
PG: I made this film during a very interesting time. There was a general feeling that Pinochet was going to be ousted by the people at any moment. There was a great mobilisation of grassroots groups. There were massive demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people all around the country. When I decided to go to Chile, I asked the Vicarage of Solidarity to send two lawyers to the airport, so they could intervene in case I was arested. They did come but I got into the country without problems, probably thanks to my discretion. I was active in the promotion of The Battle Of Chile and I had always taken part in the campaign of solidarity with Chile in denouncing the dictatorship, but the authorities at the time were worried by more important issues. Many people disappeared in 1986. The CNI – the intelligence agency that replaced the DINA – was concerned with identifying those people who lead protests in the working class neighbourhoods and to make them disappear. During that time, three secondary school teachers, one of who was part of the Vicarage of Solidarity, were killed. Their throats were cut. The authorities were not worried about a filmmaker living in Spain and working for the Spanish TV, who was going to make film about worker-priests. The core of the repression wasn't a focus on the parishes.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
Pierre Dubois, who died recently, was a priest in Población La Victoria. He was very outspoken against the regime while celebrating mass. He called everything by its name, he declared that the army were not real Christians, he called to stop the torture, saying that it was something inadmissible, and so on. Pierre Dubois and other priests who appear in the film were denouncing the dictatorship. They were social agitators who were not arrested by the regime. On the other hand, members of the Sebastián Acevedo Movement were at risk. Sebastián Acevedo was a worker who self-immolated in Concepción, in protest against the dictatorship. His name was taken by a group of radical Christians who would congregate and sing in front places like the Central Intelligence headquarters, La Moneda, or the Ministry of Defence. When the police came, they didn't run away, they stayed put to receive the beatings. It was incredible. It was an element of public rebellion, of defiance that kept the security forces busy.
Miguel Littin went to Chile to make a film a short while before I did. He went in disguise as a businessman. He worked in a clandestine way on the film Acta General de Chile (1986). I thought it was actually easier to get into the country openly rather than through a clandestine operation. That's why I entered Chile like that. However, two months later, when the sound engineer and assistant director were arrested in front of me, I packed my stuff and left. By this time I had enough material to make the film. I had loads of material.
NM: You decided to make this film after watching a documentary about the complicity of the Argentine church in the human right violations during the last dictatorship.
PG: The Spanish TV had funded Only Emptiness Remains (1984), a documentary by Rodolfo Kuhn, an Argentine filmmaker who lived in Madrid. His film exposed the position of the Argentine church towards human right violations by the dictatorship. The Argentine church supported Videla and the military junta. They didn't have any moral hesitation in siding with the repressive power. I explained to the Spanish TV producer that what was happening in Chile was exactly the opposite, and that I thought there should be a film about it because it was such an unusual situation. That was the origin of In The Name Of God.
PG: Yes, I developed that interest when I started to study the Catholic church in Chile. Traditionally, the left hadn't been interested in studying the church. The Catholic church had been quite insipid. Naturally, it wasn't a left-wing institution, but it wasn't a reactionary one, protesting against abortion or the use of bikinis on the beach. The Chilean church didn't make those gestures. It was an invisible body. Likewise, the army had been an invisible body. The left didn't study or know what the church was about. The Christian Democrats obviously did. When I started to study the Catholic church in depth, I hired an expert to find out more about it. Then I realised that within the Chilean Catholic church, a third of bishops had very advanced views. The first agrarian reform – this may seem incredible – was implemented by the Catholic church. A bishop from a very wealthy region gave away the church's land to the peasants. He was an extraordinary man called Manuel Larraín. He, along with others, pushed for the organisation of Vatican Council II, which revolutionised the social role of the church. While I was studying the Chilean church I kept coming across the Liberation Theology, which didn't have many representatives as such in Chile. They didn't call themselves liberation theologians, but in fact they were. In Brazil, however, there were many liberation theologians. So on my way to Chile to shoot In The Name Of God, I went to Brazil, because I wanted to hear the views of Leonardo and Clodovis Boff. The Southern Cross started as a project at the same time as In The Name Of God. I thought it was extraordinary to approach Latin American history with faith as a starting point. Nobody had done that. I was even more inclined to make The Southern Cross than In The Name Of God.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
NM: The Latin American left has a general preconception regarding the role of the church on the continent, it could be said about religion in general, but especially about the church as an institution. Your films show that the relationship is quite complex.
PG: Yes, in general the Latin American left, or at least in Chile, knew very little about the church. They also knew very little about the US, which was very curious. There were very few left-wing specialists that could explain what the US was, which principles guided the country, how capitalism developed there and so on. We didn't know anything about the US. We knew it was the "empire". However, there weren't studies about the "enemy". During the government of the Unidad Popular, commissions were established to study this in depth. That was very interesting. From this came the Letelier's group. [Orlando] Letelier was the Chilean ambassador to the US [during Allende's government]. He was later assassinated in Washington by the DINA, because he was doing such a great job lobbying against Pinochet's regime to achieve the return of democracy in Chile. There was a Christian group called Christians for Socialism, which was very active during the Unidad Popular government and it was severely repressed by the dictatorship. This group was very radical, like the MIR. Some survivors of this group appear in the film. All the progressive bishops were over 70 years old. As they have to retire at 80, John Paul II took the opportunity to retire all these progressive bishops in Chile and Brazil. It could be said that he persecuted the Liberation Theology in the whole of Latin America with the help of Ratzinger [now Pope Benedict XVI]. John Paul II was more anti-communist than Catholic. This is something that hasn't been talked much about. He was more concerned with fighting the Liberation Theology, according to him a left-wing deviation, than counteracting the role of the real enemy of the church, the American sects spreading everywhere. The pope eliminated the only factor that could have neutralised the advance of the sects in Latin America. The only Catholic church with popular support and with strong community parishes established in deprived neighbourhoods was dismantled by the pope. After that the sects gained ground. Now it's impossible to turn back.
NM: You mentioned in interviews that you make a link between The Southern Cross and Nostalgia For The Light. What's your own personal relationship with religion? You've mentioned that the memory of your first communion is one of the things you carry "in your rucksack" everywhere you go as an exile, along with the memory of your first day at school and your first love.
PG: I had a regular Catholic formation. My family wasn't especially religious, but they were Catholic. The middle classes were Catholic in Chile, like in the rest of Latin America. Then, when I was about 17 or 18, I questioned what religion was and I distanced myself from it. However, there is something that I always liked: the ritual. Whether this is Jewish or Islamic, it catches my attention. I find the staging very attractive. I went twice to Mumbai where I visited all the temples I could. The rites are extraordinary. There is a poetic aspect in every religion that has little to do with faith. It's the homage that men pay to their gods. That's what happens in Guatemala, a country that is constantly paying homage to its gods, whether they are Catholic or Mayan, ancient or modern. Something similar happens in Bahia. In Nostalgia For The Light there is a philosophical and metaphysical reflection. It is not that similar to The Southern Cross, but these films are more open, more ambiguous reflections. Unlike The Pinochet Case, Salvador Allende or The Battle Of Chile, they don't follow a specific real and political theme. This is a path I'm following now. My next film will be similar to Nostalgia For The Light. Nostalgia For The Light is part of a trilogy.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
NM: Your next film is going to be about the sea.
PG: Water in Chile is very important, as the country has 4,000 km of coastline. Furthermore, the Chilean Patagonia is made up of thousands of islands. The coastline around these islands adds up to 72,000 km, a massive figure. It's difficult to figure out whether water conquers the land or the land is submerged by water. There is a communion between land and water. I'm very interested in this phenomenon, because all the cultures that lived there were cultures of the water. Some aboriginal communities were water nomads. They didn't have a place or a city, their spent their whole lives travelling around the channels. Water also features in the terrible earthquakes and tsunamis that Chile has suffered. What's more, around 1,000 bodies have been probably thrown into the sea, according to the Chilean judge Juan Guzmán. The number of graves discovered does not correlate at all to the approximately 3,200 people disappeared and executed during the dictatorship. Therefore, the sea is a rich subject that connects the cosmos and the repression suffered in Chile. Water is the element that is more connected to the cosmos. Every celestial body has an effect on the water, not only the moon. Water is an intermediary between the rock, the earth and the cosmos. Water is very important, not only because we couldn't live without it, but because it also connects us with the external world. Going further back, the first living organisms were found in the water.
NM: What about the third part of the trilogy?
PG: The third part is still in early development. It's going to be about the Andes and the volcanoes, but especially about the Andes, this immense wall. I'm very interested in it because it defines the nationalities of Chile, Peru and Ecuador. Where does the "Andean temper" comes from? I'm interested in that.
PG: Yes, you are right. Some of my films generate an unexpected emotional response among Chilean and other audiences. With Chile, Obstinate Memory the audiences everywhere either burst into applause or into tears. The same happens with Nostalgia For The Light. When I make films I take the audience into account. That is, I don't make films for the public, but I take into consideration that a film reaches a certain amount of people. Therefore, I have to give them a film that involves them, that generates passion and gets inside them. Many documentaries are cold, like essays, and they don't offer a space where the audience can figure out things by themselves. I think that's the key in documentary communication: to make an open film able to reach your own people and, at the same time, to have a universal quality. That's essential. That's why The Battle Of Chile is still being shown today. That wouldn't happen if the film wasn't universal. The Battle Of Chile takes place in an incredible historical moment. That government will never be repeated. Someone who decides to start a non-violent revolution, like Allende, is unique. His fall was a real blow for many people in Western and Eastern Europe. Demonstrations were organised, magazines published special issues and so on. His death was a setback for the left worldwide. It was a moment of commotion.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
NM: The film you made about Allende could almost be seen as a documentary about a great collective love story.
PG: Yes, that's it. Chile was a country in love with what he was doing. There was a degree of participation that I have never seen in my life. Everybody wanted to take part, asking: "What can I do? How can I help? How can I get involved?" There was a strong will to support this non-violent revolution. The organisational ability at a grassroots level was incredible. I remember talking to some Cubans about how the revolution was during the first two or three years and they recalled something similar. A kind of euphoria arose, Fidel Castro spoke every day, thousands of people gathered – it was extraordinary. I also had conversations with people from the Frente Sandinista who recalled similar experiences at the beginning of the revolution. The mass organisation that took place supporting this revolutionary option, without being asked but simply participating, was unforgettable.
Another positive aspect [of the Chilean experience] was that it was plural. There were all sorts of people involved: communists, socialists, Christians, social democrats. It was a multi-party front. Allende detested the idea of a one-party system. He didn't like the Soviet Union that much. However, he did have complete admiration for Cuba. He would take any opportunity to talk about Cuba or Che Guevara. It was interesting that Fidel and Allende became friends, they were very different people. Allende was a professional politician and Castro a military leader who admired the Soviet Union. Allende obtained more funds from Argentina under [Juan Carlos] Onganía's right-wing dictatorship than from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union distrusted Allende from the beginning. When he was elected he was received in the Kremlin, but it was funny because it lacked any warmth or enthusiasm, it was a protocol affair. In contrast, when he went to Cuba, his arrival was delayed, and crowds waited from four in the afternoon to midnight to have a glimpse of him. There were other trips by Allende that were spectacular. One trip to Ecuador was particularly successful. There was another one to Peru, and one trip to Mexico that was amazing. If someone had followed Allende on his trips there would be an amazing film. We didn't have money to do that and we would not have been allowed to be part of the entourage, because we were nobody. We didn't even ask for an interview because we knew we were going to be rejected. We didn't represent anyone in particular. A long time after Isabel [Allende Bussi] told me: "What a pity, Patricio, if I'd known, I would have got you an interview with Allende." But that was 25 years after his death. We didn't have any link to the power, we didn't have influential friends. Miguel Littin had them, which I don't criticise at all. And Raul [Ruiz] also had many friends at a high level because he was a longstanding socialist.
On the other hand, I was not aligned to anyone. Besides, I had been studying film in Franco's Spain, which didn't give me any credentials. It seemed quite contradictory that I was shooting a film about the Unidad Popular having graduated from a film school under Franco's regime. Although at the time he practically didn't have any influence in the government, the "transition" had swept away his power. The film school was dominated by the Spanish communist party, by the workers' commissions. Only I knew that. But when I said that I'd been studying in Spain, it seemed a bit odd. Had I studied in the Soviet Union or Cuba, it would have been different. Therefore, it was quite difficult for me at the beginning to make my way in this revolution-in-progress. One of the few people I knew was the director of the School of Arts and Communication of the Film Institute, who encouraged me to make The First Year. He gave me a camera and a non-synchronous sound recorder. I worked with an 18–year-old cameraman, Antonio Ríos. It was his first film. My sound engineer was a longhaired hippy who wore a braid. We looked truly unprofessional: me, the guy with a braid and someone who looked like a child. It was the best example of total amateurism. However, we shot everything and we went everywhere and we followed Fidel Castro's tour. It's a film full of energy. It wasn't much use for The Battle Of Chile though.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
NM: Your films are concerned with memory. Recently you talked about the cinema as a time machine. I can't help thinking of you as the time traveller of La Jetée, haunted by an image of his past. In your case, it's the image of that collective infatuation you encountered when you went back to Chile after studying in Madrid. There is a change, however, in the way you approach those events.
PG: Yes, you are right. I'm marked by that historical period. I don't think that I can get rid of this mark. Although I'll keep this mark, my new approach takes me to explore the universe. I am very interested in the concept of the "Big History" developed by Fred Spier. The Big History takes you from the Big Bang, when and how life started, when life was reproduced in the ocean and so on, until today. The history that we study at school has a progressive character. That is, history always advances towards something good, towards a bright future. This idea was created in the 18th century. This history is very patriotic, very national. Every country hides its worst tragedies – in the Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries – and creates a history full of episodes of renovation and strength. This is false, it's an incomplete version. With this concept as a starting point, I'm getting into the idea that the cosmos also belongs to Latin American history, to world history, and the ocean where the dead bodies ended up is an ocean that is in contact with the universe. I can't keep myself from making those connections, which science has been discovering recently. It has been discovered in Chile that there are some planets covered by oceans. We don't know yet what is in those oceans.
NM: How much of the final version of Nostalgia For The Light matches the original script? For example, Valentina Rodríguez's testimonial is an essential part of the film but her story was unknown even to her colleagues.
PG: One of the qualities of a documentary filmmaker is the ability to use deductive reasoning. If you film on an island you've never been to before, you can still infer many things about the life in this place. I inferred that there had to be more than one person connected with astronomy who had a disappeared relative. Astronomy is a very wide discipline. There are technicians who maintain the optical equipment. There are astronomers, astrophysicists, academics, mathematicians. So I thought that someone had to be affected by this. That's how Valentina appeared. She didn't want to let people know about her case, because it was very difficult for her. She had been receiving psychological treatment for quite some time. She was going to talk at the right time, and that time came with the film. It was the same with Gaspar [Galaz]. There had to be an astronomer who could not only talk about mathematics, formulas and technical questions, but who could also tell me that he lives in Chile, a country where people had disappeared. Gaspar was that person. I had interviewed around 12 or 15 astronomers. They were conscious about what had happened but didn't talk about it, and I didn't ask. That can be difficult, because the audience notices that you are forcing the subject. The right person has to be found. Nothing that Gaspar says had been discussed with me before, it came from him.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
NM: How did you actually find Valentina?
PG: My assistant director located her at the Chilean site of the European Southern Observatory. He heard that there was someone there with a disappeared relative. We started to look for that person and we came across Valentina. We found her because we knew about a case that had been recorded in the Vicarage of Solidarity. We knew about a baby who had been saved by her grandparents, because they had testified. Valentina's parents belonged to the MIR and their case had been published in a report about torture in Chile. We thought that Valentina could be that person and we wrote to her. She confirmed our guess, but she said that it was a private matter. I went to see her at her home and she told me her story. I filmed the interview with her back to the camera. I constructed a whole sequence without showing her, in case she didn't want to appear on camera. When she saw the finished film, she immediately agreed to it. Then I threw away that sequence with her back to the camera, which looked like one of those TV interviews with criminals. I don't like that, but I didn't have any other alternative until she accepted. With Gaspar it was something similar. We got to him after we interviewed the director of the Chilean Observatory in Santiago. She talked a lot about one of her students called Gaspar and about three or four more. We went to see all of them and Gaspar was the one who seemed more appropriate for the film, because of the way he talks. We arranged to meet up in Las Campanas Observatory. There, he gave me that interview, prior to the actual shooting. I shot this interview with my low definition camera. I also knew about Lautaro [Núñez], that he was the best person who could talk about the mummies as well as the differences and similarities between an astronomer and an archaeologist. He went even further by pointing out that not only do we not know anything about the people who disappeared under Pinochet's regime, but we don't know anything about 19th century history in Chile either.
PG: I think it's very important that when you have a strong experience, which can be helpful to someone else, you write it down, make it into a film or a play. I believe in transmission from generation to generation. I think is almost as important as learning to read and write. Before written language there was only oral transmission of knowledge. It was this way for thousands of years. I think it is part of being a human being. I compare transmission with having arms and legs. There is a part of our brain that is capable of transmitting our knowledge and experiences. This is a vital phenomenon. We have the good fortune that life doesn't end with us, that we can transmit our experiences. In that sense, this is linked to the concept of eternal life. The pharaohs were buried with their favourite objects, because there is an assumption that they don't die. They travel somewhere else. This magical belief can be transferred to the modern rational man in transmission. To pass on [knowledge and experiences] is what supports me. That's why I give classes, why I write and keep making films.
NM: How do you deal with certain ethical issues when making a film? For example, the sequence in The Battle Of Chile where Leonardo Henricksen films his own death. Why did you decide to include the whole sequence, showing the camera falling when he was shot? How do you make these decisions?
PC: In the case of Henricksen, I didn't have any problems deciding. It was the best proof of how a group of soldiers shot the civil population. I think that the best way to show and denounce this crime is to show this officer holding a gun in his hand and the other soldiers shooting from the lorry. It is very positive to denounce the savagery of these armed forces. I don't think that it's tactless to show how Leonardo dies, heroically, doing his job. He didn't go about acting like a hero, he was a man who took risks everyday, in the same way journalists in Afghanistan and Syria risk their lives everyday. Around 30 journalists have been killed in Syria. It's a high-risk profession.
Nostalgia For The Light, 2011
NM: In your films you have interviewed many victims, and the relatives of victims of human rights violations about their ordeal. What are the limits, when do you stop asking questions?
PG: I believe that ethics are something very important for a documentary filmmaker. However, we don't have the monopoly over ethics. Our ethics are not so different from those of a judge or a lawyer or a doctor. We don't monopolise ethics but we have to exercise them. I believe that with caution, respect and kindness you can ask many difficult questions if the interviewee is in agreement with you, and if you make the interview a long conversation. It's different from journalism – the interview becomes a film space and not an interrogation. When you are in that environment you can get far with an interview, and these interviews can last a whole day. You can't have a false tactfulness and stop asking certain things. Naturally, each of us keeps a secret. If your intuition tells you that you are close to that secret, you shouldn't go there. Apart from those secrets that everyone keeps, there is a great deal of information that people can give you if they are in the presence of someone with good intentions, who is not going to betray the information, this gift that he is receiving. I believe that you need to have integrity and a clear, open, correct position towards the interviewee. The trust must be earned in a proper manner, without deceiving the person about what you are going to include or not. I don't believe in self-censorship. I think that with tact, kindness and consideration you can ask almost anything. If there is something hidden that someone doesn't want to talk about, your common sense should tell you: I have to stop here!
NM: We talked about how some of your films generate a strong emotional response in the audience. How do you deal with the emotions of the person you are interviewing? Why do you think that their crying, for example, has to be included in the film?
PG: Because this is what happens in real life. When a person remembers his son, he or she can't contain their tears, those tears are fair. There are some films from Anglo-Saxon countries where the editing avoids showing the person crying. Sometime it's necessary to do this, but not always. In some cultures crying is proscribed, emotions are kept hidden, but that's not the case in Latin America. It's the same in the Arab world, people cry loudly at a funeral. Emotions are valued differently depending on the idiosyncrasy and the culture. In some places emotion has more prestige than in others. I'm not really worried about this. If people cry and the tears are deep and sincere, I leave them.
There has to be tact and moderation in the editing but there shouldn't be any taboos. There shouldn't be anything that shouldn't be done, because everything can be done well or badly. You can make a film where nobody cries, but you are insulting or disrespectful. If you see that a person has been drinking, and because of that the interviewee is giving more information, you shouldn't carry on with the interview. You are there for a different reason, because this person is a great writer, an artist or whatever, not because of that person's drinking problem. This is worse than any indiscreet question. Quite frequently you come across people who have had a couple of drinks and start giving away information that they wouldn't otherwise. Ethics is present in the shooting, the editing, everywhere. Even on the poster or in the title of the film, ethical questions are in place. You need clarity; you can't make a film if you are not lucid. You need integrity, it's a requirement.
Nostalgia For The Light, 2011
NM: Is the need to pass on knowledge what motivated you to organise the Documentary Film Festival in Santiago?
PG: I wanted people in Chile to get to see the films that I have access to living abroad. During the 18 years of dictatorship, Chilean TV didn't broadcast documentaries. During the three first governments of the democratic transition, nothing really changed. Chilean TV, in general, didn't, doesn't and will not broadcast interesting documentaries produced around the world. It's a bit like when you know a good restaurant and you recommend it to your friends. That was the spirit, to share these films with other people. It's very connected to my teaching work. At the beginning, I used to introduce the films in detail, almost like lectures. I asked for funding from FONDART [Chilean Art Fund], thinking that I would only receive money for a year. In the end, I received this grant three years in a row. This is the only time I have ever received money from the Chilean state. After that, I secured the money through a production company. We carried on like this for a few years until Veronica Rosselot, one the festival collaborators, decided to set up a cultural institution able to request funds, called CULDOC [La Corporación Cultural Documental].
The film festival has been going for 16 years.
NM: It started as a small event and it expanded quite a lot. Have you experienced any unexpected problems or situations?
PG: The first surprise was that so many people attended, especially the first festival. The auditorium at the Goethe Institute in Santiago was full and many people were left out. There was an incident when we screened The Battle Of Chile. The glass wall in the lobby was broken by the pressure of people pushing to get in. The Goethe-Institut called the police. It was a tense moment created by the event's success. At the next two or three editions of the festival, public attendance stabilised. People were attending but only around forty people for each screening. Although the opening and closing nights sold out, the rest of the screenings attracted a devoted but small audience.
There were other kinds of surprises. One of the early editions of the festival was organised with only half of the money after a member of the team stole the first instalment of FONDART's funding. That year nobody got paid. That was a very sad moment at the beginning of the festival. I never thought this could happen, it seemed odd. I thought this incident was the result of a country that had lived under dictatorship, without morals. And there has always been something, because it's difficult to keep a team together in Chile. It was difficult to keep a positive attitude year after year. We didn't have experience on how to manage the festival. We learnt as we went along. I had been to many festivals, but I had never managed one. The same happened to my wife, Renate, who is in charge of requesting the films. Thanks to my contacts she manages to get many of them for free, because people know they are for the festival. That has helped a lot.
NM: Latin America has seen a boom in film production over the last ten years. How is the situation in Chile?
PG: The fact that more Latin American films have been seen in the main festivals is without doubt largely thanks to the progressive governments in place. In Chile, the creation of FONDART was decisive. Practically the entire cultural production depends on government grants. What's been failing in the last few years is the selection of the jury, which chooses the projects. Especially in the last administration, we have seen a great bias in the distribution of funding. There is a preference to fund young and unknown artists with the excuse of helping those who are starting out, but in doing this they abandon those artists with experience. That's a big tactical mistake, because documentary cinema will never be able to be self-financed, even for an experienced filmmaker who has won awards. Without subsidies to start up there will not be production. The same happens with fiction films. In Chile, we don't have a private donor culture like in the US. It's similar to the situation in Europe: without grants there is no production. Bruno Bettati, the director of the Valdivia Film Festival, analyses this problem in his book Why Not? He is one of the best Chilean producers. He is able to successfully manage a delegation in Berlin, Cannes, anywhere. He understands all the production mechanisms. He also founded the Cinema Professionals Association. In his book, he establishes three attempts to create a Chilean cinema industry. The first two failed and the aim of his book is to avoid a third failure.
Nostalgia For The Light, 2011
The first attempt began in the 1940s during the Popular Front government, when Chile Films was created. This process had actually started earlier, when Chile produced dozens of silent films, and culminates with the creation of Chile Films. At this point the project failed, because apart from creating Chile Films, the studios and the state didn't support this bourgeoning industry. Everything fell apart. This was the first death of Chilean cinema. The next period was during the governments' of Frei and Allende, when films like A Long Journey (Patricio Kaulen, 1967), Three Sad Tigers (Raul Ruiz, 1968), Jackal of Nahueltoro (Miguel Littin, 1970) and Enough Praying (Aldo Francia, 1972) were produced. These four films had international distribution, they won awards and were popular with Chilean audiences. The second death of Chilean cinema came with the dictatorship. The third attempt was born with the creation of FONDART. This attempt has gone further with the production of many good quality documentary and fiction films. However, if the maze of subsidies is not organised, which includes organisations like CORFO, TV, FONDART and the National Council of Culture, the system is going to suffer a shock, which will result in the third failure in creating a Chilean film industry. We hope this won't be the case. However, there is a risk of this happening because the legislation is very confusing.
NM: Latin American countries, in general, have a very bad record of preserving their film heritage, either by intentional destruction during dictatorships or simply by lack of funding. What's the situation with the conservation and archiving of films in Chile? Are there any policies in place?
PG: Only a few films have been restored. In addition, these films do not add anything special. I believe Hussar Of The Dead (Pedro Sienna, 1925) has been restored again - it had been restored before, when I was young. Rafael Sánchez' El Cuerpo y la sangre (1962) also has been restored but – with all respect to Rafael – I don't think it's a fundamental film for Chilean cinema. Of course, it's good that it has been done. Proposals to restore The First Year have been rejected twice. I think everything related to conservation and archiving is in bad shape. The Chilean Cinémathèque doesn't have enough money to function effectively. They don't take many initiatives either. I'm not sure if this is due to lack of funding or because the situation is so anaemic that this organisation can't take a central role. Most film directors are worried about where to keep film negatives. Some are probably kept in Buenos Aires, others in Chile's lab. It's all very rudimentary, especially with the great leap to digital. Now more than ever we need a place to store 35mm films. If this space is not organised before the transition to digital, where are all these films going to be kept? They are either going to be abandoned or stored in the filmmakers' homes. There is a need for funding and the conscience to preserve past works for future generations. There is a lack of artistic memory, just as there is a lack of political memory. This has touched me personally. Three years ago FIDOCS presented a retrospective of my work. The festival paid for the copies of my films. The idea was that the Cinémathèque would pay half the fees and retain the films for future use. All we wanted was that the material be kept there permanently. In three years, the Cinémathèque's director hasn't been able to sign the agreement to receive the films, because he disagrees with two or three paragraphs of the contract. It would take him half a day to amend this. As a result, the films are in the basement of one of the FIDOCS's organisers.
On the other hand, I am willing to give my films to the Museum of Memory for a minimal fee, but the museum refuses to do so because its rules do not allow it. It's a Kafkaesque universe of an irrational bureaucracy. There is a problem with preservation, but also with distribution, that hasn't improved in the last 40 years. I've said many times that distribution should be taught in film schools, just as camerawork, direction and production are. There is a great need for distributors and exhibitors because, if we are still at the mercy of businessmen who only distribute American cinema, our films are never going to be seen. Currently, Chilean films – particularly fiction films, which sell better – have better distribution overseas than in Chile. No (2012) by Pablo Larraín has a good American distributor, but it doesn't have a strong local distributor. Tony Manero (Pablo Larraín, 2008) has been screened more overseas than locally.
The Battle Of Chile, 1972-79
NM: How far are you in the making of the second part of the trilogy that started with Nostalgia For The Light?
PG: I have finished the synopsis, which is about twenty pages. I'm entering the production stage. We are presenting dossiers to funding bodies and TV channels. This is the period when an enormous amount of papers circulate around places. I have to wait now until the beginning of next year. Depending on how the first round of funding goes, I may have to work on the script to improve it, or I can start with the execution of the project. That's all. The film's name is The Mother Of Pearl Button.
While I wait, I generally do something else. Right now, I'm finishing writing a book about my working method called Filming What Is Not There. The first part is a detailed explanation of my working method – about 100 pages; the second part consists of some articles that I wrote, and the third part is the synopses I wrote for FIDOC on the films that I found more interesting. I'm also writing another book called The Great Adventure of the Battle of Chile. This book explains the working method of that film and will also include the text of the three parts.
I generally disagree with the way theorists talk about documentaries. A filmmaker has a different approach to talking about his art than a theorist discussing an art to which he doesn't belong. I feel a certain rejection towards some theory books that are read by many people, and that I have read at some point. These books only lead to confusion. They use an abstract discourse to talk about practical issues, e.g. what do I do if I'm in the street shooting a fire? You don't get that information. They start with semiotics, which are not relevant. Criticism is a form of creation that leads to different paths of very interesting interpretation, sometimes fascinating. Some critics have seen things nobody has seen. However, there is a disassociation between the end and the method. Some theory books bore me. Besides, documentary is a genre that changes constantly, new stuff comes up every five years, while most of the books were written 20 or 30 years ago. So, you think this book is completely out of date, it doesn't discuss this or that film. I find them boring. For example, when I read the book about editing by Karel Reisz [The Technique of Film Editing, 1953], a classic, I didn't understand anything. Let's talk about something concrete: How do you cut? When a director talks about cinema, drawing from his own experience, his successes and failures, it's more motivating and practical than the work of a film theorist.
NM: What's your relationship with film theory? I mean, you are a film school graduate who also teaches.
PG: To be honest, I deny this education but I have it. I attended my first film classes in Chile, at the Film Institute. There was a great tutor called Rafael Sánchez, who wrote Cinema: an Art of Movement, a classic book on editing, in circulation nearly everywhere in Latin America. He was an excellent aesthetics tutor. I learnt about artistic forms from him. He knew a lot about the relationship between music and cinema and he also had great knowledge on editing. He was more of an editor than a filmmaker. His knowledge was built around the Russian classics – Kuleshov, Eisenstein, Pudovkin – and less so around the Italian Neorealism. I learnt all this by heart: montage, juxtaposition, Eisenstein's montage of attractions theory. He taught all this very well and we had the films to verify all this theory with the actual work. My second education took place at the film school in Madrid where the tutors had a great practical sense. One of them was José Luis Borau, a filmmaker who was until very recently the president of the Spanish Academy [of Motion Pictures Arts and Science]. He was an excellent scriptwriting tutor. He taught classical script structure. There was another tutor, who was completely the opposite, total anarchy: Berlanga. His cinema was influenced by the Spanish picaresque and by the Italian Neorealism that evolved into comedy with Ugo Tognazi's films. The third part of my education began when I started teaching. I decided to see all the important documentaries that I hadn't seen. Then, an interesting thing happened. My youngest daughter, Camila, who had come out of the London College of Printing, lent me her lecturer's handouts. So I started to study Wiseman, who I hadn't studied before. I also watched Shoah again. I started to systematise what I had seen in documentary cinema. I also went back to the British Free Cinema, which I had seen many years before. I revised it completely. British Free Cinema was my cinema awakening, more than the French New Wave, because Free Cinema was more socially concerned. I was attracted to the formal part of French cinema, but I preferred the British Free Cinema which was screened in Chile – complete – in commercial cinemas during the 1950s. This is the origin of my theoretical education, this blend of incomplete but specific influences. And this is my relation with film theory. It's intense but I'm not an erudite. I haven't been a cinema consumer, like many other people who are walking encyclopaedias. There are some young Chileans who have seen four times the amount of films that I have.
NM: In Latin America, apart from technological advances, film piracy has made this possible.
PG: Yes, you can find whatever you want now. When I was young that was impossible. Embassies had four 16mm copies in bad shape. Now you are able to access film knowledge in the way it was possible to access music culture before. In the 1950s you could go to concerts or listen to the radio and learn about music. There wasn't an equivalent with cinema. Film culture in Chile was weak at the time. There were two university film departments: the Experimental Centre and the Film Institute where I studied. We were two little groups of eight people. The Cinémathèque was even poorer than it is now, it had few films and two members of staff: one guy was the projectionist and the other one, the director.