Chilean film making has become both prolific and successful. This is due, in large part, to the achievements of Raúl Ruiz, famous film director raised in France, and Alejandro Jodorowsky, an author of several great films.
Their work inspires the young artists that today create movies, documentaries, short films. Today, the film industry in Chile produces over 20 films each year.
The most common topics for these films relate to national history, social revision, child animation, comedy, and drama. Pablo Larraín, Andrés Wood, Silvio Caiozzi, and Gonzalo Justiniano are some of the names most recognized names for fictional productions. Patricio Guzmán, Carmen Luz Parot and Ignacio Agüero are highly respected for their documentary work.
In recent months Chilean cinema has been very highlighted in several international festivals, especially films like La Nana (The Maid) by Sebastian Silva, Tony Manero by Pablo Larraín and La buena vida (The Good Life) by Andres Wood.
The First Steps
The history of Chilean film begins in 1910 and the making of the El Húsar de la Muerte (The Fighter of Death). It was directed and starred by Pedro Sienna and recalls the life of Manuel Rodriguez, a key contributor in the country’s fight for independence. In that same year, fifteen films were completed, an unusually high number that would not again be repeated until recently. In the past decade, Chile’s landscape has proved an attractive backdrop for an increasing number of foreign films, as well.
From 2008 until now, twenty four new Chilean movies were presented before large audiences. The majority were shown at international festivals, which proved an effective venue for garnering critical acclaim. A recurring theme in these movies has been recent history, the military dictatorship and hardships of life during that period.
Machuca, directed by Andrés Wood, depicts the politically and socially polarized environment during the years of the Salvador Allende government, and the repression that quickly emerged after the military coup in 1973.
La Frontera (The Border) by Ricardo Larraín, tells the story of a teacher turned political exile in the southern region of Chile, and the emotional breakdown that ensue during that period of exile.
Mi mejor enemigo (My Best Enemy), by Alex Bowen, delves into the conflict between Argentina and Chile in 1978. A major topic in this movie is the situations that young soldiers must tolerate during the threat of imminent war.
Tony Manero, directed by Pablo Larraín depicts the social unease that accompanies the high unemployment during those years through a character that participates in a contest to best imitate John Travolta.
Other people like Ignacio Agüero, Patricio Guzmán, and Carmen Luz Parot were also leading figures in the film industry during those times.
When dictatorship finally gave way to democracy in the early 1990’s, the new political environment provided the film industry with a new type of creative impulse. Notable examples include: El Chacotero Sentimental (The Sentimental Troublemaker”) by Cristián Galaz, a 90’s sex comedy; Caluga o Menta, (Mint or Candy) directed by Gonzalo Justiniano, and Taxi para tres, (Taxi For Three) by Orlando Lübbert, which highlights social alienation and dark humor; La nana, (The Maid) by Sebastián Silva, a self-portrait of a Latin American housekeeper that grapples with modern life and social differences.
In 1929, Jorge Délano, better known as Coke, combined acting with animation in his film La calle del ensueño (Daydream Street). The film received an award in the Sevilla International Exposition. He also made a film in 1934 entitled, North and South, which was the first film with sound in South America. The movie represents a peak of national film production because it would be more than three decades before the arrival of Nuevo Cine Chileno, (New Chilean Film Making) – films that focus on reality and social conflicts.
Some of these films include Largo Viaje, directed by Patricio Kaulen in 1967; Tres tristes tigres (Tree Sad Tigers) by Raúl Ruiz in1968; Valparaíso mi amor (Valparaiso, My Love), by Aldo Francia in 1969; and El Chacal de Nahueltoro (The Nahueltoro Jackal) by Miguel Littin in 1969.
Salvador Allende’s government and its social process are evident in many of these films. The two most notable examples are Voto más fusil (Vote Plus Rifle) by Helvio Soto in 1971 and Ya no basta con rezar (Praying Is Not Enough Anymore) by Aldo Francia in 1972.
The military coup paralyzes the film industry in the country. Many former leaders are exiled. However, despite the new challenges of these times, movie production continues. In 1979, director Silvio Caiozzi presented Julio comienza en Julio (July Starts In July). Over the next 25 years, he produces a set of four films based on written work by Jose Donoso’s: Historia de un roble solo, (the Story of An Old Lonely Oak) in 1982; La luna en el espejo (The Moon in the Mirror) in 1990; Coronación (Coronation) in 2000, and Cachimba in 2004.
Documentaries in Chile have a special relevance for their audience because they tend to focus on ethnic, religious, and modern historical matters that remain in the popular memory. Many have also focused on such controversial issues as human rights violations during the military dictatorship.
Nieves Yankovic and Jorge di Lauro produced Andacollo in 1961, a popular religious documentary that incorporated music by Violeta Parra. Their film, along with films by Pedro Chaskel, Sergio Bravo and Héctor Ríos, marked the beginning of a productive period for Chilean documentary filmmaking.
During the years of Salvador Allende’s government, the cultural and political environment stimulated such works as Primer año (First year) and La respuesta de octubre, (October’s Response).
The transition and military dictatorship are recurrent themes in hundreds of documentaries produced in Chile and also Chileans living in exile abroad. La batalla de Chile, (The Battle of Chile) by Patricio Guzmán shows the political tension in the country during Allendes’ government. Over the years, Guzman would also produce documentaries about Allende and the detention of Augusto Pinochet in London.
In the film Cien niños esperando un tren, (One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train) by Ignacio Agüero, the filmmaker effectively maintains solidarity despite restrictions and censure. In Baila Domingo, (Dancing Sundays), by Ricardo Larraín, memory is a main theme. In La Flaca Alejandra by Carmen Castillo, she reveals the disturbing story of the political treason of a young woman. In Calle Santa Fe, (Santa Fe Street) another film by Castillo, she recounts the circumstances of the death of her husband, Miguel Enríquez, a leader of the Communist Revolutionary Movement, MIR.
Two other filmmakers focused on the experiences of prisoners in the months following the military dictatorship. Specifically, Carmen Luz Parot and Gastón Ancelovici directed Estadio Nacional, (National Stadium) and “Chacabuco, memoria del silencio” (Chacabuco, Memory of Silence), respectively.
Sebastián Alarcón produced “La ciudad de los fotógrafos” (Photographer’s City). The focus of the work is the risks that photographers take when covering social protests during the 1980’s in Santiago, Chile’s capital.
Ignacio Agüero produced “El diario de Agustín” (Agustín’s Newspaper), Renato Villegas directed “La batalla de Plaza Italia,” (Plaza Italia Battle) a documentary about the war against the construction of a memorial tribute to Jaime Guzmán, an ideological formulator of the military regime.
Film Development and Promotion
Many Chilean films are partially or fully financed by the state’s film and media fund. The purpose of these funds is to facilitate the production of films with diverse themes and styles. Examples include “Faros chilenos: viaje al fin del mundo,” (Chilean Light Houses: A Journey to the End of the World) by Claudio Marchant.
In the film, the filmmaker travels to the some of the most remote lighthouses on the planet and befriends native Indians in Chile’s extreme south. Another film, “Aquí se construye” (Under Construction) by Ignacio Agüero, tells of how a neighborhood house is replaced by a modern building.