Chile’s tumultuous history has always been the subject of documentarian Patricio Guzmán’s films. His most recent work, Nostalgia for the Light, captivated a panel of judges at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival to win Best Documentary award.
In the documentary, he turns his attentions to the world’s driest region, the Atacama, where at the base of the mountains in the North of Chile which house state-of-the-art astronomical observatories, women dig through rocks and dirt to for the remains of loved ones who disappeared under the Pinochet regime.
Screened alongside 172 films over ten days in October, Nostalgia for the Light shared its award in the Documentary category with the English film Pink Saris, which follows north Indian women’s rights activist Sampat Pal. In the official announcement of the festival awards, Guzmán’s film was praised “for the originality of its dramatic and cinematic vision, where image and sound are like traces of the mystery of the past.”
From his landmark 1970s debut, the three-part series The Battle of Chile documenting the end of Salvador Allende’s presidency, Guzmán’s films have always harked back to his country’s historical past. After being imprisoned for two months following the coup, Guzmán fled his native Santiago to settle in France. He continues to live in France today, but his films have consistently focused on Chile, nearly all of them taking awards at various international film festivals, including Cannes.
As Guzmán said in a 2002 interview with the New York Times, “a country without documentary films is like a family without a photo album.” In the thirty years since his groundbreaking first film, Guzmán has established himself as Chile’s own biographer, creating complex and compelling portraits of his homeland. With his latest, he captures Chileans in another formative period, confronting ghosts of the past while pushing boldly into a clear and promising future.