Chilean novel The movie teller picked by director of The Motorcycle Diaries

A novel by the mining town author Hernán Rivera Letelier about a girl who re-enacts films for her family in a mining town in Atacama, has grabbed the attention of Brazilian director Walter Salles.


Chilean writer Hernán Rivera Letelier’s novel The movie teller (La contadora de películas) is set to appear on the silver screen, directed by Walter Salles.

The book, by the 51-year-old writer and former miner from Antofagasta, tells the story of Maria Margarita, a 12-year-old girl living with her family in an Atacama desert mining town, where the cinema offers a distraction for its working-class residents.

Maria’s family, struggling to get by after her father suffers an injury working the mines, saves money by sending her to watch the movies, which she learns to recreate for them. As word of her ability to re-enact films spreads in the town, she finds herself performing for larger audiences.

The story won over French movie producer Vincent Juillerat, an ardent fan of Letelier’s books – which include El arte de la resurrección (The Art of the resurrection), for which he won the Alfaguara Spanish Literary Prize. Letelier, one of Chile’s most successful writers, has won other awards, including Chilean National Book Awards for La reina Isabel cantaba rancheras (Queen Elizabeth Sang Rancheras) and Himno del ángel parado en una pata (Ode to an Angel Standing on One Leg).

Juillerat, director of Paris-based Selenium Films, acquired the rights to the movie and approached Salles with a copy of the book, showing it to him along with some old photos of nitrate in the Atacama for added effect.

“When Vincent brought me the book, I was immediately touched by its profound humanity, by the innate capacity to blend humor and drama, and of course by its utter passion for film, Salles says in a statement for Selenium Films. «I simply couldn’t turn down the book.”

Juillerat adds: “I was aware of finding both the content and context for a great movie. I am proud and honoured that Walter Salles has agreed to both write the screenplay and to direct this work.”

A shooting schedule for the film is to be discussed.

Salles is currently on the set of On the Road, a film based on the 1951 novel by Jack Kerouac about the spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends across America,  produced by Francis Ford Coppola.