Documentaries: a mirror in motion

The prolific production of Chilean filmmakers points to a genre in full bloom. A sampling of works have been presented during the Santiago International Film Festival and a project is underway for cataloguing, protecting and disseminating such films, which already number a thousand titles.


Memories of folklorist Violeta Parra as well as of the entire emblematic Parra family cannot but be part of the testimony of her brother, Chilean intellectual Nicanor Parra. Notwithstanding his dislike for cameras, the documentary “Portrait of an Anti-Poet” will be shown in August. Filmmaker Victor Jimenez has distilled 10 years of Parra’s poetic work in this 72-minute feature film of Nicanor Parra in his homes in Santiago and the central coast.

President Salvador Allende swimming (obviously sans the signature glasses), is a virtually unknown image of the President who died in the Moneda Palace during the 1973 coup.  The footage was recovered by his granddaughter, Marcia Tambutti, who is currently directing “The Moneda’s Other Face: Searching for My Grandfather Allende.”

Works like these show the  steady stream of  activity in this film genre. To date there have been 78 documentaries produced since 2000 and over a thousand titles have been identified, according to the records of the Asociación de Documentalistas de Chile (Adoc) or the Association of Chilean Documentarists.

The project aims to give an account of the ebullient national scene in such broad areas as art, biography, culture, human rights, ethnography, history, the environment and society. The project is the brainchild of Carmen Luz Parot, who is also a film producer, who conceived it as “the cornerstone for the foundation of a future video film archive.”

Yesterday and today

Thematically speaking, these films undertake the recovery of national memory from the perspectives of diverse experiences, centering on the characters, places and occupations of contemporary society.

The locations of memory are diverse. In Patricio Guzman’s latest work, currently in process of editing, the director of “La Batalla de Chile”  (The Battle of Chile) and “La Memoria Obstinada” (Obstinate Memory) celebrates astronomy and the desert.

The themes that bring memories to the fore are updated.  An example of this is what happens during the production of a documentary by Ernesto Gonzalez on graphic design in Chile, when a poster created in the early 1970s is contrasted with the work of young, 21st-century professionals.

Carmen Luz Parot herself (“Estadio Nacional” (National Stadium), 2002) traced the current of the Mapocho River, which crosses Santiago, and the stories around the so-called “costanera norte”, or north bank, of the capital city.  “I’ll finish “Mapocho” at the end of this year and premiere it in 2010,” she announces.

Guzman feels that all of these things tell of “a living, powerful and credible cinematographical current that shows this country’s complex reality in the shape of a sword.”

Film productions such as Guzman’s will be featured in the program of the 7th edition of DocSantiago, during the Festival Internacional de Cine de Santiago International Santiago Film Festival, or SanFic, in mid-August.

This post is also available in Spanish