If you were given the task of finding a Chilean who had a true idea of the size of this country, a good guess might be Luis Cifuentes Saravia, who has travelled the entire length of Chile no less than six times, screening and shooting videos and befriending whole communities along the way.
Chile is a notoriously difficult country to get to know completely. Its territories slice through every major climate zone in the southern hemisphere other than the tropics. Its cultures and people are as varying as the landscapes where they live. But the crew behind El Cine Vino have been on the road for more than 9 years and have seen and got to know nearly every kind of Chilean out there.
El Cine Vino’s bespoke arts programmes travel to remote villages throughout the country where they run workshops with children aged 8-12 and screen films in schools and village squares. Arriving in a high-tech van (dubbed ‘Vefafe’, or Vehicle of Flexible Structure and Functional Spatial Supply), they select a director, cameraman, actor, producer and editor from amongst themselves and work with the children to produce an original movie.
After around a week, they transform the village schools, courtyards and squares into fully functioning art-house cinemas ready for the film to be screened to the people. The process injects new cultural life into communities which, according to director Luis Cifuentes, are sometimes quietened by their solitude and overexposure to television.
Visual media, in Cifuentes’s opinion, is the perfect way to retain a culture which may otherwise be diluted by the presence of international and national multimedia.“It’s very important for other people to see the way they live,” he says, “and for the communities themselves to look at how unique their lifestyles are” he says, describing the process as a ‘rescue of patrimony’ in an increasingly globalized world.
“People out there often don’t really talk about what they care the most about. The TV they watch does the talking for them. Our idea is to make that TV become a part of their lives, so that they suddenly remember all the things that are important in their way of thinking.”
The whole journey came about as an experiment where some friends loaded a wagon with projecting equipment and made a road trip from Cajon del Maipo, high in the mountains above Santiago. They traveled all the way to the coast, near Valparaíso, and treated the people in the villages they passed along the way to some quality cinema.
“We love cinema, and we just wanted people to share the passion. We wanted people to get out of their houses and come and watch some good films,” says Luis, who admits to being somewhat idealistic during his final year at university. The trip was an excuse for them to play out their last month of freedom before embarking on a traditional ‘grown-up’ life.
But their arrival at the coast presented a tough decision. “We either carried on and drove the van into the sea, or carried on and tried to find funding to continue the project.” After a period of researching and applications, the group won funding from a highly competitive government arts sponsorship programme, Fondart (The National Fund for Cultural and Artistic Development.) The money set the ball rolling for a creative process now recognised by the government and by private sponsors alike, providing a platform for Chileans all over the country to look at their roots, and to preserve the country’s natural heritage.
The group’s projects so far include a film made with the children of Aymara tribesmen in the north, about the desert, water and animals; working in the forested southern region of Araucanía with the Mapuche, who have an entirely different way of seeing the earth, nature and the world; a film made in the central Santiago region with farmers, looking at agriculture and horses; and a visit to the mythical island of Chiloe where the people live in ‘Palafitos’ – “a big challenge to project on,” says Cifuentes.
This year, the group will embark on another trip from the extreme north of Chile to the extreme south. A further 60 screenings will be added to their tally, ranging from villages devastated by the February earthquake to some of the most remote dwellings known to man, the communities of the southernmost populated island in the world, Puerto Williams, and other isolated villages such as Puerto Eden and Isla Mocha.