The recent past of his country is still at the heart of his films. For “pearl button” on the Chilean documentary filmmaker set sail to the south.
The Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán explores always contemporary history of his country. It evokes for us The pearl button , its new captivating documentary, ambitious and singular.
Nostalgia for the Light in 2010, and The pearl button are aesthetic and philosophical essays, very different from your historical documentaries precedents, Chile Battle Salvador Allende or The Pinochet Case . Why the change?
I do not know really, it was not premeditated. Everything is party effect of Nostalgia for the Light . I wanted to make a film about the Atacama desert in northern Chile, which has always fascinated me. I started to interest me, again, to the Missing of the Pinochet dictatorship. To a group of women who, guided by an archaeologist, spend some areas methodically comb to try to find the remains of their relatives. In addition, Atacama is also the perfect place for stargazing, and has built eighteen observatories. I was struck by the similarity between the search for these bereaved women and that of astronomers who watch a bit of sky in search of a star, a presence without being sure of finding it. It is also a short work of a documentary filmmaker. Nostalgia for the Light was built on the affinities, strange and strong, between all these quests.
The pearl button is an extension of this approach open this need to initiate a reflection, exploration, without preconceived idea of film. After filming the North, my first desire was to visit the other end, at the end of the South. I had never been there in my life, like many Chileans. This is a difficult area to access, landlocked, sparsely populated. When I embarked on a tall ship for ten days, with the sound engineer and assistant, I did not know if I left just a journey, or I was going to make a film, two films …
What have you found?
From the Gulf of Penas to the southern tip of Chile, opposite the Antarctic, this beautiful and unique land is crisscrossed with hundreds of arms seas and fjords that form countless islands. It was once the domain of nomads six indigenous tribes, who moved constantly from one coast to another, living by and for the ocean. In 1900, they were already very few, about seven miles. Today, they no longer exist. Their few descendants live in cities, have melted into the population. By discovering this landscape, they disappeared without a trace, I wanted to tell their untold story, almost cleared away from the center of big cities, Santiago, Valparaiso, Concepción … History has abandoned these people . It is found only here and there, a page, a paragraph devoted to them, and which, moreover, when mostly nineteenth century.
I was particularly touched by tragedy of “Jemmy Button”, a Native teen brought in London by a British cartographer in 1840, for a stay of one year. At the time, to England, it was the equivalent of a trip to another planet in light years. On his return, the boy was no longer at home anywhere. Abroad, uprooted, abandoned by his tribe, he lived and died alone. At this stage, my film began to take shape. I archival photos, landscape plans, I met the last survivors of these tribes – barely twenty people that keep the memory of an entire culture. But it still missing something to make a film.
“Chile is an endless corridor, completely isolated between the Andes and the ocean.”
This is the time you have decided to integrate the missing story of the Pinochet regime. How did you connected these two subjects very different in appearance?
The obvious link to me is the search for a memory, a trace of the crimes of the past, and their impunity. Chile is an endless corridor, completely isolated between the Andes and the ocean, a completely enclosed area where these dramas are answered. The Indians were contaminated, ravaged by diseases brought by the conquerors, northerners. Most died like flies. And the others are massacred on the orders of the landowners, sheep farmers who wanted to drive them from their land. This is the story of a total extermination. What remained of their civilization disappeared when the survivors were grouped in Catholic missions. The key was on the largest island, Dawson, in front of Punta Arenas. At the same place where, decades later, the gouverment Pinochet has built a concentration camp for ministers Allende.
Why this title, The pearl button
At the Museum Villa Grimaldi in Santiago are exposed twelve long rails of about one meter, which were recovered in the ocean. They were used to weigh down political opponents, when swung with water from the top of a helicopter in the same southern Chile, about one thousand kilometers above. Today, an estimated 1440 people were removed without a trace. On one of the rails of the museum remains hung the famous pearl button, the last remaining person who had been attached to it. Just a button, almost similar to those of Jemmy Button. it gave me a great impression. The story repeats itself. This is the core of the film. With the sky and water. There, moisture is magnifier appears larger stars, representing the afterlife in indigenous legends. And the ocean, which reflects the firmament, is also the grave of the victims of Pinochet. To try to find them would require financial resources that lawyers and families do not have … Many efforts are being made today, but the area is so large that it is extremely difficult.
“A new generation, born after the end of the Pinochet regime, requires the truth, another report in the country’s history.”
You have long lamented the lack of a working collective memory in Chile, the trauma of dictatorship. What about today?
Fortunately, this is changing. A new generation, born after the end of the Pinochet regime, demands accountability in all areas, from education to health, and demands the truth, another report in the country’s history. The phenomenon involves a vast movement of students, a popular force that makes me want to hope. And today about a third of young Chilean documentary concerned with the memory of the country, which is considerable, given that the documentary is a very important and lively form of cinema in the country. This change also affects my own films, it was very difficult to broadcast once in the country. Today, The pearl button is set both in the rooms and in schools, and my work will be the subject of a retrospective, in a festival to be held in cities across the country.
What is your next project?
After Nostalgia for the Light and The pearl button , my next film will complete a sort of trilogy. I am still in the early days, and, like the others, I do not know exactly how it will look. I just know that this time will focus on the Andes, this immense and long mountain thousands of kilometers that isolates us from the rest of the continent and that hides the sun. When the sun rises in Argentina, there are still two hours of night in Chile. This will be another investigation species in this geographical loneliness … As soon as I met the funding, I will leave.