The Best Chilean Films at Santiago's International Documentary Festival

Rainy weather makes for perfect cinema dwelling, and the Santiago Festival of International Documentary (FIDOCS) 2013 was like a second home for us layabout film fans during the last few days of June. With around ninety documentaries on show, the festival once again offered a richly diverse selection of films from around the world, with particular emphasis on Chile and Latin America in its two main competitions.

Ignacio Aguero, director of FIDOCS winner <em>El Otro Día</em> (image courtesy of FIDOCS)
Ignacio Aguero, director of FIDOCS winner El Otro Día (image courtesy of FIDOCS)

FIDOCS’ central location is one of its best assets, giving it an accessibility not afforded to the general public by all film festivals in Santiago. The principal venue was the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Centre, the GAM, with other screenings throughout the day at the nearby Centro Arte Alameda and the Universidad Católica´s warm and cosy Micro Cine. The diversity of the programme caters for all tastes and while it’s good to watch films that particularly appeal to your own interests, there’s also an element of fun in turning up to something with little knowledge of its subject content.

The Battle of Chile (image courtesy of FIDOCS)
The Battle of Chile (image courtesy of FIDOCS)

In addition to the Chilean and Latin American competitions, there was also a category for the best international short film, and special sections devoted to a number of renowned filmmakers. The Brazilian visual artist and director Cao Guimares, whose work utilizes shape and image, was a key presence whose films provoked a mixed reaction amongst audiences. Mexican writer-director Juan Carlos Rulfo was another granted a showcase category for his body of work, which addresses a range of themes that cover the personal and collective sphere of thought and experience. There was another section for the work of the highly influential French documentary maker Chris Marker, who died in 2012 at the age of 91 and was heavily associated with the French New Wave movement throughout his career.

Perhaps most intriguing from a Chilean perspective was a rare cinema screening of FIDOCS founder Patricio Guzmán’s momentous three-part film The Battle of Chile, which was filmed during the Salvador Allende government and documents the roots of the coup d’état that heralded the establishment of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. The film, shown here to mark the fortieth anniversary of the coup, has been widely recognised as one of Latin America’s most groundbreaking political documentaries.

Los Rockers, Rebelde Rock & Roll (image courtesy of FIDOCS)
Los Rockers, Rebelde Rock & Roll (image courtesy of FIDOCS)

The award for the best Chilean documentary covered an eclectic range of topics, and yet again highlighted the high level of cinematic talent in the country. There were eight films in total, not all of which were equally well-received, but overall it was a compelling opportunity to see what is happening in contemporary Chilean filmmaking. Here is an overview of the films that competed for the award of best national documentary.

¿Qué historia es está y cuál es su final? (What story is this and what is its end?) – José Luis Torres Leiva
A film about filmmaking which looks to provide insight into the thought process of concept development, this opens a window on the artist at work, in this case director Ignacio Aguero and editor Sophie Franca. It follows an abstract narrative arc that emphasises the apparent randomness of artistic creation.

Quiero morirme dentro de un tiburón (I want to die inside a shark) – Sofía Paloma Goméz
Goméz’ film takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to life in a centre for children with behavioural problems, where the gloomy interiors and barren spaces accentuate a sense of bleakness and isolation. The tension of the children’s daily routines is drawn out in intimate conversation and frenetic homemade puppet shows in a film that is contemplative but overly slow-burning in places.

Pena de Muerte (image courtesy of FIDOCS)
Pena de Muerte (image courtesy of FIDOCS)

Pena de Muerte (The Death Penalty) – Tevo Díaz
Taking a particularly notorious episode from the time of the dictatorship as its central theme, this is a darkly unraveling, complex tale of murder, justice, and conspiracy. It looks at a series of murders in Viña del Mar in the early eighties that would eventually end in the last case of capital punishment in Chile.

Los Rockers, Rebelde Rock & Roll (The Rockers, Rebel Rock ‘n’ Roll) – Matías Pinochet
A Chilean rockabilly band of twenty years’ experience playing together, success has largely eluded The Rockers, for whom director Matiás Pinochet is the drummer. An amusing, Spinal Tap-esque, look at Chilean rock music as the band hope to embark on a mythic journey to Mexico amid squabbles and delusions of grandeur.

Las Cruces de Quillagua (image courtesy of FIDOCS)
Las Cruces de Quillagua (image courtesy of FIDOCS)

Las Cruces de Quillagua (The Crosses of Quillagua) – Jorge Marzuca Venegas
Quillagua is a town in the Antofagasta region of Northern Chile that has been heavily polluted by leakage from the massive Chuquicamata mine. The contamination of the Loa river on which the town sits, and the destruction of the land, has resulted in a sharp decline in the population, and the drawn-out death of a once thriving community.

La Última Estación (The Last Station) – Cristián Soto and Catalina Vergara
A moving treatise on the cruel inevitably of age, this exceptional film provides a meditative look at the inside of an old people’s home in Chile. Heavily weighted in sadness and reflection, the film explores the solitude of the final stages of life as residents wait to meet their maker, far removed from the accelerated society in which we live.

La Última Estación (image courtesy of FIDOCS)
La Última Estación (image courtesy of FIDOCS)

A Primera Hora (Early) – Javier Correa
The globalised world, in the shape of the enormous power and scale of modern agriculture, impacts heavily on tradition and rural communities in the south of Chile. Correa creates a visually arresting and thoughtful work that paints an unsettling picture of those affected, and looks at the environmental implications involved.

And the winner was:

El Otro Día (The Other Day) – Ignacio Aguero
As if being the subject of one film in the competition (¿Qué historia es está y cuál es su final?) wasn’t enough, Aguero also made the overall winner. Initially wanting to create a semi-autobiographical account of his personal environment, Aguero’s film merges into something more. A wide array of visitors arrive at his door, and the director in turn asks them to open their homes and their lives to his camera. The film follows an arbitrary narrative arc as it shifts from a personal tale into an exploration of the collective consciousness. The film goes on general release on 3rd July, and is showing at Cineteca Nacional La Moneda, The Museum of Memory and Human Rights, and numerous other venues.

For further details about FIDOCS, including the Latin American competition and the specialist sections, check out the official festival website.

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