September 18th marked the Chilean premier of 'The Black Pimpernel,' Ulf Hultberg’s epic adaptation of the story of one of Chile's most outspoken defenders of human rights and justice. Teaming up with Amnesty International, Hultberg was able to tell the story of Swedish Ambassador Harald Edelstam and his heroic actions following Chile's 1973 military coup.
In an interview with Revolver's Jason Snyder, Ulf Hultberg shared his insight on Chile’s past, quest for reconciliation and the film’s role in the public discourse.
JS: What led you to choosing El Clavel Negro as a project?
Ulf Hultberg: I have had a personal connection with South America. The majority of my documentaries and films have taken place in South America. There has always been closeness for me with the culture and history of this region.
JS: With a story such as this, much preparation is needed. What exactly did you do to investigate the events involving Edelstam?
UH: This project was ten years in the making, investigating, writing and funding searches. From the countless hours of interviews and thousands of pages from the Swedish Foreign Ministry Archives, we were able to put together most of the pieces connecting the events after the September 11, 1973 coup. As you are well aware, there are over 40,000 Chileans living in Sweden. With so many of them fleeing from the dictatorship we had first hand sources of the events, many with direct interactions with Edelstam himself.
JS: With the tensions that still exist in Chile over the coup and subsequent dictatorship, did you run into any barriers with government cooperation?
UH: After the writing process I sent the script to the Ministry of Defense. Since the film involved a lot of military, we sough help with equipment such as tanks and uniforms. The military did not hinder the process but they assured us that they would not aid in acquiring anything for the movie. We received full cooperation for filming at La Moneda and the National Stadium, which was the primary prison and torture center in Santiago after the coup.
JS: What was the atmosphere like filming in the National Stadium where so many atrocities occurred?
UH: When we first arrived at the stadium we were greeted by several television stations present to mark the first time filming rights had been granted for the former torture hub. There were rooms filled with spider webs that had not been used since they housed victims of the dictatorship. In several instance, crewmembers pointed out rooms where family members had been murdered. We definitely felt the energy of the place. Of course we don’t show all of the blood and gore that took place there but we create an environment for the audience in which they are able to fill in the gaps.
JS: How has the film been received in various countries?
UH: The majority of feedback has been positive. The film has been playing in Mexico for quite some time. Last month’s Costa Rica premier received glowing reviews from the country’s leading newspaper. In Sweden we received mixed reviews, the biggest criticism being that the film was too emotional.
JS: It is nearly impossible to make a film such as this without utilizing emotion.
UH: I enjoy using emotion in my films. It is essential. As a Child, I was inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s works, such as The Dictator and Modern Times, in which he approaches the line of too much emotion. Chaplin also showed great solidarity with various groups throughout his career. I want the audience to feel emotional.
JS: Other than Charlie Chaplin, what other cinematic influences inspire your work?
UH: The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo and The Missing by Costa-Gavras are incredibly important films for me.
JS: How do you go about selecting your projects?
UH: I have to feel some type of connection with the story to be able to contribute something to the discourse. A lot of ingredients are necessary are necessary to get a project off the ground. With access to mass media comes the responsibility of providing something for the public to connect with.
JS: After 17-years of Chile’s dictatorship, the film industry suffered incredibly. Thirty-five years later filmmakers are only recently starting to redefine their identity. What are your thoughts on Chile’s renewed emphasis on acting and filmmaking?
UH: In this film I worked with many young Chilean actors. A phenomenon occurred in the initial weeks of filming in which the actors were searching for orders rather than for dialogue. They asked many times, “How do you want it?” I responded, “What do you think you can offer to the scene?” I want actors to integrate into the role rather than merely looking above for answers, to give more than merely fulfilling orders.
It took some time for some of the younger actors to realize that they were counted on, respected for their role and contribution to the production. This seems to be something left over from the dictatorship. Looking for orders and weary of accepting responsibility.
Chile is retaking its democratic tradition but more dialogue has to take place to truly heal the wounds of the dictatorship. Chile has to deal with its past before it is able to flourish in the future.
The Black Pimpernel is a story about Swedish ambassador Harald Edelstam and his heroic actions to protect countless individuals from the crackdown following the September 11, 1973, military coup which overthrew democratically elected President Salvador Allende. We travel with Ambassador Edelstam during the horrific days following the establishment of Chile’s military junta. His dedication for human rights is matched by his internal quest for validation following his heroic actions to save hundreds of persons in Germany during World War II. What drove him? What personal price did he pay for his commitment? Haunted by his own demons, Edelstan becomes a womanizer desperately in search of love to redeem the past. After saving thousands of potential victims of Chile’s dictatorship, Harald is challenged once more, this time to save his newfound love from a death order issued by the military regime. Based on a true story, The Black Pimpernel is about a man that did what most of us can only dream of.
El Clavel Negro opened in select cinemas on SEPTEMBER 18.
Cinemark, Plaza Vespucio
Cinemark, Alto Las Condes
Cinemark, Plaza Oeste
Hoyts, La Reina
Showcase, Parque Arauco
Movieland, La Dehesa
Movieland, La Florida
Viña del Mar, Cinemark Marina Arauco
Concepción, Cinemark Plaza del Trébol
Iquique, Cinemark Iquique
Antofagasta, CineMundo Antofagasta 2
Quilpue, Cine Quilpue
Melipilla, Cine Melipilla
Quillota, Cine Quillota
Many thanks to director Ulf Hultberg and EuroLatina’s Carlos Claret for taking the time to speak with us.