Sanfic Six: Real or Make Believe?

The sixth version of the Santiago Film Festival (August 17 to August 23) ended on an unexpected note at the lavish closing ceremony held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. In an unusual decision, the jury settled on two films for the festival’s main prize.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Leonardo Ramirez

Although quite different in content, both were films that shifted the boundaries of fiction to get closer to the lived realities and experiences depicted by the filmmakers. This reworking of the relationship between the "real" and the make-believe became the unofficial theme at Sanfic Six.

Santiago Chile
Alamar producer Manuel Carranza. Photo courtesy Leonardo Ramirez

The first winner, the Mexican film project Alamar (“To the Sea”), incorporated “participant filmmaking” to tell the story of a young boy’s final summer with his father and grandfather in the timelessness of the coral reefs in the Mexican Caribbean. The film reveals the unspoken bond between a father and son, a bond made stronger by the intimate process of cultural transmission needed to live in the sea. The entire crew, led by director Pedro González-Rubio, slept in the same palafito house depicted on screen, taking part in the daily routines that color the film.

Putty Hill, written and directed by Matt Porterfield of the United States, was the second winner. In the film, human relationships unfold in a grim, working class neighborhood in Baltimore as family and friends unite to attend the funeral of a drug overdose victim. Porterfield also uses elements foreign to the traditional fiction genre: documentary-style interviews that work effectively to reveal truths about the complex and fragmented identities that abound in working class America.

The winner of the national competition, Christopher Murray and Pablo Carrera’s Manuel de Ribera (“Manuel From Ribera”), also challenged the fiction-documentary divide.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Manuel de Ribera

Armed with a few opening lines, the filmmakers traveled to a remote southern location (near Calbuco) and unleashed quite a unique filming process. In the film, the main character Manuel, played by Eugenio Morales, arrives to claim a recently inherited island. He is determined to create a new society and tries to convince the local people to come live with him. The filmmakers use this plotline to incorporate real-life residents into the film, mostly old fishermen from the area. The result is a strange mixture between fiction and visual anthropology.

In these three films, the directors’ methodology leads their audiences beyond fiction and into the lived realities and experiences of human beings. With almost no real actors, scripts practically absent, and the directors’ serious efforts to preserve the integrity of the cultural landscapes depicted, the films represent an interesting direction for filmmakers who want to find their stories during the filming process rather than in pre-production.

It’s an unusual and risky proposition, but the experience obviously struck a chord with several juries this year, including the filmgoers themselves. 31 de Abril (Victor Cubillos), another Chilean film that experiments with the boundary between fiction and documentary, received the audience award.

Santiago Chile
Actor Diego Luna. Photo courtesy Leonardo Ramirez

In making a film about his own death, shot as if it were an amateur documentary, Cubillos seems to have succeeded in both of his goals for the film: using as much of his old video footage as possible and confusing the hell out of his own audience.

The confusion between “reality” and make-believe wasn’t limited to the screenings. The festival organizers turned the Parque Arauco mall into a Hollywood premiere, complete with red carpet and searchlights. The exaggerated event brought together distinct personality types: investors anxious but delighted with the press coverage, local actresses looking glamorous but asking not to be photographed with a drink in hand, an actor who also serves as Chile’s Minister of Culture and, well, Diego Luna, the well-known Mexican actor-director who looked as toned down as humanly possible. Invited to jumpstart the festival, Luna set the tone by dedicating his film Abel to the trapped miners in Copiapó, a chilling reminder of “the real”, which shattered the aura of make-believe that hung about the place.

August 17 - 23, 2010

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