Three Short Films About Chile
A trilogy by Michael Chanan made on a visit to Chile in November 2011.
1. Homage ･ 2. Community ･ 3. Protest
Three glimpses of Chile in 2011. Homage is a visit to Valparaiso. Community is a portrait of
Población La Victoria and its community television station, Señal 3. Protest is an account
of the momentous student protest movement—the occupations, marches, demonstrations,
street actions and web activism—and its tremendous impact on the country’s political life,
as they denounce the most intensely privatised education system in the world, demand the
return of free public education, and question the legitimacy of actually existing democracy in Chile.
This three-part film represents what I discovered when I was invited to visit the Department of Film and Journalism at the University of Chile in November 2011. This is Chile nearly four decades on from the military coup which overthrew the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende. Chile twenty-one years after the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1990, when seventeen years of grim and stagnant dictatorship gave way to unprecedented growth under neoliberal doctrines imported from Chicago and implanted on the orders of General Pinochet. A cornerstone of the modernisation which now followed was the expansion of higher education, mainly private—from 200,000 twenty years ago to over one million today (in a country with a population of 16m). The State contribution to this system is no more than 15%. Mainly funded by loans and a small proportion of bursaries, students and their families are forced to fund their education by means of debt.
An observer from England can only ask if this is not the future for education that the Coalition Government in Westminster dreams of? Is this what happens when you turn education into a business? But in 2011, the Chilean model is beginning to unravel. Beginning in May, university and secondary school students have been involved continuously and with huge popular support in occupations and mass demonstrations calling for the return of free public education. The movement has radically shifted the political agenda by challenging the consensus of the political establishment—a consensus of both government and opposition parties who both accommodated to the Constitution imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship in 1980 which is still in place.
At the beginning of last year I had been out and about filming the student and anti-cuts movement in England. When Tiziana Panizza invited me to Chile, the first thing I packed was my camera. On the first weekend Tiziana took me to Valparaiso—hence part one of this trilogy, a homage to the film A Valparaíso made by Joris Ivens in 1962 with young Chilean filmmakers of the Experimental Film Group at the same University of Chile I was now visiting. Later I was taken to visit Señal 3, the subject of part two, by Renato Denis, a postgraduate film student at another institution. Población La Victoria belongs to history as the first land seizure for urban development in Latin America, back in 1957. Part Three incorporates footage shot by Renato and other postgraduate film students over the last few months.
It is no coincidence that each episode invokes moments in the history of Chile over the last fifty years. Despite official amnesia, Chile’s recent history is still being fought over. Homage invokes the beautiful film of Ivens—half a century later most of the famous cable cars no longer function, but some of them are poised to be handed over to private companies to bring them back into service: neoliberalism by the municipal back door. In Community, the story of the población invokes footage from 1984 portraying the brutal repression of demonstrations against the dictatorship. Remarkably, this footage was already in my possession. In that same year, I was asked to produce a video for the Chile Solidarity Movement on the first trade union delegation from Britain to visit Chile after the coup to investigate human rights abuses, for screening to the TUC and Labour Party. The delegation brought back with them a clandestine tape they’d been given to be incorporated into the video which we shot here of their report-back meeting. This is that video. (And I’ve now been able to identify it: it seems to have been one of the first alternative newsreels made a group called Teleanálisis.)
In Protest, the reference point is the military coup of 1973, when Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government was overthrown. In the Allende family home, his granddaughter Marcia talks of his death in the coup by his own hand, the fulfilment of a promise that he would not leave the Presidential Palace alive. At the University of Chile, Carlos Ossa reflects that the student movement has ‘questioned the legitimacy of the order’. It makes it evident ‘that this order was born of a totally illegitimate act, a military coup, a dictatorship, that the whole model rests on a cemetery, the death of thousands of Chileans who had to pay with their lives. So indirectly, the student mobilisation also brings the memory of this history that the modernising process, the story of prosperity, has wanted for a long time to keep hidden.’
･ Protest originally appeared as a video blog on the New Statesman.
･ See ‘The Persistence of Allende’s Vision’ at Putney Debater (www.putneydebater.com)
Three Short Films About Chile
Produced, Directed and Edited by Michael Chanan
Collaboration ･ Señal 3, La Victoria ･ Revista Vaso
Camera ･Renato Dennis ･ Rodrigo Tossi ･ Marcos Salazar ･ Michael Chanan
Interviews ･ Polo and Cristian (Señal 3) ･ Renato Denis ･ Manuel Antonio Garretón ･ Padre Lorenzo (La Victoria) ･ Leo Durán
･ Carlos Ossa ･ Rodrigo Tossi ･ Marcia Tambutti Allende
Archive ･ A Valparaiso (Joris Ivens) ･ TeleAnalysis
Special Thanks ･ Tiziana Panizza ･ Carlos Flores ･ ICEI, Universidad de Chile ･ Grupo Dilema (Music in Valparaiso)
･ Joanna Callaghan (Photographs) ･ Inma Pedregosa (Translation) ･ Isabel Santaolalla (Voice)
Additional Thanks ･ University of Roehampton ･ Alisa Lebow ･ Enrica Colusso ･ Linda Etchart
･ Margaret Henry ･ Prasanna Ratnayake