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2015 Outstanding Achievement Award: Patricio Guzmán

“A country without documentary films is like a family without a photo album.” - Patricio Guzmán

Born in Chile, Patricio Guzmán’s love for documentary began early in life. It led him to study filmmaking at the Film Institute at the Catholic University of Chile, and then at Official Film School of Madrid. A devoted supporter of the documentary art form, he founded the International Documentary Festival of Santiago (FIDOCS)—where he continues to serve as President—and teaches film in Europe and Latin America. Living in exile from Chile since 1973, he currently resides in Paris.

Guzmán is probably best known for his trilogy The Battle of Chile, one complete work comprised of three feature-length sections that works as a panoramic record of the fall of Salvador Allende’s government, ending with Pinochet’s coup d’état in September 1973. Production on the film was made possible by film stock donated to the crew by legendary filmmaker Chris Marker. During the pre-production period of The Battle of Chile, the crew found themselves unable to get film stock due to US blockades on film exports. Marker arranged for film stock that would be used for the entire production of The Battle of Chile to be sent over.

Marker became a supporter of Guzmán after journeying to Chile with the intention of filming a cinematographic chronicle, but felt that Guzmán had already made this with his film The First Year. Knocking on the door of Guzmán’s Santiago home, Marker asked if he could buy The First Year and exhibit it in France. With a copy of the 16mm negative in his suitcase, he returned to France and held true to his word. The film went on to be distributed in France, Belgium and Switzerland, among others.

Guzmán and his crew would film The Battle of Chile until the last days of the coup. At the end of filming, Guzmán was captured and held in the National Stadium for two weeks. The stadium was being used as a de facto concentration camp, and Guzmán was eventually released due to overcrowding. Other members of The Battle of Chile crew were arrested. Jorge Müller Silva was interned at the torture camp, Villa Grimaldi, and was never seen again; others were exiled. In one of the most shocking moments of the finished film, we see Argentinian cameraman Leonard Hendrickson film his own assassins as his death is captured while he remains filming.

In addition to Marker providing film stock, the film’s fate was determined by the kindness of many others. During the shoot, all the film reels had to be hidden at Guzmán’s uncle’s house. His uncle would look after the film while Guzmán was being held prisoner following the coup. The Swedish Embassy then arranged for the reels to be taken out of Chile aboard a ship to Stockholm. The reels only ended up being allowed on the vessel after the ship’s captain said they were part of the diplomatic bag.

Marker once again came to the film’s rescue when he arranged for post-production support from Cuba’s ICAIC, and Guzmán ended up travelling to Havana to complete the film. He went on to live in Cuba for the following six years, which was the time it took to edit The Battle of Chile. The first part, The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie, premiered in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 1975 and went on to be shown in 37 countries (while being banned in Chile itself).

The films Guzmán has made since The Battle of Chile often explore the aftermath of the coup, and Pinochet’s regime; from The Pinochet Case, which explores the attempt to try the dictator for crimes against humanity, to Salvador Allende, a personal and moving tribute to the former Chilean leader. Both films are in equal parts records of history as well as very emotive portraits of the people affected by the regime. Chile, Obstinate Memory goes even further to reflect back on the Chilean people and its culture of collective amnesia, both enforced and chosen. Taking The Battle of Chile back to Chile, he uses the film as a catalyst to examine the events documented in the film from the people who were there, but also screens the film for the first time in 23 years to young Chileans—who are seeing this version of events for the first time. Their reactions are shown in the film, providing a shocking look at a country only given a state version of events.

Patricio Guzmán has made over 20 films in a career that spans more than four decades. This retrospective at Hot Docs will also show two of his films that show the breadth of his exploration of theme and subject matter: My Jules Verne and Robinson Crusoe Island. Both odes to the spirit of exploration and adventure, one works as an homage to his literary hero, while the other is a personal journey to seek the reality behind a fictional tale.

Guzmán’s exploration of his country’s remembrance and the trauma left by the actions of Pinochet’s government is explored again in the critically acclaimed Nostalgia for the Light. Expanding upon these themes, he travels to Chile’s Atacama Desert, where victims of Pinochet’s regime were being buried in this vast expanse of land while astronomers built world-class observatories to look up at the stars. Using this location to create a beautiful and profound examination of celestial and historical mystery, Nostalgia for the Light traverses through the themes of origins, the past, memory and the quest for the unknown.

Patricio Guzmán’s body of work is deeply personal and creates an intimate connection to the audience through sensitive explorations of his themes and subject matter. At the same time, his respect and dedication for the people shown within his films—and the space he gives to their stories—is deeply moving. Artfully reclaiming history through the power of cinema, to watch Guzmán’s work is to explore the concepts of memory, of the personal collective understanding and preservation of history, and of resilience and defiance—all through the beauty of cinematic expression.

— Charlotte Cook
Director of Programming

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