Chile’s New Generation of Documentary Filmmakers Embraces History, Technology to Tell New Stories
Chile has experienced an historic cultural change over the past year, led by a mobilized and energetic generation of young and highly educated people demanding change. The world has looked on as many of the stains of Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship have been washed away, making room for new narratives to be explored by an enthusiastic generation of documentary filmmakers.
This month, several Chilean documentary shorts, features and VR projects have or will feature in prestigious international festivals and markets such as Dok Leipzig and IDFA. Burning Lights, an international competition at Switzerland’s Visions du Réel festival dedicated to “new vocabularies and expressions” was won by “The Other One,” the first feature out of the gate from new Chilean production house Juntos.
Of course there will always be stories of, or inspired by, the trauma Chile suffered under Pinochet, but science, human rights, indigenous stories, and interpersonal experiences are flooding Chile’s cinematic pipeline at a time when the country overwhelmingly voted to abandon its Pinochet-era constitution and establish a new order for a new era.
“From Oct. 18 2019, the beginning of the Chilean social outburst, we turned to the streets to record what was going on,” says Hernán Caffiero, director of 2017’s powerful “Una Historia Necesaria” (A Necessary History), which detailed 16 cases of disappeared detainees and the human rights violations to which they were subjected during the heinous dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile.
“There are dozens of filmmakers who are telling different stories about our country from the most diverse points of view now,” he goes on. “I believe that at a time like this, the documentary exercise must not only be enunciative, but must assume its historical role in presenting these events from a real and conscious perspective.”
As narratives have shifted, so too have viewing patterns. Historically, Chilean documentaries have been easier distributed abroad than domestically. One reason, according to Maite Alberdi, director of 2020 IDFA Best of Fest player “The Mole Agent,” about an 83-year-old who goes undercover to investigate elder abuse at a nursing home, is that Chilean audiences haven’t been conditioned to enjoy documentary films.
“Unlike many European or North American countries, we don’t have public TV networks that broadcast documentaries, so the format is foreign to a lot of people here. We have an audience that’s not used to watching documentaries,” she laments before optimistically pointing out, “That’s been changing over the past decade.”
“Over the next few years, it will be difficult to imagine films supported exclusively through screenings in cinemas,” says Caffiero, casting a shadow over an already limited future for Chilean documentaries seeking a return on domestic theatrical exhibition.
So, in the absence of a free-to-air dissemination and with theatrical proving less promising than ever for documentary content, it seems that platforms “Will now undoubtedly be the source for a democratization of Chilean documentary content,” says Alberdi.
“Technology has evolved in our favor, and we can now tell stories through platforms and devices that can generate a communal experience,” say Francisca Silva and María José Díaz, directors of “Ancestral Secret VR” which will pitch at IDFA later this month. “The VR documentary, for example, is an opportunity to experience another reality, connect and manufacture encounters.”
It’s hard to argue against their logic, as the duo’s Chilean VR project will soon be experienced halfway around the world, in real time, pitched to potential partners worldwide, and during a pandemic which has made in-person attendance nearly impossible.
One key factor in Chile’s ability to churn out content has long been some of Latin America’s most progressive state funding schemes. However, an increase in interested creative talent looking to break into the industry has created a bottleneck to access that funding. According to Silva and Díaz, only 20% of projects applying for funding eventually receive backing, leaving the other 80% frustrated and unable to begin production. The sector has continuously outgrown the support, pushing Chilean producers to look outside their own borders for international co-producers.
In a call for expansion of the current system, Diego Pino Anguita, executive producer at Fundación MAFI, general coordinator of Chiledoc and founder and producer at Cangrejo Films, says he believes that “Today we have the opportunity to change how the state sees culture and cinema, to further support the financing of our works. What we do not only contributes to public systems and structures through profits and taxes paid to the state, but contributes through cultural transformation inspired by audiences who see these films.”