FIDOCS 2012, Santiago’s Documentary Festival

By 05 July, 2012

The alternative film circuit in Santiago is a pretty lively place to be these days, thanks to several annual festivals and a number of independent cinemas which focus on arthouse and world cinema that is ignored by the larger ‘movie-plex’ chains. The latest event in the yearly cycle was the 16th Santiago Festival of International Documentary (FIDOCS), a week-long event of screenings, workshops, public presentations and awards, which brought films from all over the world to the Chilean capital.

With awards in two main areas, Best Chilean Documentary and Best Latin American Documentary, plus an ‘International Panorama’ category which screens but doesn’t award other films, FIDOCS offers an excellent opportunity to see the vast range of creative, artistic and informative works coming out of Latin America and the wider world. There were over seventy documentaries this year, focusing on all manner of subject.

FIDOCS was founded in 1997 by Chilean director Patricio Guzmán, whose films include The Battle of Chile, Salvador Allende and Nostalgia for The Light (winner of Best Documentary at the 2010 European Film Awards), with the objective of bringing world documentary to Chilean audiences and promoting national and Latin American independent filmmaking. Since its formation, the festival has returned every year to Santiago and grown steadily in popularity as the public becomes ever more interested in alternative cinema. The festival is traditionally held in numerous locations around the city and this year was no different, with the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Centre (GAM) serving as the principal venue for screenings and other events.

The GAM carries an interesting story itself, as a building that for a long time represented the political turmoil that enveloped Chile in the seventies and eighties. It was constructed by La Unidad Popular, the socialist government of Salvador Allende, in 1970 for that year’s international trade fair that was held in Santiago. Following the military coup in 1973 that heralded the beginning of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, the building (then known as the Edificio Diego Portales) became the main legislative centre of the regime due to the heavy damage sustained by the presidential palace La Moneda in the attack in which Allende died. It remained a symbol of the dictatorship long after democracy was restored in 1990, and as such was disdained by many Chileans until it was reopened in 2010 as an arts and culture centre. The national reclamation of this relic offers evidence of the progress made by the country since the dark days of Pinochet.

It was somewhat fitting therefore that one of the main features of FIDOCS 2012 was a series of films by Australian filmmaker David Bradbury, whose 1986 documentary Chile: Hasta Cuando (Chile: Until When) examines popular resistance against the military regime. Filmed secretly by Bradbury and his crew after they entered the country under the pretense of recording the Viña del Mar music festival, it was nominated for an Oscar but until now it has received relatively little attention in Chile in comparison with other dictatorship-era films. At FIDOCS the film was one of the main attractions and sold out rapidly, while Bradbury’s other documentaries on Latin America, Nicaragua: No Pasarán (Nicaragua: They Will Not Pass), Fond Memories of Cuba, and Raúl El Terrible, were well received and provided an engaging look at some of the social and political tribulations of the region.

The award for Best National Documentary again emphasised the high-quality of documentaries to have come out of Chile in recent times. The new wave of Chilean cinema and documentary is heavily female-influenced and of the nine nominated films, six were directed by women (as was last year’s winner, María Paz Gonzalez´s Hija). There were some fascinating themes running through the nominees. Palestina al Sur (Palestine of the South, Ana María Hurtado) is a story about a group of Iraqi refugees who migrate to Chile following the war in their home country, and are warmly welcomed into their new lives. The post-punk movement is dissected in Hardcore: La Revolución Inconclusa (Hardcore: The Inconclusive Revolution, Susana Díaz) which focuses on this small but fiercely dedicated sub-cultural movement that arose in Santiago in the early nineties. The lives of German teenage delinquents are laid bare in Curruca y Pitbull (Sebastian Barahona and Celia Rothmund), a joint Chilean/German production, as they are sent to live in the peaceful climes of the Spanish and Portuguese countryside to be rehabilitated and set on the straight and narrow. The boys initially display aggressive tendencies but the film draws out a warmth that has survived difficult upbringings, while reminding us that beneath all the macho bravado these are actually still children in need of guidance.

These were all excellent films but the overall winner was Sibila, from Teresa Arredondo, and the story of the director’s aunt who, it’s fair to say, has lived a somewhat eventful life. Sibila moved to Peru from her native Chile to be with her partner and lover, the great Peruvian writer Jose Maria Arguedas, where she stayed following his death in 1969. She later spent fifteen years in prison after she was convicted of being a member of Sendero Luminoso, the violent revolutionary group which shook Peru in the 1980s. At first it is difficult to associate the sweet-faced old woman with the crimes for which she was jailed, but Arredondo’s probing and frankness results in the emergence of a complex and morally opaque character. It is an intriguing study of the human psyche and was a worthy winner of the national prize.

Unfortunately, I was unable to catch Uruguayan film Las Flores de Mi Familia (The Flowers of My Family) which won the Latin American award (the European Football Association had inconsiderately scheduled the Euro 2012 final for the same time) but by all accounts it was a popular choice that deals with issues of separation, obligation and companionship. Directed by Juan Ignacio Fernández, it focuses on the relationship between Alicia and her octogenarian mother Nivia, who come into conflict when Alicia decides to leave the apartment she shares with her mother to live with her new partner. As with Sibila, the director uses his own family as subject matter (Fernández is the son of Alicia), and the film was commended for its intimate portrait of family struggles.

There were several other compelling films in the Latin American section. I was particularly moved by El Lugar Mas Pequeño (The Smallest Place, Tatiana Huezo) which looks at El Salvador’s brutal civil war through the eyes of peasant villagers who survived army massacres that killed thousands of people. As they recount tales of murdered relatives, disappeared children and constant terror, the beauty of the cinematography is at stark odds with the harrowing stories of the survivors. The abundance of natural life and wonder in images of mist-filled jungle valleys is eclipsed by the despair and suffering that weighs upon the villagers who, many years after peace has returned to the valley, are haunted by the horrors of the war and the souls of their dead relatives. It is a remarkable film.

Other documentaries to cause a stir in the Latin American section included Escuela Normal (Normal School, Celina Murga), which looks at the democratic process in an Argentinian high school that mirrors that of the country, and Montenegro (Jorge Gaggero), the tale of a hermit who shuts himself off from society on a small river island. Also highly well-received was Con Mi Corazon En Yambo (With My Heart in Yambo), a film about the abduction and murder of two young brothers, Carlos and Andres Restrepo, by the Ecuadorean police in the mid-eighties. The film is directed by the brothers’ own sister María Fernanda Restrepo and came about following a twenty year quest by her parents to discover the truth.

There were many other films at FIDOCS 2012 that emphasised the exceptional standard of serious filmmaking throughout Latin America and the wider world, with other new films from internationally renowned directors such as Werner Herzog and Frederick Wiseman also on show. In addition to providing the opportunity to see these films before they are given a general release (many of which are unlikely to be shown again in Chile), FIDOCS provides further evidence of the flourishing cultural scene in Santiago, as the Chilean capital aims to catch up with South American big players like Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. All in all it was an intriguing week of cinema in the city, one that will hopefully be repeated with FIDOCS 2013.

Check all the news and information about FIDOCS at the official website

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