Tessaloniki’s Greek International Documentary Film Festival in March provided an opportunity to see the significance of actual memories, through the eyes of three directors.
The festival showed a large Patrico Guzmans retrospective featuring the exiled Chilean’s films. If anyone can be said to have taken care of a nation’s recollection, it would be him. At the start of the 1970s, he documented President Salvatore Allende’s political life in Chile. Guzman’s independent film team followed the development through to Pinochet’s September 11 coup in 1973. The many rolls of film were then smuggled out of the newly established dictatorship, via Swedish diplomacy post and boat from Valparaiso, picked up from Sweden, and later edited in Cuba where Guzman spent the next six years working on the film. This resulting trilogy The Battle of Chile (1975–79), is one of film history’s classics on par with Shoah by Claude Lanzmann.
In Tessaloniki, the older Guzman points out that the memory is vital. A nation’s communal recollection shapes its expectations. The dialogue between past and presence is typical of his film work. Regardless of, in this case Chile, the horrendous pain the traumatised successors may find speaking about the terrors and tragedies of the past, does Guzman feels that getting the truth out could give hope and inspiration to necessary societal changes.
Swearing on Pinochet’s textbook. In Chile, however, many disagree with him. They have no desire to go digging up the past. In Guzman’s The Pinochet Case (2001), we meet a younger woman who see no reason to ask her mother about the torture she was subjected to during the dictatorship – she does not want to know. As some of Guzman’s other films show – Chile, Obstinate Memory (1997) and Chile, a Galaxy of Problems (2010) – most people prefer to forget. Even Allende’s widow, Hortensia Bussi, in 1987, explains that she is trying to forget, in self-defence. She knows that it will only make things more painful for her, and even if she had wanted to delve deeper into the memories, how could she? In 1973, all of Allende’s family possessions were confiscated, and only following the fall of the Pinochet regime, was a proper funeral arranged. Bussi has no albums nor any beloved possessions to pass on to the family.
But, as we see Guzman, in these films, show some students in Santiago the old The Battle of Chile, it is evident that the next generation feels betrayed by the incumbent government. It is heart breaking to watch the youngsters cry after the screening – they describe their homeland as barbaric and deceitful. But, the authorities have done their best to forget about the Allende-era and its tragic demise. After 17 years of Pinochet, Chile experienced a long period of neoliberalism and extended open invitations to foreign capital. In the school textbooks, Allende and the Unidad Popular party barely get a mention. Only recently is Guzman’s classic The Battle of Chile screened on a small Chilean TV-channel with a couple of thousand viewers. The national DVD distributor declined it at first, describing it as “too politically sensitive”, but later decided to sell it.