Guadalajara: ‘Mala Junta’ Explores Life on the Fringes of Society

Chilean indigenous filmmaker Claudia Huaiquimilla shines a light on the issues of the Mapuches

Mala Junta - Funeral Mapuche
Courtesy of Pinda Producciones

As a young Chilean Mapuche filmmaker, Claudia Huaiquimilla seeks to tell stories from the outsider’s point of view. Her feature debut, “Mala Junta” (“Bad Influence”), now in Guadalajara Construye, fest’s pix-in-post competition, explores the lives and unlikely friendship of two teens, one a rebellious youth and the other a Mapuche, who is bullied and ostracized for being different.

I see that your 2012 short, “San Juan, la Noche más Larga” (“San Juan, the Longest Night”) is also about a young misfit. Can you say that “Mala Junta” (“Bad Influence”) is an expansion of this theme? The boy in the short is also called Cheo.

“San Juan” was my college graduation thesis. What motivated me was the reality of troubled youth; I wanted to tell a story from their point of view. “San Juan” is about a shy Mapuche child who is also an arsonist. Pyromania, more than a childish prank, was his way of expressing his anger and frustration at suffering abuse at home. In essence, “Mala Junta” is an extension of that theme.

Cheo, the protagonist of the short, is the co-star of “Mala Junta” and also my cousin who lives in southern Chile, and giving him a chance to do something different was a way to break down prejudices. Cheo was a quite a rebellious child, and when I chose to cast him, people in the industry did not understand why. On the other hand, I felt a connection with him and thought it would be ideal to have him accompany me on this audiovisual adventure, both in the short and feature film.

“San Juan” received a string of awards, including a Special Jury Mention at the 35th Clermont Ferrand Short Film Festival, Chile’s 2013 Pedro Sienna Best Short Film award, and prizes from FICValdivia, SANFIC; FICViña, etc. This recognition encouraged me to continue making films. Until then, I had no great confidence in my ability to tell stories, and much less imagined that I would manage to excite and captivate an audience with fairly simple stories.

What are the parallels you wanted to draw between the conflicts that beset teenagers and the problems of the Mapuche?

I firmly believe that prejudices are more harmful than people think, because, in a way, they become irrevocable. When you start judging the teens of “Mala Junta,” you close many doors and opportunities that could help them reverse their circumstances. In turn, the Mapuche in Chile are often treated, even in the mass media, as terrorists, making local society fear and reject their own heritage. Personally, as a young Mapuche, I have had to deal with this many times. I firmly believe that exclusion and pent up frustration have consequences, and it’s precisely that aggravation that is evident in the actions of these teens and the Mapuche people who see their parents, or the government of Chile, throwing disgruntled youth into reform centers; or taking repressive measures against the indigenous people. In this film, I wanted to place myself in the shoes of both this troubled young man and a Mapuche, and see how they sought their place in the world despite being at the margins of society.

Did you have the collaboration of the Mapuche people?  Where did you shoot the film?

I had absolute support from them. Filming took place in the district of Mariquina, Southern Chile, which is where the vast majority of my Mapuche family live. For the short, “San Juan,” we got considerable cooperation from the municipality, our neighbors and family. We tapped these same connections to make “Mala Junta.” My co-writer and producer Pablo Greene and I traveled nearly every month for two years to the area to maintain these relationships and create new ones, including with hotels, restaurants, transport services etc.

As a young Mapuche I cannot be oblivious to the issues affecting my people. That’s why I decided to film in my area and include the Mapuche conflict in the plot of the story. However, it should be emphasized that, being such a vast conflict, there is not only one issue to deal with, but hundreds. Each sector of the Mapuche population has its own set of problems in addition to the ones that we all share. In Mariquina, the paper mill Celulosa Arauco, one of the largest in Latin America, has wreaked havoc on our forests where they have planted fast-growing pine and eucalyptus trees, which suck up the groundwater, hampering the growth of our native trees and crops.

Did you receive any state aid?

We won the Regional Audiovisual Fund, awarded by Chile’s National Council for Culture and the Arts, which amounted to some $28,700 (20 million pesos). We next won another $2,870 (2 million pesos) from the 20th Valdivia International Film Festival’s ARCOS Best Screenplay in Development Award; and an additional $4,306 (3 million pesos) from crowdfunding site Ideame and other support in kind. Two months before filming, we realized we still had to take out a loan. In October, we participated and won the Work In Progress of FICViña, which was granted by the Department of Cultural Affairs, represented by Eduardo Machuca, who has been very helpful in this process. We now seek post-production funding and a sales agent to ensure its international distribution and placement in film festivals and cinemas.