SANFIC: Andrés Lubert Gets Personal About His Chilean Dictatorship-Era Doc, ‘The Color of the Chameleon’

“For me, my father is like a symbol of resistance against the machinery of the dictatorship” - Lubert says

The color of the chameleon
Courtesy: Andres Lubbert

SANTIAGO DE CHILE –Today Jorge Lubert is a camera-man and journalist who has been to some of the most dangerous places in the world to cover human rights issues. It’s not the career path that Pinochet’s fascist regime had in mind when they kidnapped, tortured, and brainwashed him when he was only 21 years old.

Directed by Jorge’s son Andres Lubert, “The Color of the Chameleon,” is a documentary retelling of Jorge’s life as a young adult under Pinochet, that government’s attempts to transform a civilian into a secret service agent, his eventual escape to cold war Berlin, and how his previously untold story kept him at a distance from everyone in his life, particularly Andres. It unfolds like a puzzle whose pieces, when finally assembled, paint a picture of a father’s love for his son.

The film is co-produced by Belgium based indie producer Off World and, Chile’s Blume Producciones. International distribution is being handled by German-Spanish company 3Box media, with Chilean domestic distribution by Miradoc.

Andres Lubert has been making documentaries focusing on human rights and social issues for more than a decade, all the while keeping “The Color of the Chameleon” on the back-burner. He recently talked about the film and expanded on his father’s story with Variety.

This is a project that clearly started many many years ago for you, the desire to learn about your father. When did you decide that it was something you should document on film and share with the public?

In 2004, I went to Chile to interview family members and people involved in human rights to get a picture of who my father was. My uncle was the only person who knew the whole story and when I was 22 he entrusted me with a 40 page, first-person testimony of my father telling what happened to him in Chile, the testimony we eventually used in the film. So, at 22 I had access to this very detailed material and it was very difficult to cope with and nobody knew, not even my father.

For 10 years I tried to talk with my father about his past, but he couldn’t say a single word. Finally he agreed to talk on film.

Have you had a chance to interact with other people who had stories similar to your fathers?

I have never heard of similar cases, and the human rights specialists here in Chile have said the same. Normally exiled people were revolutionaries or those fighting against a dictatorship, but my father was just a young person, only 20, who wanted to work and enjoy life. He wasn’t interested in politics or military, he was chosen for this experiment because he had specific qualities the military was looking to exploit.

How important was it for you to leave the cameras rolling all the time? It certainly wouldn’t have been the same film without the “off-camera” shots.

When we started filming I quickly realized that a lot of things would happen when my father was off-guard. When he knew I was filming, it was very difficult to get into his head. The most spontaneous and natural things happened when we were not filming. Sometime he would even start to direct scenes himself. The film is often quite heavy for the viewer, and so this more off-guard shooting also shows the relationship between my father and me, and that we have a real dialogue.

You had a voice actor read your fathers testimonies, can you talk about that decision?

I think the first idea was to have my father read the statements but I very quickly realized that would have been too confusing because you would hear his voice all the time in interviews and talking, but also the voice-over of him. It would have been confusing to the viewer. We chose an actor the same age he was at the time to show this young innocent voice of my father in first-person when everything happened to him.

Were there any logistical difficulties in making this film? Locations that people didn’t want you filming or files that you couldn’t get access to?

We wanted to go to the military bases so my father could experience them again, to trigger his memories. We submitted official applications to the military, but the answer was that we couldn’t film about anything that happened between ’73-’90. So, in some cases we just entered, and in others we never got access.

As for the military files, in Chile there is a law called Chile transparencia, which makes a lot of government documents public. I got access to a lot of military documents to support the story that my father was telling.

With good reason, your dad clearly still has deeply rooted fears of what could happen to him today. Do you share those fears?

I’m from a generation that didn’t live through the dictatorship, and I was born outside of Chile. My father has strong reactions on some things because he lived it, but I didn’t, so I don’t have the same fears as him.

My father never showed fear as a journalist, when he witnessed some of the worst things in the world as a cameraman in conflict zones. But, when we got back to Chile and he had to talk about the people who tortured him and did these terrible things to him he was in a state of panic. It was very strong to see this, my father with fear of these people and what they could still do today.

What is your relationship with your father like now compared to before?

The relationship is very different than before. We couldn’t have real dialogue about emotions or talk like friends, but today we share more, we can have a drink. Making the film brought us a lot closer and I am very happy for that. It was an incredible experience to make this film with my father and for him to trust me to make something good. I think my father is very brave to expose himself in the way he did. I admire him for it.