SANTIAGO, Chile — Originally slated to participate in this year’s Santiago Intl. Film Festival (Sanfic) Industria Works in Progress section, Francina Carbonell’s horrifying prison-fire documentary “The Sky is Red” has found executive producers in Storyboard Media’s Gabriela Sandoval and Carlos Nuñez.
Also the director of Sanfic Industria, Sandoval was forced to withdraw the film from the Works in Progress competition once she had boarded to prevent any possibility of conflict of interest.
“The Sky is Red” is a documentary with its foundations built in the 3,650 minutes of archival footage of a 2010 fire and its aftermath that rocked the country of Chile. The fire in San Miguel prison started during a fight between prisoners and an hour later, when the doors were finally opened, 81 people were dead.
“In 2010 the images on TV were almost Dantesque, the manifestation of a real hell,” Carbonell told Variety in Santiago. “But after that the news faded, the media stopped covering it and it disappeared from the public sphere. After nine months of trial and three years of investigation the court acquitted all the accused, leaving the responsibility for the cause of the fire open.”
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And, while the images of San Miguel are exceptional, Carbonell explains that this film needed to be made because the causes of the fire, prison fires themselves, and the results of the blazes are anything but unique.
“This tragedy is not strange or particular if we think that fires in jails abound,” she says, “Iquique, Ex, Hill II, Quillota, etc. The reasons behind the fires are always the same: Precarious conditions, overcrowding and cruel treatment.”
With events as polarizing as those of the San Miguel fire, particularly the issues of responsibility, the filmmakers were faced with a significant challenge.
“Our biggest concern as filmmakers, or our main question, was how to return to these images, critical images, stop consuming them (as viewers) and prepare to see them critically,” Carbonell emphasized.
In 2016 the project participated and won support from Chiledoc Conecta; last year it participated in the Santiago Lab at Sanfic. Other honors were received earlier this year at Residencia Arca and Labex; the film is set to participate at the upcoming IDFA Academy Lab in November.
“The first time I saw the project I was amazed,” Sandoval told Variety, “by both the project and Francina. I showed it to Carlos and he agreed, so we decided to join as executive producers.”
“We see so many projects in development or works in progress in the industrial spaces in which we participate,” she continued. “When we find projects or directors who do not have production houses, and we see that we can work together with them at Storyboard Media, we join. And that was the case with ‘The Sky Is Red.’”
Currently the film has a first version of assembly, and is in search of financing to complete both assembly and post-production. Storyboard will also release the film in Chile, and is planning a 2020 release.