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Documentarian Patricio Guzman on Chilean Soul and Mountains

Renowned Chilean documentary filmmaker Patricio Guzmán (“The Battle of Chile,” “The Pearl Button”) has returned to the country to shoot “The Cordillera of Dreams,” 46 years after he was exiled under Augusto Pinochet’s regime of terror. The feature screens at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival this week.

Sold by Paris’ Pyramide International, “The Cordillera of Dreams,” is produced by Guzmán’s 20-year production partner Renate Sachse of France’s Atacama Productions. It’s co-produced by Arte and Sampek Productions in France, and Market Chile in his home country.

“The Cordillera” completes a trilogy which started with “Nostalgia for the Light” – about Chile’s Atacama Desert – and “The Pearl Button” – about Patagonia.

Through this allegorical trilogy of geographical elements (desert, water, mountains), Guzmán draws a personal portrait of Chile psyche, Chilean people and the ghosts of their history.

Narrated by Guzmán himself, the voiceover finishes the film: “My wish is for Chile to recuperate its childhood and joy.”

Is the main character, the Andean cordillera (mountain range), a metaphor for the Chilean soul?

Guzmán: It’s an important wall. You can’t escape it anywhere. Not in Santiago or any part of the country. I think this wall contributes to the loneliness, the depression, the confinement that Chileans live with — and have always lived with, even before Pinochet. There’s a way of being in Chile that is conditioned by this enormous, endless wall. Chile is a closed-off country, a narrow valley, and that has shaped our way of being, which is completely different from that of the Argentinians. Ours is a country twisted towards sadness.

It’s a portrait which is sad but tranquil…

Guzmán: When I contemplate reality, I have always done so very calmly.

But this has nothing to do with the convulsive rhythm of “The Battle of Chile.”

Guzmán: There the action was intense, incessant, the moment of greatest turmoil ever, a devastating explosion.

What capacity does film have to examine the past or to inspire optimism for the future?

Guzmán: In practice, little actually. My films are watched in France by 150,000 or 200,000 people; in Chile 9,000. And that’s with “good” distribution. The cinemas are in the hands of U.S. companies with action movies, genre pieces. But a documentary about Chile? People turn away. The thirst for documentary from Allende’s era has been destroyed. In Pinochet’s time, people fought to give testimony of their reality and watched documentaries however they could, in home videos for example.

Producer Renate Sasche: There’s hope in the new generations. There is a desire to break away, to look for something further than neoliberal, conformist values.

There is a remarkable generation of Chilean women doc-makers — Bettina Perut, Marcela Said, Maite Alberdi… Patricio, you are the chairman of the Santiago International Documentary Film Festival (FIDOCS) which is boosting Chilean docs abroad…

Guzmán: Yes, there are many young doc-makers now. Carmen Luz Parot is another one. In fact, there’s interest in offering an alternative vision to what the broadcasters, newspapers, and media are providing. There’s a lot of censorship. On the other hand, however, documentary is very free in Chile. And the state offers aid, in small amounts, but aid nonetheless.

What does “The Cordillera of Dreams” add to your previous films? What distinguishes it from them?

I think this film returns to the simple and avoids the baroque. There’s a key element, the mountain range, and little else. It’s a film about essence of the soul. Here there’s more of my voice than in the others, and most likely in the next there will be even more. There’s an evolution, reaching continually towards what you have inside you as a creator and as a person, and leaving a little aside. There’s a transition towards a more subjective territory.

And after this trilogy?

I haven’t decided anything yet. Renata and I are working together on a new script, but as you know, the documentary is something you discover as you create it. I want to go back to Chile and insist on the beach, the sea, see where we end up.

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