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SANTIAGO — Chile’s Santiago International Film Festival (Sanfic) launched its 15th edition Sunday Aug. 18 with three of Latin America’s best-known actors, Gael Garcia Bernal, Wagner Moura (“Narcos”) and Graciela Borges (“La Cienaga”), to which it bestowed career recognition awards.

“It’s been 15 years in which we have presented more than 1,400 films,” noted Francisca Saieh, director of festival sponsor CorpArtes Foundation at the opening ceremony, as she paid tribute to her late sister, producer Soledad Saieh, one of the driving forces of the festival.

“It is noteworthy that in the past two years we have increased attendance by 20%, drawing an audience of more than 250,000 in the past 15,” said artistic director Carlos Nuñez who, together with his StoryBoard Media partner Gabriela Sandoval, runs the festival.

Garcia Bernal came to present his second directorial effort, “Chicuarotes,” which premiered in Cannes, while Moura opened the festival with his directorial debut, “Marighella,” a historical drama/political thriller that has already polarized Brazil even before its local release. Both professed to be actors first and foremost.

In town for just a day, Garcia Bernal thanked director Pablo Larrain with whom he made “No” and “Neruda,” and the upcoming Venice entry, “Ema.” “I feel I have come home again,” he said to cheers from the audience.

Alluding to Chile’s past experience with dictatorship and the films that have come out of it, Moura said: “Chile knew how to deal well with its memories, something we did not know in Brazil; that’s why we have the kind of president we have now,” before presenting the Latin American premiere of his drama about Carlos Marighella, the revolutionary whose cause and whose memory Moura claims the current Brazilian administration would like to erase.

At a press conference before the ceremony, Garcia Bernal admitted that there was a 12-year gap between his second feature film and his first, “Deficit,” “because I was busy making films here,” he said laughing, “And I was also busy being a father.” “But on the other hand, when I direct, I like to have time to put together the film, develop it carefully and cook it in some way,” he added.

He related how in order to prepare “Chicuarotes,” he set up a workshop that was supposed to last for six months but instead went on for two years, becoming a kind of ad hoc film school. He noted that many of the local non-pro actors that he found for his film have gone on to other acting jobs.

“You have to fall in love with a project first,” said Garcia Bernal, adding that he believed that cinema “apart from being an exercise of freedom, is an experiment in transcendence.”

He lamented that Latin American cinema did not travel well within the region but was most proud of Ambulante, the roving documentary film festival he co-founded with Diego Luna and Elena Fortes, which celebrates its 15th year in 2020 and has succeeded in bringing documentaries to diverse audiences across Mexico. “It’s the best we’ve done as adult beings.”