In a deal negotiated by Leslie Cohen, senior vice president of acquisitions for HBO Max, the streaming platform has joined Warner Bros. Discovery OneFifty to acquire the poignant Vee Bravo documentary, “Primera,” a gripping look into the Chilean protests that proved a turning point in the fight against Pinochet-era induced economic strife.
Immersive and raw, the film taps into the global collective’s urge toward positive change, following the heartbeat of this pivotal moment as local activists and citizens strive to upend a stagnant system and rewrite their constitution.
“How can we trust the definition of freedom in a constitution that was written at a time when the entire labor force was kept through violence?” Bravo related. “The past is important, it informs how we move in the present. But it doesn’t mean that we need to be archaic in our approach in coming up with solutions for the future. The concept of rewriting exists, that’s why some amazing person decided to put an eraser on a pencil.”
“Primera” received a OneFifty artist grant, which allowed for broader assistance in developmental stages and strategic marketing and promotion.
“We were an early supporter of the film, prior to its theatrical release,” said Axel Caballero, VP of artistic and cultural innovations & head of OneFifty, in a statement. “It is an honor to continue to share this powerful story of everyday Chileans wanting to see a change in government and who became leaders in the movement.”
The documentary was produced by Bravo (“Estilo Hip Hop”) alongside Emmy-nominated producer, director, writer and activist Catherine Gund (“On Hostile Ground”), founder and director of Aubin Pictures, and filmmaker Kevin Lopez (“Mind Up”), co-founder of LPZ Media.
Bowing globally at the Tribeca Film Festival and with its Latin American premiere at Sanfic 17 in 2021, it also appeared as part of the Chiledoc strand at this year’s Hot Docs Festival in Toronto.
Over the summer, creators held a series of screenings in cities across the U.S. as part of Encuentro events that joined local leaders with delegates from Chile, headed by members of the Mapuche community who are integral in the fight toward a more equitable system.
“Our goal was always to use the film as a tool to create dialogue between movement leaders from Chile and their counterparts in the U.S.; and this is exactly what happened. It was incredible to see women from the frontlines of Chile, responsible for mobilizing thousands of people, engage with women in Texas doing similar work to stop the violent deportation of immigrant families,” explained Bravo.
With an extensive background in community work, including organizing film and music programs for inmates at New York’s Rikers Island, Bravo shot from within the spirited crowd rather than the sidelines.
“I had a framework, I wasn’t only a filmmaker. I was also part of the movement because of other work that I’d done just to help uplift communities who’ve traditionally been marginalized,” he said.
“I was born in Chile, I’m part of the thousands of people that were forced to flee during the dictatorship. While I don’t live in Chile now, I was an ally and close enough to the soul and fabric of that movement where I had access. It was still something that had to be built over time. There were a lot of off-camera conversations prior to us entering spaces where there was tension, conflict.”
Among millions gathered, “Primera” hones in on pastry chef, folk musician and single mother Angy, welder and father of two, Felipe and musician and graphic artist Camila, approaching their experiences with empathy. The weight of the broken system spiraled out of control once violent police forces attempted to contain the emboldened crowds. With precision, Bravo reveals the emotion behind the unrest, giving his subjects the space to relay their stories.
“Ultimately, as a filmmaker, you have to go in as a human being, you’re a part of the community. The camera is a tool, but it doesn’t become the centerpiece of your relationship with the participant,” he said. “Plenty of times I didn’t feel the need to take out a camera because I noticed that the participant was having a critical moment that needed to stay an intimate moment.“
On the acquisition, Bravo stated, “We realized the story was powerful and needed to be shared with the Chilean community, so they could reflect on everything that they’d gone through. That’s our core audience, but then there’s the rest of us who are connected to those struggles.”
“To be on a platform that’s going to share the story of Chile, hopefully with hundreds of thousands, if not millions? It’s exciting,” he added.
The documentary will premiere on HBO Max on Sunday, Sept. 4, the same day Chileans vote on the fate of the newly-crafted constitution, an historic happening that lends to expanding global dialogues surrounding reformation.
“I don’t want to be prescriptive. I don’t want to create propaganda. I don’t want to force you, or spoon feed you. It’s more a conversation starter, around what methods are possible. To get to a more dignified way of life, Bravo mused. “I think those root questions, if we ask them enough, will generate bright ideas. If enough people are in the room, or on the street.”