Don't Look Back in Anger: Interview with Patricio Guzmán

    • Festival
    • December 5, 2019
    • By Joost Broeren-Huitenga

    Towards the end of the festival, we caught up with Guest of Honor Patricio Guzmán as he looked back on a week filled with memories—of his own films and the ten favorites he selected.

    Although he has lived in exile since the early 1970s, Patricio Guzmán has remained the most thorough chronicler of his home country Chile. In the festival's Retrospective of his work, his classic trilogy The Battle of Chile, which charts the political turmoil and social unrest leading up to Pinochet's coup d'état in 1973, is mirrored by his most recent trilogy of films, which reflect on the literal and figurative remains of that dreadful period through the country's landscapes.

    His most recent film The Cordillera of Dreams, which had its Dutch premiere at IDFA ahead of a national release in early 2020, looks at the nation's history and identity filtered through the unmovable mountains of the Andes. The cordillera (mountain range) gives Chile its backbone, both shielding and separating it from the world on the other side. “What I wanted to do is show the relation of the mountains to the people,” says Guzmán. “I found a handful of characters to do that.”

    One of those characters is filmmaker Pablo Salas, who can almost be seen as a mirror image of Guzmán himself. Both started filming their country in the years of revolution and dictatorship. But whereas Guzmán was forced to leave Chile, and his films in exile developed more and more towards the idea of memory, Pablo remained in Chile, in the here and now. “We're both interested in filming reality, but Pablo is more spontaneous,” Guzmán says. “He films and films, without really knowing what for. His footage is like a personal diary; he keeps it, he doesn't edit it. In the time of Pinochet he used to sell some of it to foreign media; that was how he made a living back then. But when the dictatorship ended he kept on filming. That's very mysterious to me.”

    Do you ever look back on your own historical archive, especially the unique footage that formed the basis of The Battle of Chile?

    I still have all the material, but I don't have the equipment to watch it anymore. Perhaps a completely new archive could be started with this material. It's the reality of the year 1973. That would be interesting; perhaps there is a foundation who could fund that.

    In your latest film The Cordillera of Dreams you think back even further, to the Chile of your childhood.

    It's important to recall and remember your childhood. The period between when you're six years old and twenty years old is very important; it's when you start to understand the country where you're born. That gives you a certain stability. In the case of Chile, the coup d'état violently ruptured that. It's a sort of death. It takes a lot of time to regain your balance after that.

    What is it like to look back on all your films in this retrospective, and looking back on your life through them?

    Over the years, I've revisited The Battle of Chile much more than my other films. So it's always interesting to look back on what you have done, to review what you have made. When you finish a film, you abandon the material. You let it go for a long time. Maybe four of five years later you can start to see it again.

    Perhaps this is why Pablo hasn't been able to let go of all his footage, or of filming—he hasn't made a film yet.

    Maybe, maybe. He lives surrounded by his footage, looking at that room full of reels. Very strange.

    ​A lot of your Top 10 selection revolves around the concept of memory as well. Was that a conscious choice?

    Not really, although memory does play into it in that I very vividly remembered all these films. There were at least twenty films on my list to start with. But in the end, it was easy to cut it down to ten. Because there are films that follow you, they haunt you all your life. You may not even like them, but they push you in a certain direction. It's a strange process. These were the films that were like that for me. Take Chris Marker's La jetée, for instance—that film is my adolescence, which is when I discovered it, and when it introduced me to science fiction, which I adore. I remember very well the moment Chris Marker was at my house, before I made The Battle of Chile. We didn't talk much—he only spoke rudimentary Spanish, but he also didn't want to speak French. But it didn't matter, we had an immediate understanding. He had a very strong personality, very charismatic. It was similar with Velu Viswanadhan, years later. We never talked much, but we understood each other from the first moment. His French was im-pos-si-ble. But everything that needed to be said was in his eyes, and the way he carried himself.

    Related

    Patricio Guzmán Retrospective

    • October 1, 2019

    Patricio Guzmán's Top 10

    • October 1, 2019

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