Patricio Guzmán • Director of My Imaginary Country
“The future is not written; the protestors are working towards a society that they would like and hope to see”
by Kaleem Aftab
- CANNES 2022: The Chilean helmer picks apart his documentary on the revolutionary events that took place in his home country in October 2019
In October 2019, one and a half million Chileans took to the streets of Santiago demanding changes to the constitution in order to make Chile more democratic, improve the education and health systems, and enable the building of a new country. It was the event that director Patricio Guzmán (Nostalgia for the Light [+see also:
film profile]) had been waiting for ever since he took part in demonstrations in 1973. Guzmán spoke to Cineuropa at the Cannes Film Festival about the reasons for making My Imaginary Country [+see also:
interview: Patricio Guzmán
film profile], which was shown as a Special Screening at the gathering.
Cineuropa: Were you surprised by what happened on 17 October 2019, or did you always think the spirit that had propelled Allende to power in Chile would return?
Patricio Guzmán: It was a shock – no one was expecting this to happen. From one day to the next, a change happened, and this was a movement without a leader. It came about because of what people were writing on the internet, and then suddenly, everyone was on the streets.
Do you think it makes it trickier to succeed when there are movements without leaders?
It was not a problem. At the start, it was the students conducting a protest about the Metro. The objective was clear: to meet in the square and demonstrate. What was surprising was that one million people turned up on the streets.
Were you there to witness it, and did you know that you would make a documentary right away?
No, I was in Paris when this happened, so I saw all this unfold on television. I only decided to make this film afterwards, and then I went to Chile twice to record and film what was happening. We went in October and November 2020 for the first time. We had difficulties with the lockdown both times we went.
In the film, you contrast your own experiences in the 1970s and being imprisoned in the stadium with what is happening today. Do you think the movements are similar?
No. What is happening today is very different to what happened before. What is similar is that they are both protest moments; however, the times are very different.
What is the significance of the title? Because this is Chile; it's not an imaginary country…
That's true, it's not an imaginary country. However, it's a difficult and complicated country. What we mean by an imaginary country is that the future is not written, and these protestors are working towards a society that they would like and hope to see. It's the future country that's imaginary until it comes to pass.
The film is less philosophical than some of your other documentaries, and more direct, too – why did you decide to do that?
It's reportage. I did this because it's the most direct way of telling this story. It was a spontaneous decision to make this film, and I wanted to show what was happening. There was no need to make a fable out of it.
How did you choose the talking heads who appear in the documentary?
We had a list of 40 or 50 women. We wanted to concentrate on the voices of women because that is the big difference between the 1970s and today: the role of women in public life. Today, women are a central part of public life and their voice is important, and it was particularly essential in this movement.
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