Beyond Memory: An Introduction

From Film Quarterly, Fall 2023, Volume 77, Number 1

José Miguel Palacios

The year 2023 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the coup that toppled the socialist government of Salvador Allende and his Popular Unity coalition on September 11, 1973, unleashing a civic-military dictatorship that ruled Chile with terror for seventeen years. Five decades later, the consequences of the coup and the dictatorship are still in evidence, especially considering the ongoing constitutional process set in motion by the popular revolts of the so-called estallido social (“social uprising”) of October 2019. That event, together with the conservative backlash that followed, further extend the historical and political temporality of the coup into new, uncharted territory in which film and media continue to play a key cultural function.

To reflect on the role of film and media in relation to the coup demands a move away from mere commemoration and, more broadly, from memory studies as the overarching critical framework that has dominated studies of Chilean cinema. 1 This Special Focus section, “Chilean Film & Media: Fifty Years Later (1973/2023),” seeks to move beyond memory without neglecting the duty to remember. It is a project of reactivation, reappropriation, and repoliticization of the cinematic memory of the coup. This approach favors continuities between films made throughout the last five decades under different historical moments—the socialist years of Allende, the dictatorship, the postdictatorship, and the estallido. It eschews the emphasis on victimhood that is typical of memory studies and concentrates instead on the nation’s legacy of audiovisual resistance.

The phrase “beyond memory” is thus meant to provoke and to suggest that the traditional critical discourses of trauma and mourning, as well as the spectral representation of history, are no longer sufficient. They cannot account for the myriad ways in which contemporary Chilean filmmakers are renewing aesthetic and narrative strategies to negotiate the past and its multiple, increasingly complex afterlives. Nor can the language of memory account for these filmmakers’ political commitment, nor elucidate what political commitment might mean in the sphere of Chilean film and media today.

This introduction and the two texts that follow do not intend to imply an exhaustive revision of the heterogeneity of film and media practices shaping the development of Chilean cinema in the twenty-first century. 2 Rather, this introduction reflects on the stakes of engaging in this critical project at this particular juncture in Chile’s history; the two pieces that follow offering two lines of inquiry that point to an expanded understanding of the entanglement of film in the struggles of memory and human rights in Chile. The first of these articles, by Elizabeth Ramírez-Soto, addresses contemporary digital-media works devoted to reusing and resampling the legacy of militant films and videos from the 1980s, while the second, by Carolina Urrutia and Iván Pinto, focuses on a series of feature-length fiction and documentary films that explore the conflict between the Indigenous Mapuche people and the state. Both pieces work to redefine Chilean cinema’s long-sustained project of aesthetic and political interrogation of the aftermaths of the dictatorship.

Chile’s “now” is marked both by the fiftieth anniversary of the coup and by the series of protests that began in October 2019. 3 The revolts, which started with high school students protesting the thirty-peso increase in the cost of a single subway ticket in Santiago, soon turned into a widespread challenge to the country’s structural, economic, and political inequalities, expressed through daily demonstrations and marches that grew to include over a million citizens. The unruly variety of demands included calls for a new health-care and pension system, reparations for Indigenous peoples, reproductive rights, and environmental protections, among others.

The response of the right-wing government of billionaire Sebastián Piñera was to suppress the protests, leading to violent confrontations between the police and protesters and producing an inordinate number of human rights violations. Curfews, a state of emergency, and a display of military force evoked Chile’s dictatorial past. The brutality of this state repression only fueled the protestors, who took to the streets to challenge the status quo and demand a radical overhaul of the country. The slogan “It’s not thirty pesos, it’s thirty years” broadened the critique to include the neoliberal order as administered by a series of governments led by the center-left Concertación coalition from 1990 to 2010 and suggested that the estallido was an explosion wrought by a growing social malaise incubating over three decades. 4

These multiple demands coalesced into the collective will to call for a new constitution that would put an end to the one written during the dictatorship and illegitimately approved in a fraudulent vote in 1980. 5 In a referendum held in October 2020, an overwhelming majority—over 78 percent—of Chileans voted to approve the writing of a new constitution. The subsequent constitutional convention initiated its deliberative process in July 2021, and soon afterward the country elected the young leftist Gabriel Boric as its new president. After one year of work, amid a spirit of optimism, the popular assembly drafted what was repeatedly labeled as “the world’s most progressive constitution.” 6

In September 2022, however, a referendum on that draft was rejected by over 61 percent of the votes. Since then, public and scholarly discussions have debated the possible causes for such resolute failure, as summarized by the question, “How did a moment of hope end in such disappointment?” 7 Explanations include the opposition of elite circles, an effective campaign of disinformation facilitated by the spread of fake news through social media, an excessive emphasis on “identity politics” and environmental issues, deep-rooted racism that rejected the proposal of a “plurinational state,” a growing climate of polarization, and a desire to completely “reverse” the neoliberal principles of the previous constitution and turn the new one into a proliferation of guaranteed social rights. And many more. The deeper causes of this resounding defeat continue to be examined even as the country reels from a new constitutional process that, at this writing, had resulted in an overwhelming victory of right-wing and far-right-wing sectors. 8

It is in this convoluted and open-ended electoral context that Chile’s collective remembrance of the fifty years of the coup will take place. The defeat of the first constitutional draft produced a shameless reemergence of right-wing discourses, facilitated by the numerous states of constitutional exception imposed on the Wallmapu region of the Mapuche people in the south as well as in the north, due to the growing number of Haitian and Venezuelan migrants trapped on the borders with Peru and Bolivia. 9 The mainstream media and their polls speak of unprecedented popularity for both the police and the military. Given this surprising reversal from the general condemnation of these institutions following the revolts of 2019, it is difficult to predict what kind of resonance the fiftieth-anniversary commemorations will have for Chileans.

Previous anniversaries of the coup were remembered with acute intensity in the public sphere. 10 Television shows, op-eds in newspapers, speeches, academic conferences, books, oral testimonies, art exhibitions, film programs, and politicians asking for forgiveness were all part of a context in which the dictatorship and its legacies were once again debated. These dates also functioned as opportunities to make visible a range of films and videos that had remained virtually inaccessible to audiences and scholars alike in the intervening years. 11 The commemorative spirit functioned as a catalyst to look back and reflect on the field of Chilean film and media as a whole.

Chilean cinema has dealt with the ongoing legacies of the dictatorship in multiple ways: by negotiating personal and collective memories, dissecting the power of both aural testimonies and visual records of horror, recirculating the archives of popular resistance, creating historical allegories, and imagining new political futures. Fiction and documentary films, animations, video, experimental moving images, and television have all contributed to examining the aftermath of the coup through a wide variety of cinematic approaches. Despite this range, certain strategies—the allusion to the sonic repertoire of the day of the coup in fiction, or first-person narration and a focus on the domestic sphere in documentary—have been especially prevalent. For viewers familiar with these narrative devices, their constant repetition points by now to a certain fatigue in the cinematic language of memory.

Nowhere is this exhaustion of memory more palpable than in Patricio Guzmán’s last two films, both of which are caught in a temporal mismatch between the present they strive to document and the political context imposed by their release dates. La cordillera de los sueños (The Cordillera of Dreams, 2019) closed Guzmán’s trilogy of meditations on the intertwinings of Chilean history and landscape. Following his visions of the desert and the sea in Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light, 2010) and El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button, 2015), respectively, the last instalment of the trilogy focused on the Andes Mountains as a proxy for returning once again to the director’s old obsessions. These include, inevitably, his lived experience of Allende’s government, his making of the three-part landmark La batalla de Chile (The Battle of Chile, 1975, 1976, and 1979), his being detained in the National Stadium, and, through his fraught reencounter with the country after years in exile, the memory battles that persist in the present.

Among several talking-head interviews, the character who steals the show in The Cordillera of Dreams is another filmmaker: cameraman Pablo Salas, a legendary figure of the alternative video scene of the 1980s. 12 Guzmán shows Salas documenting a series of human rights marches and protests, and interviews him in the streets and in his office, where he maintains an extraordinary informal archive full of magnetic tapes, video cables, and old monitors. Excerpts from some of Salas’s most recognizable videos hijack the narrative of Guzmán’s film and occupy its visual space for long minutes.

Entire sequences from Imágenes de un 1° de Mayo (1986), Somos + (1985), and Por la vida (1987)—the last two codirected with Pedro Chaskel—populate the screen with images of protestors resisting the water cannons of the police, crowds assembling and marching down the streets, and speeches of infuriated citizens defying the authority of the dictatorship. These images reactivate a memory of popular resistance for the present. Guzmán is following a strategy—the recirculation of video footage from the 1980s—that had long been a defining feature of Chilean postdictatorship documentary’s tendency to reveal the nation’s audiovisual heritage of political struggle. 13

Given Guzmán’s global visibility, the gesture is a relevant revival of footage that retains its political force. These are images that move viewers, mobilize affects, and recirculate a transmission of bodily energy. After shooting a small protest of the relatives of the disappeared, however, Salas complains about the fact that “no one cares about human rights violations anymore. Now it’s other topics: women, the pension system, the economic injustices.” What is described as public disinterest in the legacy of the dictatorship actually reveals a broader problem for traditional leftist circles: their difficulty in coming to terms with the proliferation of new struggles, identities, and expanded conceptions of human rights that are no longer exclusively tied to a past of dictatorial abuses, executions, disappearances, torture, and exile.

The Cordillera of Dreams premiered to wide acclaim in Cannes in May 2019 and had a successful festival reception throughout that year. With the events of October five months later, though, Guzmán’s film felt simultaneously prophetic and outdated. It anticipated a reemergence of protests and a renewed critical discourse about the dictatorship, but the cinematic presentation of this problem was completely surpassed by the reality of the estallido. The mismatch grew with the film’s theatrical release in the United States in early spring 2020 and in Chile in October that same year, precisely coinciding with the first anniversary of the revolts. The critical reception, both abroad and in Chile, was unavoidably tied to understanding an event for which the film offered few clues.

Pablo Salas’s video archive in The Cordillera of Dreams.

Guzmán’s next film, Mi país imaginario (My Imaginary Country, 2022), reflects the director’s effort to provide these clues and understand Chile’s political turmoil. He begins yet again with footage from The Battle of Chile but offers the caveat that this time he wasn’t there to shoot “before the first flame,” recalling the advice he once received from Chris Marker regarding political cinema. The film’s paradoxical element—initiating a cinematic effort to comprehend the present through a customary obsessive return to the crime scene (The Battle, the coup, the dictatorship)—is further amplified by the narrator’s newfound perplexity. Guzmán utters his bewilderment six times, with the words “I never imagined . . . I never saw . . . I would have never thought.” These multiple iterations signal a disconnect between the director and his country, even as his making of the film and its essayistic dimensions constitute an attempt to suture this gap.

While Guzmán’s signature poetic flourishes are still present, the documentary proceeds in more conventional terms than his essayistic Chile trilogy, which privileged individual testimony and interviews, often with former comrades or with women presented as victims of the dictatorship. This time, the protagonists are all women, many young, who resist; they include the celebrated collective LASTESIS and its viral global performance piece, “Un violador en tu camino” (“A rapist in your path”). As Guzmán’s attempt to catch up with the country after the convulsive “Feminist May” of 2018, the film reflects a conscious decision to counteract the predominantly male repertoire of voices that informed The Cordillera of Dreams, with the added value of documenting the global #MeToo movement. 14

In the last act, My Imaginary Country makes a gesture that is at once its most exciting and its most problematic. The documentary follows the Mapuche intellectual and activist Elisa Loncón, who was the first president of the constitutional convention, as she opens the session for debate. It then lingers on the moving inaugural speech of one of the elected representatives, Valentina Miranda, who framed her presence in the constitutional debate with a markedly subjective position—as a pobladora (shanty-town dweller), as a sexually dissident and homosexual activist, as a feminist woman, as a former leader of high school students’ organizations, as a first-generation college student, as “a daughter of the slums.”

Here the film presents—without further elaboration—the numerous identity debates that dominated public discussion during the work of the convention (and which have been decried by many sectors as one of the fundamental reasons for its failure). 15 Most significantly, in the film’s last act Guzmán seemingly endorses the solution to the problem of the popular revolts offered by the political elites of the country: an institutional rechanneling of energy into the writing of a new constitution. By concluding with a section devoted to the convention, My Imaginary Country seems to make this solution its own—a fact reinforced by the final sequence, in which the masses celebrate the presidential victory of Gabriel Boric. With this gesture, the film ties the fate of the new administration to the success of the convention, just as Boric’s government unfortunately did.

A woman protester in My Imaginary Country. Photo courtesy of Pyramide Films.

My Imaginary Country premiered at Cannes and then quickly opened in theaters in Chile in early August 2022 with the explicit goal of influencing public debate over the referendum that would take place mere weeks later, in September, to approve or reject the text elaborated by the convention. The referendum’s resounding defeat consigned Guzmán’s film once again to a temporally and politically disjointed position: outdated, because the celebratory spirit of the convention as presented in My Imaginary Country found little echo in the vote, and prophetic because of one of its final testimonies, by the lawyer and professional chess player Damaris Abarca. One of the elected members of the convention, Abarca warns of the dangers if the text were to be rejected, predicting a legitimation of the constitution of the dictatorship of 1980 and a reemergence of extreme right-wing discourses.

Both predictions have turned out to be true. And these outcomes add great challenges to the affective and political potential of the fiftieth-anniversary commemorations scheduled for September 2023. They also evidence the need to move beyond some of the traditional memory strategies that Guzmán and others use in their work and that have dominated Chilean cinema for the last two decades: relying on the subjectivity of first-person narration to challenge official narratives, centering attention on the testimonies of the victims and witnesses of horror, or returning to detention centers like the National Stadium. This need is not exclusive to documentary, for it applies also to a new generation of Chilean directors with fiction films, which exhibit a similar exhaustion of memory discourses.

In the opening scene of Manuela Martelli’s 1976 (Chile ’76, 2022), a drop of pink paint stains protagonist Carmen’s shoe. The location is some kind of hardware store in Santiago where she is testing colors for the walls of her beach house. The pink stain haunts the film as a whole and finds a visual correlation in the strikingly delicate and eerie end credits, which amplify the drop in a bigger but immaterial splash of color. The stain functions as a clear premonition of what immediately follows. Off-screen sounds of people running on the street get louder and a woman shouts her own name: Marcela Ulloa. Carmen asks what is happening, though her expression shows it’s a rhetorical question.

In the world of Chile ’76, the streets of Chile remain outside the margins of the frame, but the sound of running and the shouting of a name can mean only one thing: that a person is being detained by the secret police. The scene ends with an employee closing the shades of the store. The gesture is reversed in the next scene when Carmen opens the large blinds at her beach house and the light comes in, a metaphor for both refusing and wanting to see. Carmen is an upper-middle-class woman who, like many of the thousands from her social world, supported the dictatorship in quiet and passive complicity, but the film puts her on a path toward seeing and knowing from which there is no way back.

Carmen witnesses the horrors of the coup and faces great danger as she helps a priest to care for a wounded member of a guerrilla group who is hiding in the beach town’s church. However, much of the atrocity of the dictatorship enters the film’s (and her) visual regime through small clues and snippets of information scattered here and there—newspaper headlines, the voice of dictator Pinochet on a televised national address, a naked corpse on the shore as seen from a hill.

In opting for a psychological thriller with a tone of noir, where nothing really changes in the diegetic world except for the shaken psyche of the protagonist, Martelli’s Chile ’76 is not too different from Tony Manero (Pablo Larraín, 2008) or other fiction films in contemporary Chilean cinema in their approach to the military dictatorship of 1973–90. Chile ’76 thus feels a bit outdated as it retains, at least in part, the narrative traits that characterize the so-called Novísimo Cine Chileno (Newest Chilean Cinema) movement, even if Martelli’s film was made almost twenty years after the first emergence of the Novísimo. This movement developed what Carolina Urrutia termed a “centrifugal cinema”—that is, films filled with “expressively ambiguous” images wherein the visual space is emptied of history. 16

Chile ’76 does offer a slight twist, in that the historical world that exists beyond the boundaries of well-off families with vacation houses does find a clearer and more explicit way of permeating the narrative. The kind of haunting proposed here is less phantasmatic than the sordid world of the Tony Manero impersonator in Larraín’s film. That character’s propensity for the abject—as seen when he gratuitously kills an old lady or when he defecates over the white suit of one his rivals in the impersonator competition—functions as a coded commentary on the brutal violence of the military regime. Martelli is less opaque and seems more attuned to the sensibilities of younger or international audiences who might miss clues if too elliptical.

Carmen (Aline Küppenheim) witnesses the secret police detaining a person in Chile ’76. Courtesy of Kino Lorber.

In fact, the need to change the h1 in English to Chile ’76 is indicative of the tension and disjuncture between the national and the global that shapes the production and reception of Chilean cinema. 17 Adding the name of the country indicates US distributor Kino Lorber’s desire to offer the public an unmistakable geographical and historical grounding, but it may also reflect a need to distinguish Martelli’s work from the Oscar-nominated film Argentina, 1985 (Santiago Mitre, 2022), about the trial of the members of the Argentine junta.

In addition to its aesthetic precision and the extraordinary performance of Aline Küppenheim in the leading role, the most exciting elements of Chile ’76 lie in its hidden dialogue with other Chilean films and thus in the multilayered temporality of the dictatorship and its legacies that these cinematic connections reveal. For this reason, it is helpful to place Chile ’76 in conversation with a film made in that very year evoked in its h1, La femme au foyer (The Housewife), the first short film that Valeria Sarmiento directed in exile in Paris.

Beyond this doubling of dates, both films explore the complex political world of middle-class and upper-middle-class women in Chile. 18 One takes place in the early years of the dictatorship and the other during the government of Allende and his Popular Unity coalition, just before the coup. Where Chile ’76 has Carmen venture out into the peripheries and outskirts of the cities, places in which the resistance against the dictatorship flourished, La femme au foyer is set entirely within an enclosed space: an apartment in a rich borough of Santiago (with Paris serving as a faux Santiago) where women watch telenovelas, clean obsessively, and complain about their maids and about Allende’s government.

The only exterior shot in La femme au foyer is its final one: from across the street, viewers see a woman smiling on her balcony as the soundtrack shifts to the sound of the Hawker Hunter jets flying overhead en route to attack La Moneda, the presidential palace. When most of her colleagues were obsessively using the footage of the bombardment of the palace as the visual signifier of the “coup”—including Guzmán’s first part of The Battle of Chile (1975), Los puños frente al cañón (Fists against Cannons, Gastón Ancelovici and Orlando Lübbert, 1975), or A los pueblos del mundo (To the People of the World, produced by an anonymous collective in 1975)—Sarmiento chose instead to do away with its iconography, rendering the historical event as an aural reference.

It is in this same oblique way that Martelli treats detentions in her opening sequence and disappearances in the scene with the corpse on the beach (an allusion to the real case of Marta Ugarte). 19 When her exiled Chilean colleagues returned to the experience of the Popular Unity to glorify it, Sarmiento approached that experience instead by focusing on a group of bored middle-class women performing domestic tasks. In so doing, Sarmiento pointed to a different kind of ideological battle: one that was fought at the time not in the streets, but inside people’s homes. Made almost fifty years apart, both films are examples of feminist filmmaking that tackles Chilean history from a gendered perspective.

It’s difficult not to see Chile ’76 as the reverse of Machuca (Andrés Wood, 2004), a film in which both Küppenheim and Martelli starred. (Before becoming a director, Martelli was an admired actress and one of the most recognizable faces of Chilean cinema in the first decade of the twenty-first century). Machuca treated Allende’s government as the backdrop for a coming-of-age story: the unlikely friendship between two kids—one rich, the other poor—who meet in the classroom thanks to a special program of social inclusion developed by an elite private high school in Santiago. The film ends with a scene in which the frivolousness of the upper classes is on painful display. When the rich kid returns home after having witnessed a military raid on the shantytown where his friend lives, he stays silent. The housewife and mother (played by Küppenheim) greets him but doesn’t note his shock, and then callously turns her attention back to her redecorating project.

Chile ’76 begins with what may be perceived as a similar gesture: Küppenheim’s character, Carmen, looking for the exact perfect color she wants for her beach house. But it ends in stark opposition: having just learned that her inexperience in the art of clandestine political work has led to the disappearance of the wounded young man she was caring for, Carmen struggles to hide her feelings during her granddaughter’s birthday party, showing her vulnerability and political transformation.

The resonances between Chile ’76 and Machuca extend to their production origins: Wood Producciones coproduced Chile ’76, while Miranda y Tobar, who scored Machuca, also composed tracks for Martelli’s feature. While Chile ’76 was released shortly before the fiftieth anniversary of the coup, Machuca premiered in 2004, in the immediate aftermath of the thirtieth anniversary, in 2003, and was a box-office hit. The commemorations of 2003 marked the first time that the coup occupied a more mainstream presence in the media and functioned as a catalyst for a public and open discussion of the legacies of the dictatorship as well as for a reshaping of the relations between memory and Chilean citizens. These connections—Chile ’76 with La femme au foyer and Machuca and the chronology 1976, 2003, and 2023—thus point to the temporal and historical intricacies of a cinema committed to the critical examination of the dictatorship over the course of five decades.

The two articles that follow in this Special Focus section tackle the examination of history and memory from different perspectives. In “Bodies That Persist: The Seismic Legacy of Chilean Documentary Resistance,” Elizabeth Ramírez-Soto discusses the range of documentary responses to the October revolts and concentrates on one specific variant: short audiovisual works that established a clear link between the dictatorial past and the present by repurposing the rich archive inherited from the alternative video scene of the 1980s. She offers a powerful study of how filmmakers can look for urgency in images from the past, reactivating and repoliticizing the audiovisual memory of the dictatorship.

The massive protests of the estallido provoked an immediate response from Chile’s audiovisual community. As they had during the popular demonstrations that, beginning in 1983, destabilized the dictatorship, film and video makers took to the streets to capture the enormous scale of the protests and the brutality of state repression in October 2019. Beyond representation, witnessing, and documentation, however, their goal was to actively intervene in the radical social process opened by the protests.

Unlike what happened in the 1980s, the professionals were no longer alone in this task of documentation, since thousands of citizens were also making their own cell-phone videos and resampling and exchanging them on social-media platforms like Twitter and Instagram and in group messaging chats like WhatsApp. To an extent, the “event” of the uprising is most understandable through the images and media practices that sought to represent it. For example, the scope of the demonstrations acquires a unique visuality in the daily streamings of Galería Cima, an art gallery that placed a camera on top of a building overlooking the square where the multitudes gathered. And the short agit-prop pieces made by collectives of professional filmmakers, feminist activists, and ordinary citizens, together with the media’s “liberation” into an unguarded online ecosystem, circulated a palpable image of state violence that moved viewers and protesters to indignation. The nature of these pieces redefines political cinema, expanding the range of media practices previously associated with the labels of “radical,” “activist,” “participatory,” “community,” or “alternative media.” Such repoliticization has been a defining characteristic of Chilean narrative film since 2010, in close dialogue with a decade of social mobilization that begins with the student protests of 2011 and ends with the October 2019 popular revolts.

In the second article of the Special Focus section, “Wallmapu in Contemporary Chilean Cinema: Struggles over Indigenous Land,” Carolina Urrutia and Iván Pinto explicate their notion of una estética del desajuste (an aesthetics of discordance or disjuncture) in light of the current post-2019 political context. According to Urrutia and Pinto, the cinema made in the last decade has moved past the intimate, subjective, and secretive narratives of the early 2000s—usually associated with the Novísimo label—and has concentrated instead on directly tackling the social malaise of the country. 20 This more explicit or “conflictive” approach, as they call it, does not refer to films dealing with the dictatorship per se, but to works that examine the nation’s current political context and particularly the social effects of years of neoliberal policies. 21

Their article is particularly relevant given the role that Indigenous struggles acquired in the debates about the failure of the text proposed by the first constitutional convention in 2022. The creation of a “plurinational” state that offered constitutional recognition to several Indigenous nations, as well as norms that enabled new forms of territorial, political, and judicial autonomy, were crucial factors expertly mobilized by conservative sectors to push for a rejection of the draft.

With this context in mind, albeit extending its historical resonances beyond the immediacy of the present constitutional moment, Urrutia and Pinto analyze four features that examine the long-standing conflict between the Indigenous Mapuche people and the Chilean state. While there has been an emerging sphere of Indigenous media in Chile since the mid-1990s—including such key names as Jeannette Paillán and José Ancan—Urrutia’s and Pinto’s contribution focuses on feature films made by non-Indigenous directors, with the exception of Claudia Huaiquimilla, the only Mapuche maker in the group.

The fiction films El verano de los peces voladores (The Summer of Flying Fish, Marcela Said, 2013), Mala junta (Bad Influence, Claudia Huaiquimilla, 2016), Rey (King, Niles Atallah, 2017), and the recent documentary Notas para una película (Notes for a Film, Ignacio Agüero, 2022) all explore the territorial conflict in Wallmapu. In doing so, they highlight a different history of state violence—not restricted to the abuses of the dictatorship—and emphasize the need to narrate the memories of the nation’s racial “others.” At the same time, these films point to the key role that extractivism, environmental struggles, and Indigenous rights play in the debates of the future, as they interrogate the relations between land (dis)possession, landscape, and culture.

All these films revitalize the previously monolithic accounts of memory and propose alternative pathways for thinking about the link between the distant past and the more immediate present. This function is particularly acute in Notas para una película, Agüero’s last film, loosely based on the memoirs of the Belgian engineer Gustave Verniory, who built the first railroad that cut through Mapuche land in the late nineteenth century. Agüero—who directed the classic documentary No olvidar (Not to Forget, 1982), about the relatives of a group of men executed by the dictatorship and found dead in the furnaces of Lonquén in 1978—here turns to a different memory struggle, both old and urgent. The essayistic dimensions already present in its h1—notes, sketches, a film that is perhaps nothing but the draft of a film to come—suggest the seeming impossibility of returning ancestral land, the impossibility of making a film about an Indigenous nation that is not one’s own, and the impossibility of retracing the historical past. This is a gesture of radical doubt that reimagines what the cinema of memory can do.

A Mapuche man in Notas para una película.

Editors’ note: The editors of this Special Focus section would like to thank Juana Suárez and Carl Fischer for their invaluable support for this project from the beginning.


  1. Key books on memory and Chilean cinema include, among many others, Elizabeth Ramírez-Soto, (Un)veiling Bodies: A Trajectory of Chilean Postdictatorship Documentary (Cambridge: Legenda, 2019); Ana Ros, The Post-Dictatorship Generation in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay: Collective Memory and Cultural Production (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Macarena Gómez-Barris, Where Memory Dwells: Culture and State Violence in Chile (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); and Michelle Bossy and Constanza Vergara, Documentales autobiográficos chilenos: Memoria y autorrepresentación (Santiago: Fondo de Fomento Audiovisual del Consejo de la Cultura y las Artes, 2010).
  2. This task has been undertaken in, among other works, Iván Pinto and Carolina Urrutia Neno, eds., Estéticas del desajuste: Cine chileno 2010–2020 (Santiago: Metales Pesados, 2022); Vania Barraza and Carl Fischer, eds., Chilean Cinema in the Twenty-First Century World (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2020); and Vania Barraza, El cine en Chile (2005–2015): Políticas y poéticas del nuevo siglo (Santiago: Cuarto Propio, 2018).
  3. Social and political scientists have been debating the causes, meanings, and ways of naming the social uprising of 2019. See, among other studies, Kathya Araujo, ed., Hilos tensados: Para leer el octubre chileno, 2nd ed. (Santiago: Editorial USACH, 2021); Marisol Alé, Claudio Duarte, and Daniel Miranda, eds., Saltar el torniquete: Reflexiones desde las juventudes de octubre (Santiago: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2021); Manuel Antonio Garretón, ed., Política y movimientos sociales en Chile: Antecedentes y proyecciones del estallido social de octubre (Santiago: LOM, 2021).
  4. For a particularly nuanced longue-durée approach rooted in sociology, see Kathya Araujo, “Desmesuras, desencantos, irritaciones y desapegos,” in Hilos tensados: Para leer el octubre chileno, ed. Kathya Araujo, 2nd ed. (Santiago: Editorial USACH, 2021), 15–36.
  5. Claudio Fuentes Saavedra, El fraude: Crónica sobre el plebiscito de la Constitución de 1980 (Santiago: Hueders, 2013). 6.
  6. John Bartlett, “Vote on World’s Most Progressive Constitution Begins in Chile,” The Guardian, September 4, 2022,,responsible%20for%20mitigating%20climate%20change.
  7. Romina Green Rioja and Joshua Frens-String, “After Apruebo’s Defeat,” NACLA Report on the Americas 54, no. 4 (Winter 2022): 361–64.
  8. Cathy Schneider and Sofía Williamson-García, “Chile’s New Constitutional Process Shifts to the Right,” NACLA, February 15, 2023, The election of new delegates for the second constitutional convention took place on May 7, 2023, and resulted in an overwhelming victory of right-wing and far-right-wing sectors, which captured over two-thirds of the votes of the membership of the new convention.
  9. Between October 2021 and now, the Chilean senate has renewed, more than twenty times, a state of constitutional exception in the region of the Araucanía. See Cámara de Diputadas y Diputados, “Cámara aprobó nueva prórroga del estado de excepción en la macrozona sur,” May 17, 2023,; and Robinson Torres-Salinas, “Resistance in Chile’s ‘State of Exception,’” Majority Post, January 24, 2023, For the migratory crisis on the northern border, see “Tensión en frontera Chile-Perú por migrantes podría crecer,” DW News, April 25, 2023,
  10. Nelly Richard, “La conmemoración de los 40 años del golpe militar… y después,” in Latencias y sobresaltos de la memoria inconclusa (Chile: 1990—2015) (Córdoba, Argentina: Editorial Universitaria Villa María, 2017), 183.
  11. Elizabeth Ramírez-Soto, “Journeys of desexilio: The Bridge between the Past and the Present,” Rethinking History 18, no. 3 (2014): 438–39.
  12. Germán Liñero, Apuntes para una historia del video en Chile (Santiago: Ocho Libros, 2010). 13.
  13. See Ramírez-Soto, (Un)veiling Bodies, 24, 158–60.
  14. For Chile’s “Feminist May” of 2018, see Aïcha Liviana Messina, Feminismo y revolución: Crónica de una inquietud; Santiago 2019; Fragmentos de una paz insólita (Santiago: Metales Pesados, 2020).
  15. Fernando Pairican, “La amenaza indígena,” in Revista Anfibia, September 7, 2022,; Carl Fischer, “Diversity and Dissidences on the Agenda,” NACLA Report on the Americas 54, no. 4 (Winter 2022): 410–14.
  16. The label Novísimo comes from Ascanio Cavallo and Gonzalo Maza, eds., El novísimo cine chileno (Santiago: Uqbar, 2011). For the notion of a centrifugal cinema, see Carolina Urrutia, Un cine centrífugo: Ficciones chilenas 2005–2010 (Santiago: Cuarto Propio, 2013).
  17. Vania Barraza and Carl Fischer, “Introduction: Chilean Filmmaking in the World; Scattered Industry, Politicized Intimacy, Global Aesthetics,” in Chilean Cinema in the Twenty-First Century World, ed. Vania Barraza and Carl Fischer (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2020), 2.
  18. For the role of conservative women during the Popular Unity years, see Margaret Power, Right-Wing Women in Chile: Feminine Power and the Struggle against Allende, 1964–1973 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002).
  19. Marte Ugarte was tortured and killed by the dictatorship. Like hundreds of others, she was thrown into the sea by helicopter. But her corpse resurfaced; fishermen found it on September 12, 1976. The finding became proof of the dictatorship’s methods of disappearance, despite the strong media campaign that presented Ugarte as a victim of domestic violence. For her story, see Ivonne Toro Agurto, “Marta Ugarte y el horror de los cuerpos lanzados al mar en dictadura,” The Clinic, July 24, 2016,; and JB Brager, “Bodies of Water,” The New Inquiry, May 12, 2015, For the equation between the images of the bombardment and the event of the coup, see César Barros, “Declassifying the Archive: The Bombardment of La Moneda Palace and the Political Economy of the Image,” in Technology, Literature, and Digital Culture in Latin America, ed. Matthew Bush and Tania Gentic (New York: Routledge, 2016), 128.
  20. Iván Pinto and Carolina Urrutia, “Introducción,” in Pinto and Urrutia, Estéticas del desajuste, 7–19.
  21. Pinto and Carolina Urrutia, 9.

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