Director Patricio Guzmán – famed for his political documentaries “The Battle of Chile” and “The Pinochet Case” – talks about his latest film, “Nostalgia for the Light.” The film played at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2011.
Guzmán traveled 10,000 feet above sea level to the driest place on earth, the Atacama Desert in Chile, where astronomers from all over the world gather to observe the stars. Yet the climate also keeps human remains intact, including the bones of political prisoners who disappeared under the Pinochet regime. In a meditative essay, Guzman explores the connections between time and space in the search for the truths about the world in which we live.
Patricio Guzmán (in Spanish): I wanted to make a film that would show the importance of the past for human life, for matter and the universe. It is a series of stories that develop in the past. And the place is the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile. And there are remains from the past that are very interesting.
These are pre-Columbian mummies. There are abandoned saltpeter mines from the 19th century. There are buried meteorites. There are dinosaur prints.
There are huge astronomic observatories. There are about 35 telescopes. They’re enormous. If you lay on the ground and look at the cosmos, it is frightening. It seems so close that it is frightening. And there are women that look for the bodies of those detained by Pinochet.
Woman in desert (in Spanish): This must be the inside of a bone, as it is porous. It is much thicker. Their whiteness is due to calcination by the sun.
Guzmán (in Spanish): The first thing I did when I arrived in the desert was find the characters. I first found the astronomer, who was able to speak about the women that search for bodies. Then I found the women. It is a group of 12 women, but two of them are more active, and I chose them.
Guzmán (off camera, in Spanish): What did you find of your brother?
Vicky Saavedra (in Spanish): A foot – it was still in his shoe. Some of his teeth. I found part of his forehead, his nose. Nearly all of the left side of his skull.
Guzmán (in Spanish): Then I found the archaeologist, who was also able to speak about the past and compare archeology to astronomy. The archaeologists look 10,000 years back. The astronomers, millions of years back.
Man off camera (in Spanish): The translucency of the sky is, for the archeologists of space, what the dry climate is for us. It facilitates our access to evidence from the past. The translucency enables the astronomers to shed light on the mysteries of space. This is why we share the same territory.
Guzmán (in Spanish): Then I found a prisoner who had been in Chacabuco, a former political prisoner who watched the stars when he was a prisoner.
Man off camera (in Spanish): Observing the sky and stars, marveling at the constellations, we felt completely free.
Guzmán (in Spanish): Chile, like all Latin American countries, has a dramatic past. First, the indigenous people were killed. Then came the miners, who always lived poorly. Then there were political prisoners, who they dropped out of helicopters onto the desert, or they buried them in the desert. It is a painful history – a story of suffering, pain that continues.
The Chilean military doesn’t want to speak. The government has not done enough of either. Forty percent of human-rights cases have been resolved. But that leaves 60 percent. And we wonder why the judges are taking so long to resolve that remaining 60 percent. It means there are hundreds of families in Chile who hope to find their family members.
There isn’t one representative, senator or mayor involved in the search for bodies. It is only the families who search. There is not enough discussion about memory. There is not enough consciousness that Chile went through a tragic period. So creating films, theater, novels, documentaries is important because it helps young people understand what happened.