By Jacqueline Grima
Photography: Rachael Burns
The 2016 Humanities in Public (HiP) festival continued at Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester Met) this week with an event entitled ‘Legacy of a Struggle: Patricio Guzmán’s The Battle of Chile’. The event was convened by Jim Laycock of Vis-à-Vis films and featured guests presentations from Dr Francisca Ortiz from the Department of Languages, Information and Communications, and Dr Thomas Rudman of the Department of English.
The Battle of Chile is a three-part award-winning film documentary, made by Chilean director Patricio Guzmán in the 1970s, which documents Chile’s struggle after the election of President Salvador Allende in 1970 until his death in a violent coup d’état in 1973. The first part of the film, The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie, opens in the fiesta-like atmosphere of the 1973 elections, Allende, the first democratically elected Marxist president in South America’s history, and his ‘Unidad Popular’ party having been in office for two years.
As the filmmakers ask the public a series of questions about the elections, it is clear that feelings are running high with many believing that Allende will be defeated. When the president is re-elected with 43% of the vote, therefore, violent clashes break out on Chile’s streets, right-wing demonstrators accusing the government of vote rigging. As Dr Ortiz told the audience before the film, “In part one, you will find a mostly right-wing perspective.”
The film goes on to show events after the elections as they happened in real time, thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets in violent protests against Allende. In the film, the Marxist government are referred to as “dirty” and “filthy” and there are calls for Allende to be impeached. The film also shows armed soldiers taking to the streets and, in a particularly poignant scene, part one ends with Argentinian cameraman, Leonardo Henrichsen, pointing his camera at a soldier who then proceeds to fire in his direction. In other words, Henrichsen filmed his own death.
In showing these challenging moments, Guzmán, who was born in Chile but who studied film-making in Spain, has often been accused of telling Chile’s story from a subjective point of view, thus acting against the ethos of documentary makers. Usually in documentaries, the filmmaker remains neutral, therefore presenting a balanced argument. As Dr Ortiz said, “From the very beginning, Guzmán is questioning the very genre of documentaries.” Quoting Guzmán himself, she added, “A country without documentary film is like a family without a photo album.”
Part two of The Battle of Chile, entitled The Coup D’état, documents the days leading to the violent coup of 11th September 1973. During this time, divisions opened up between industry, mine and transport workers, many of whom initiated strikes, seemingly funded by the CIA, that seriously affected the country’s economy and the lifestyle and wellbeing of its inhabitants. In the coup, the presidential palace was bombed by the air force and Allende, whose request for a state of emergency had been refused by the state but who refused to surrender to the right wing, was killed. Another 2000 Chileans were also killed during the coup, after which General Augusto Pinochet, formerly an army chief in Allende’s government, was appointed dictator of Chile by the Junta government and ruled for almost two decades.
The documentary screening will continue on 26th April with the third part of the documentary, Power of the People, and Chile, Obstinate Memory, which shows the aftermath of the coup and explores the Chilean people’s feelings about Allende’s death and Pinochet’s subsequent government. The film was finished in Cuba after Guzmán, like thousands of Chileans during Pinochet’s rule, went into exile.
The next event in the Humanities in Public ‘WORLD’ strand, ‘Austerity: Local and Global’, takes place on Wednesday 27th April. For tickets and information, see the Humanities in Public website.