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Chilean Cinema

The history of Chilean filmmaking, like Chilean history in general, can be divided and defined into two separate periods: BC and AC, or Before-Coup and After-Coup. Chilean cinema went through cycles of productivity and decline from the early 20th century until the 1960s, and there had long been attempts to create a Chilean film industry to rival those in Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil. Chile actually had a substantial film industry by Latin American standards throughout the 1920's, which came to a halt with the coming of sound. The technology needed to make films with sound in Chile was cost prohibitive, and distributors inundated the market with product from Hollywood, Spain, Mexico, and Argentina.

In the 1940s and 1950s some new Chilean cinema emerged in co-productions with Argentina, as well as with new funding from the state. In the 1960s the newly-elected socialist Christian Democrats helped sponsor a new generation of filmmakers, as well as film festivals and journals. With the election of Socialist president Salvador Allende, local filmmaking was seen as a way to promote the Popular Unity Front. From 1967 onwards, numerous politically and artistically ambitious films were made, many of them openly promoting the progressive politics of these parties.

However, on September 11th, 1973 a military coup lead by Augosto Pinochet removed Allende from office. Pinochet actively persecuted and exiled almost all of the country's filmmakers and put an end to state-supported filmmaking. Much of pre-1973 Chilean cinema was destroyed, either intentionally or through neglect.

For the remainder of the 1970's there was little filmmaking inside Chile, but a uniquely Chilean cinema developed abroad by writers and directors who had relocated to countries such as France, the Soviet Union, Mexico, Nicaragua and the United States. Many of the films addressed Chile's climate of political oppression, either overtly or covertly. The most famous was the three-hour documentary “The Battle of Chile” by Pablo Guzman, which chronicled the rise and fall of Allende's Popular Unity Front coalition, including the Pinochet coup. Much of the film's footage was smuggled out of the country by the film crew as they sought refugee status abroad.

The most successful exile, however, has been Raoul Ruíz, a prolific artist whose work encompasses everything from experimental avant-garde to mainstream French cinema, with stars such as Catherine Deneuve. The most famous Chilean director is Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose surrealist efforts, such as “El Topo,” are considered influential classics of cinematic magic realism.

Ironically, it was in 1977, during the Pinochet period of severe repression, that national Chilean cinema experience a highwater mark of success, with “Julio Comienza en Julio” (Julio begins in July), by Silvio Caiozzi, one of the few filmmakers who chose to stay. Widely considered the greatest Chilean film ever made, this historical film, set at the close of the 19th century, has been praised as a subversive critique of the upper classes and of totalitarianism.

In 1988, civil liberties and state support for the arts were restored after Pinochet lost his bid for the presidency to the left-of-center Patricio Aylwyn. A new Chilean cinema emerged, one more creatively bold and politically inquisitive. Among the new directors to emerge and gain international recognition is Sergio M. Castilla, whose films include the surreal political allegory “Gentile Alloute” and “Gringuito,” a “Candide”-like account of post-Pinochet Chile through the eyes of a nine-year-old. Andres Wood, who began by making short films that caught the attention of film festivals around the world, scored the largest box office success in Chile's history with “Machuca,” a powerful account of events leading up to the 1973 coup as experienced by two boys from divergent class and racial backgrounds.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Chile: Isabel Allende, Art in Chile, Dance, Theater and Comedy in Chile and Music in Chile.

By Ricardo Segreda
Growing up in New York, Rick Segreda used to cut out of high school in order to hang out at the Museum of Modern Art and catch foreign-language...
29 Sep 2008

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