Cannes 2019: An Interview With Patricio Guzmán

Filmmaker Patricio Guzmán’s latest film is a documentary love letter to his native country of Chile — told through a specific earthly attachment Chilean people feel to the Cordillera of mountains which splits their territory in half. The third installment of a triptych of sorts, at the center of The Cordillera of Dreams (“La Cordillera de los sueños“) there is a perfect, though unwitting leading man, Pablo Salas. For the last forty years, Salas has been reporting from the frontline of the political turmoils that have enveloped Chile and his archive proved priceless for the making of Guzmán’s film.

E. Nina Rothe sat down with Guzmán and his wife and producer Renate Sachse in Cannes and found out about a newfound interest in Chilean history by the younger generations, how Pablo Salas came to be in the film and whether Guzmán feels optimistic about his country today. The Cordillera of Dreams received a special Golden Eye prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it was part of the Special Screenings section.

Q: This is your third film about Chile, the history of Chile and its landscape. The desert, the sea, and now the Cordillera. Did you always think you needed to make a trilogy or did it come naturally?
PG: It started slowly. I didn’t know I would be making three films when I decided to do the first one. Then with the second one, I realized I needed a third one. I might make a fourth film but I’m not sure.

Q: This films feels more ‘frontal’ than the other two previous ones, which were more poetic. Was that your intention?
PG: You’re right about that, it’s less poetic but it’s more direct. It possesses less metaphors. I don’t know why I made that choice. When I began, talking to the protagonists, they didn’t have a real inspiration from the Cordillera but were much more direct. So I realized as well my relationship with them was more direct.

Q: At what point did you find Pablo Salas’ archive, and did your film then turn into something else?
PG: For every documentary you make, you never know who your leading characters will be. They appear little by little, and Pablo is a magnificent character. I realized he would be an amazing subject as well. He’s also great because he owns this amazing archive. So the film took a natural turn, as does every documentary. You never know the way a documentary will end, it’s reality guiding you.

Q: Do you think the youth in Chile is interested in this kind of subject, talking about the coup d’etat?
PG: Renate [Sachse] is also the producer of the film and we work together very closely, so she’ll take the question.
RS: I think there is a new phenomenon in Chile, and I’d like to take the example of Jorge Baradit. He’s a relatively young writer and he writes about the history of Chile. He has done a trilogy as well, and the name of these books is ‘Secret History of Chile‘. I think it’s really interesting because in these books he talks about the history of Chile, and it’s a bestseller, actually the most sold book in the last few years. So I think this is a person who is talking about history, and this is the same in book form as what Patricio did on film. There is this new increased interest in the past history of the country indeed.

Q: There is a trend in wanting to reexamine troubled histories of the past for countries around the world, what do you think?
PG: I think it’s positive to keep talking about these subjects.

Q: How did Pablo get such great footage? Did the dictatorship not realize at that time the power of images?
PG: If it was today it wouldn’t be possible. I think it’s very dangerous to be doing this kind of work. Pablo had many skills and he knew how to move. But he was filming every year throughout twenty years, and it was always dangerous. He suffered aggressions on two occasions, even if minor ones. Once he got paint thrown on him, and the other time he got pushed. But it wasn’t much. He was very able in knowing where to position himself and the camera. There is a skill that is not often talked about, and that skill is to know exactly where to put yourself with the camera in front of something. It’s a very important skill and you can learn it.
RS: Pablo also had a few international credentials and accreditations that somehow protected him, though not much. He was like a war reporter.

Q: Who told you about Pablo?
PG: I’d met Pablo before actually. I was doing a film in the ’80s — ’85 or ’86 — called In the Name of God, and when I was filming I would see him around. But I also got a lot of stories from other people who told me about Pablo and taught me about his work. I’d never gotten so close to Pablo as in this film.

Q: Do you feel optimistic about your country?
PG: Yes. Despite all, yes.