Patricio Guzmán's Nostalgia for the Light
is a remarkable meditation on memory, history and eternity. Chile’s remote Atacama Desert, 10,000 feet above sea level, provides stunningly clear views of the heavens. But it also holds secrets from the past in its arid soil: human remains, from pre-Columbian mummies to the bones of political prisoners "disappeared" during the Pinochet dictatorship. In this otherworldly place, earthly and celestial quests meld: Archaeologists dig for ancient civilizations, women search for their loved ones and astronomers scan the skies for new galaxies. Nostalgia for the Light
airs on KUED Tuesday, October 30 at 11:00 p.m. The film will stream in its entirety on the POV website
from Oct. 26- Nov. 21, 2012
Guzmán's identification with the government of leftist President Salvador Allende, who preceded Pinochet in 1970, is the leitmotif running through his life's work. In Nostalgia for the Light
, he recalls the Allende era as a "revolutionary tide" in which "we woke up from our slumber." He cites it as the period when "science fell in love with the Chilean sky," and astronomers built their huge telescopes at Atacama. It was also a time when thousands of Chileans fell in love with astronomy, a passion of Guzmán's since childhood. The hope of those times, he says, was destroyed on Sept. 11, 1973, when "a coup d'état swept away democracy, dreams and science." Many scientists and intellectuals, Guzmán among them, along with thousands of other Chileans, were imprisoned, executed or sent into exile by Pinochet's military.
These events continue to haunt Chile. Even before the dictatorship yielded to democracy in 1990, victims' relatives began searching the Atacama, where Pinochet had converted an old mine into a notorious prison. The full horror is made palpable when relatives, aided by archeologists, determine that areas of the desert are covered by a layer of finely ground-up human bones. The Atacama is the driest place on earth. The zero percent humidity preserves layers of history, from pre-Columbian mummies to the bones of 19th century explorers to the corpses of political prisoners "disappeared" by the Chilean army during the Pinochet dictatorship, and give it some of the clearest skies on the planet. Today, astronomers come from all over the globe to peer through the world's biggest telescopes to the very edge of time and space, hoping to discover the secrets of the cosmos, while family members search for the secrets of Chile's recent past.
Other synchronicities in the Atacama emerge in the testimony of two former inmates of Pinochet's desert prison. One man learned astronomy from another prisoner and pursues it to this day. Another, an architect, kept his sanity by reconstructing the prison in his mind, later making drawings of it with astounding precision, complete with dramatic depictions of what went on behind those walls. These men, like all the people searching in the desert, seek life and meaning in the light of knowledge.
These commonalities among the seekers are not simply serendipitous to Guzmán. They speak to what he sees as the central question binding all those looking for something at Atacama, the same question that binds the scientific to the non-scientific world: What is the meaning of life?
Guzmán's own answer is a tour-de-force film that explores the depths of his emotions and history of Chile, where he plumbs the passions, hopes and despairs of the desert's restless, transient visitors. Melding the skyward gazes of astronomers, the underground digs of archeologists and the searching eyes of relatives of the victims of Pinochet's regime, Nostalgia for the Light
is a gorgeous, deeply moving work of documentary art. Patricio Guzmán (Director, Co-cinematographer)
Patricio Guzmán was born in 1941 in Santiago, Chile. As an adolescent, he was inspired by the documentary films of Chris Marker, Frédéric Rossif and Louis Malle. He studied at the Film Institute at the Catholic University of Chile and at the Official School of Film in Madrid, where he obtained his degree in 1970. Guzmán returned to Chile in 1971 and directed his first documentary, The First Year, which covered the first 12 months of Salvador Allende's government. Chris Marker, who was passing through Chile at the time, saw the film and assisted in having it screened in France. Two years later, Marker again provided invaluable assistance when he donated the raw stock needed to begin filming The Battle of Chile, Guzmán's four-hour documentary trilogy chronicling Allende's final year. Filming lasted until the very day of the coup d'état on Sept. 11, 1973, when Guzmán and thousands of others were imprisoned in Chile's National Stadium.
After gaining his freedom, Guzmán left for Europe. The Battle of Chile (1975-1979) won six grand prizes in Europe and Latin America and was shown in theaters in 35 countries. Guzmán currently chairs FIDOCS, the international documentary film festival in Santiago, Chile, that he founded in 1997. He lives in Paris with Renate Sachse, who collaborates on the scripts for his films and produced Nostalgia for the Light. His two daughters, Andrea and Camila, are also filmmakers and frequently collaborate on his projects.
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