Screening and Q&A with Chilean filmmaker Sergio Castilla, in conjunction with the conference "The Other September 11th: Chile, 1973: Memory, Resistance, and Democratization."
The life and art of Sergio Castilla are a dramatic individual condensation of fifty years of Chilean history. The son of immigrants who fled the Spanish Civil War, Castilla inherits his father’s fascination with cinema and starts his career—in part, with the assistance of the Chilean Embassy in France and favored by the government’s interest in creating a national film industry—studying for two years at the prestigious Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques (IDEHC), which was linked to the filmmakers of the French New Wave. Back in Chile, however, he has to earn his living through advertising and teaching on film. His ambitions gradually take form in Mijita, an experimental documentary about women’s life in the “poblaciones” and an homage to Violeta Parra. His artistic and political views, shared by the most active filmmakers of the Allende campaign, are shaped in the “Manifiesto de los Cineastas de la Unidad Popular,” co-written with Miguel Littin shortly after the presidential elections of 1970. But once again, projects and reality do not match, and his first feature, La historia, co-produced by the Swedish Film Institute, is an illustration of the political and financial problems of the Unidad Popular, the military coup of 1973, and the difficulties of adapting to life in exile. Almost all of Castilla’s films since his first feature—with the exception, perhaps, of One Thousand Dollars, The Girl and the Watermelon, and Take the Bridge—bare the mark of the traumatic experience of “el Golpe.” Castilla’s work is a reflection on torture, military vices, homecoming, the changing life in contemporary Chile, and the lasting memory of a real nightmare. At the moment, Castilla is trying to find funds for the post-production of his new film about a dog’s life in Santiago (Perros de la ciudad).
In New York, Castilla has taught film directing at Columbia University and NYU. He has also staged plays, such as his own She First Met Her Parents on the Subway (1990). His films have won several awards and have been shown at the Sundance Film Festival and the “New Directors New Films” at the MOMA. In 2008, the XII International Film Festival of Valparaíso, Chile, honored Castilla with a complete retrospective of his work.
Mijita (Chile, 1970, 18 min.)
Made with almost nothing, the film addresses urgent social problems, but avoids political rhetoric: it is a poem, not a pamphlet. In fact, Mijita needs no commentator like the usual documentary. Most captivating is the combination of images and sound where music of all kinds is omnipresent in a scale reaching from Violeta and Isabel Parra to Iannis Xenakis and Heitor Villa-Lobos. In the last sequence of the film, sight and sound merge into a sort of point-counterpoint: when the images of working women give way to women caring about their beauty, the soundtrack changes from a speech about the necessity of organizing women to Violeta Parra’s marvelous song “Volver a los 17”. In its own language, the film thus invites us to overcome traditional relations in labor and love.
Prisioneros desaparecidos (Cuba, 1979, 100 min.)
In his efforts to denounce the crimes of the Pinochet regime in Chile produced entirely by the Instituto Cubano del Arte y de la Industria Cinematográfica (ICAIC) with some financial support from Sweden. Castilla leaves behind his mood of sound and fury and offers instead an awe-inspiring portrait of humanity: the world of ruthless torturers at the service of dictatorship in the name of defending liberty. Beyond the obvious relation with Chile and the declared purpose of documenting the practice of bloody repression in the Southern Cone of the seventies, Prisioneros desaparecidos sadly continues to be valid when seen against the background of torture as a frequent means of obtaining information or of humiliation and destruction of human beings branded as enemies. Castilla’s seemingly unemotional representation of horror gains a deep dimension of insight in human behavior through the splendid interpretation of the torturer given by the great Chilean actor Nelson Villagra
Cost: Free and open to the public
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Sponsor(s): Latin American Institute, Spanish and Portuguese, Pacific Coast Council on Latin American Studies, Radical History Review, College of Natural and Social Sciences (Cal State LA), College of Liberal Arts and Latin American Studies (Cal State Long Beach), Department of American Studies and Ethnicity (USC), Department of Spanish and Portuguese (UC, Davis), Departments of History and International Studies (UC Irvine), UCLA Dean of Humanities
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