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Patrick Guzman ,
by Jorge Ruffinelli



JF What is the situation of the documentary in Latin America?

PG At the beginning of the cold war, in the fifties, Latin America knew some of the best documentaries in the world, particularly from England, France, Holland and Canada. The films of Grierson, Ivens, Haantra, Marker, Resnais, the first Cousteau and those of the Canadian school somehow reached the public. They leaked into embassies, movie theaters, universities and some movie theaters. An influential elite knew about the phenomenon and picked up the message: they created production departments in universities and ministries of education (television was not yet strong). Latin America began to wake up to the documentary genre with enthusiasm and produced numerous important works, along with the Cuban documentary. In those years Chile had several important pioneers (Rafael Sánchez, Pedro Chaskel and Sergio Bravo).

In the 70s, 80s and 90s the documentary genre was wiped off the map. All contact with the independent sources of production in Europe, the USA and Canada was lost, replaced by Hollywood and North American soap operas, without any authority doing anything. For this reason, I am passionate about the reconstruction work that needs to start from the base: making contact with the sources of the documentary throughout the world.

Cover of «Patricio Guzmán» (2001) by Jorge Ruffinelli

The Havana Festival could have been a great recovery, but it relegated the documentary to the last step of the track, favoring fiction more than necessary. Furthermore, in Havana, progressive American directors became more important than Latin American directors. That is why today it is more necessary than ever to create documentary festivals in Latin America.

As everyone knows, the documentary is a source of artistic creation. It represents the critical conscience of a society. It represents the historical, ecological, scientific, artistic and political analysis of a society. A country that does not have documentary films is like a family without a photo album.

JR Has the concept of documentary changed in these years?

PG Yes, a certain reflexive gaze was born in these last 10 years, within European documentary cinema and elsewhere. A certain contemplative slowness appeared that did not fill the “empty” spaces with actions, nor with music, nor with functional comments. Thus a doubtful language began to emerge with impressions, with silences, with increasingly intimate voices off. Some sequences of Raymond Depardon and Nicolás Philibert and many others come to mind, who began to mix (not the “fiction with the “documentary”), but their own “I” with the reality they were filming, becoming themselves into characters in his film.

JR In the United States the documentary paradoxically "belongs" more to the Universities than to television...  Do you think there is the same level of protection for young documentary filmmakers in Latin America through Film Schools?

GP It can be. But Latin American film schools are devoted to fiction. Hardly anyone teaches documentary. Now there are more students who are interested in the documentary. But there is also an opportunistic attitude: many young people prefer documentaries because they are “easier” to produce. They ignore that the documentary demands more energy and more ethics.

JR The foundations also appear…

PG This is positive. It allows you to do more things, although with low budgets. The most interesting thing that has happened in Europe is the creation of thematic channels.

JR The European situation is favourable. But in Latin America the television channels belong to the big capitals.

PG In Latin America, the big channels are under the control of conservative people who don't dare take any risks, not only with documentary works. Documentary talents end up taking refuge in the information area of each channel.

JR What could be the fate of the documentary filmmaker in Latin America, if he wants to make a social and political complaint, and is not going to have space on television?

PG Today there are no “militant” documentaries… Yet the new documentaries are still as uncomfortable as the old protest films.

JR Without reaching a "militant" cinema, let's think that in Chile, National Television does not show your film  "The stubborn memory". Cuban television does not show documentaries about “jineteras”. In Argentina, the big channels do not show documentaries about the disappeared or the Malvinas war. There are issues in Latin America that cannot be “talked about”, but there are documentary filmmakers who want to “talk” precisely about those and not other issues.

PG The existence of the documentary depends on many things. In Latin America the elites of thought have little space. Many historians, philosophers and critics of society have no means. Within this panorama, the development of the documentary is hardly feasible, even if its theme is literature, theater, ballet, plastic arts and countless other human occupations. Because those responsible for television will continue to say that they are heavy, "boring", not very dynamic and cannot reach the same audience as fiction... The conservative mentality not only distrusts the "social" theme but also any documentary "point of view" because the documentary universe collides with the commercialism of the big television networks... Almost always, the creators of documentaries show the most sensitive side of life: the confessions of an artist, the reflections of an old man, the life of a school, the life of a a town, the contemplation of nature, etc. These are issues that do not mobilize the dynamic executives who rule television today.

A piano sonata cannot be heard in a large room. Documentary works need a different framework, a space and an intelligent programming formula. You have to create small or medium channels; thematic channels specialized in documentaries.

JR Would the solution be in the new channels that you already talked about?

PG I'm not entirely sure. Four or five appeared in France: Odyséee, Histoire, Planéte, Ushuaia and above all ARTE.  But this does not guarantee anything. Tomorrow these channels may disappear. Officials change or retire. I am inclined to think that the documentary genre is a genre against the current. Although he has perfected his language and has completed the first circle around himself, from the Lumière brothers to today, it remains a form of cultural resistance.

Its guarantee of survival does not lie in good or bad economic times, it does not depend on any recipe for state protection, nor on this or that "different" television channel, but rather it depends on itself. The documentary is a virus, strongly anchored in the brain of a unique type of filmmaker. In this way, there will always be a group of people who will see in reality an inexhaustible source of creation... When one talks with students, from any country, a filmmaker always appears who says "I want to tell the story of a street"... a documentary filmmaker    

«Patricio Guzmán» (2001) by Jorge Ruffinelli, edited by Cátedra, Signo e Imagen collection, Madrid, Spain.

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