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Chile's Student Uprising: ‘There’s a Story to Be Told’

Chilean student protesting, August 2011. Photo by Francisco Osorio on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Chilean students protesting, 2011. Photo by Francisco Osorio on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

British-Chilean documentary filmmaker Pablo Navarrete is working alongside his father, Roberto Navarrete, on an independent documentary about the Chilean student movement.

They recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, where they share the following summary about their upcoming film:

Chile’s Student Uprising’ tells the story of the student protests taking place in Chile today demanding a free and state-funded education system and radical change in society. The film puts the protests in their historical context of widespread dissatisfaction with the economic model put in place under the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), but that still remains largely in place.

The film’s director Roberto Navarrete travelled to Chile in 2011 and 2012 to speak to student leaders such as Camila Vallejo and Giorgio Jackson, but also to ordinary students, and to understand why their protests are causing such effect in Chile and inspiring others in Chile and beyond.

Roberto Navarrete is no stranger to student activism; he was a politically active university student in Chile in 1973, when Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup which marked the beginning of Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship.

A recent article by Christine Seifert and Amaranta Wright in Latino Life recounts Roberto's story:

“In response to the coup my medical faculty student union began organising groups of volunteers to go to poor shantytowns that were likely to suffer most in the event of a civil war. I volunteered and it was there that I was arrested. They entered the house where we were in the middle of the night and ordered all the students to lie on the floor. They started shooting even though we were completely unarmed. They could have just detained us. But they shot me because they could.

“They took me to the national football stadium, which had been transformed into a mass detention centre immediately after the coup. About 20,000 people went through the stadium, mostly people who sympathised with Allende, but also others with no political connections. We were thrown into the players’ locker rooms. It was very crammed and then in turn we would be taken off for interrogation. I think I got off relatively lightly. I was badly beaten up, but they didn’t use electricity on me as they did on others.

A month later Roberto was taken to a prison. He was released in 1974 and his parents pleaded with him to leave the country, but Roberto wanted to stay and fight. In December 1974, Roberto's wife disappeared and he was forced to go into hiding in the Venezuelan embassy. He was later granted asylum in the UK, but his wife was still detained. Roberto campaigned for her release in the UK, and six months later they were reunited.

“After dedicating most of my life in England to an academic career as a neuroscientist, I have returned to activism together with my children. With my son Pablo we founded Alborada Films, an independent production company focusing on documentaries on Latin America and we are about to release a film about the student movement in Chile today.”

Roberto's son Pablo, born and raised in the UK, has worked on several documentaries on Latin America. He produced the documentary ‘Inside the Revolution: A Journey Into the Heart of Venezuela', released in August 2009 by Alborada Films, and ‘The Colombia Connection', released in November 2012. He has covered Latin America for various media outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the Guardian and the BBC.

I spoke to Pablo about their forthcoming documentary on Chile's student movement and their crowdfunding campaign.

Chilean students protesting, 2011. Photo by Francisco Osorio on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Chilean students protesting, 2011. Photo by Francisco Osorio on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Global Voices (GV): How did you become interested in the student movement in Chile?

Pablo Navarrete (PN): My father accompanied me on the Venezuela trip and the Colombia trip and he had an idea. He used to be a scientist, a neuroscientist, but he retired and he wanted to do something about the transition in Chile. He had been there filming various years and done a lot of interviews, but it was just a very big project and I could see that the student movement was a very interesting topic and it was making the news in Britain and elsewhere, and I felt there was a significant questioning of the neoliberal model in Chile that was permeating significant levels of society.

So I suggested that instead of making this big, dense documentary he just try to make something smaller, and just concentrate on this story and perhaps put it into historical context and try to offer information about what exactly the models are and how there are more than strictly demands around education, but much more profound critiques of Chilean society and the vestiges of the dictatorship.

I’m a firm believer that the content is key, although style is very important; ultimately if you have to choose, it’s content, and there’s content in this film –there’s a story to be told.

GV: A lot of documentaries on the Chilean student movement have been released. What makes yours different?

PN: I think there are a lot of good ones, actually. Hopefully what will make this different is that it emphasizes more the history, the roots, the context of the uprising, the protests and the critique. People talk about the movement but there are lots of different tendencies and debates, even now with regards to supporting [presidential candidate and former president Michelle] Bachelet. So in a way we are trying to show that it’s a movement that is vibrant, but in debate with themselves over different approaches to politics, so it’s not just one movement.

That and also the fact that we emphasize the history and the backdrop and where it comes from.

GV: Tell us more about the crowdfunding campaign.

PN: It has been filmed, it will come out, so we are not saying “donate, and if we can’t get enough we won’t make it”. We are determined to make this film, and the decision was made to make this film. In documentaries sometimes you don’t make it to make money. But the crowdfunding serves two purposes: obviously it allows you to recoup some of the costs of filming and the editing; and two, this conversation arguably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t launched the campaign, so you find that part of building a network that allows you to do things independently is finding out who is interested in a topic. Obviously it’s great to do stuff that’s commissioned for TV, but ultimately I’m not prepared to compromise certain things that I want to make. So I think it’s important to have a plan B, and the crowdfunding helps to bring out an audience, or to build an audience.

Pablo, Roberto and their small team plan to have the film ready for November 2013, just in time for Chile's presidential elections, which, as Pablo points out, could create a new dynamic in the movement as students continue pushing for an overhaul in the country's education system under a new government.

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