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    Pinochet's Children

    Dissident descendents

    "Pinochet's Children" revisits four former radicals who helped fight for democracy in Chile, but doesn't tell their story very well.


    "Pinochet's Children" is an inadequate contribution to understanding the important history of the Chilean dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet, though there are a few interesting observations to be taken from it.

    Original title: Volver a Vernos.
    Directed by: Paula Rodriguez.
    Featuring: Alejandro Goic, Enrique "Poli" Paris, Carolina Toha, Y Nibaldo Mosciatti.
    In Spanish with English subtitles.
    Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 2003
  • Overview
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  • The film revisits four political and intellectual leaders of the anti-Pinochet movement of the 1980s — a heroic quartet who risked their lives to fight for freedom and saw others die for the same offenses they were committing. A certain air of melancholy pervades their present-day lives as they look back on their heyday from the perspective of the greatly improved present.

    The main problem with the documentary is that it doesn't tell a story. While the narration glides lightly over the events of the coup of the 1970s, dissent of the 1980s and restoration of democracy in the 1990s, its four protagonists speak only in retrospective generalities.

    In one of the somewhat interesting passages, political radical and self-identified Marxist Alejandro Goic remembers being tortured but tells only a tiny bit about what concretely happened to him in his struggles against Pinochet's military. "I was never able to hate them, which is very strange," he says. "But I figured out why. They will accompany my memories much more than the people I love. The only way was to love them."

    It's a point that obviously grows out of an intense original emotion, but time has transformed his story to an abstraction. It's as if filmmaker Paula Rodriguez asked all of her subjects, "What lesson did you learn from the experience?" without first asking what their experience was. As a result, there's no story.

    Still, what lesson can you learn from watching the film? Well, one observation that occurred to me repeatedly — although it's not a point made by the filmmaker — came from the archival footage that's intercut with the interviews. The very existence of this footage speaks loudly about the power of people with cameras, and in many of these scenes we see more people rushing in with cameras to record event for posterity (a posterity that includes us in the movie theater today).

    Here's why I find that interesting. I was present at a war protest as the U.S. began bombing Iraq in March, and as the police — who were mostly quite professional — occasionally seemed poised to attack somebody, the cry that went up in the front of the crowd was inevitably, "We need a camera up here!" The police backed off immediately when a swarm of lenses were suddenly pointed their way.

    Even as the mainstream American media grows further and further out of touch with street-level reality, the camera remains one of the most potent weapons of truth. This war showed the Internet's power to spread unapproved information, as those pictures were distributed immediately to the world and many Americans looked to foreign news sources in place of embarrassingly unreliable domestic ones.

    Call it an exaggerated comparison, but everything I learn about the Pinochet era in Chile — including from the excellent documentaries by Patricio Guzman — makes me think of the United States over the last ten years. Our government's willingness to destroy democracy and freedom in order to save them is now becoming so overt that it is almost a radical act just to defend American principles. Fortunately, we can take heart from these Chileans' example as well as some of our own.

    JUNE 13, 2003

    Reader comments on Pinochet's Children:

  • The Latin American Documentary   from Randall Gniadecki, Oct 15, 2003
  • A moving experience   from Paul, Jan 25, 2004
  • Horible   from Karen Gushurst, Apr 26, 2005

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