Patricio Guzmán’s The Pearl Button is the captivating follow-up to his acclaimed documentary Nostalgia For The Light. Tracing back over 3000 years with archival images and gorgeous new footage, Guzmán’s film tells a deeply affecting history of Chile’s lost tribes and political prisoners.
Dr Joanna Crow, an expert in Chilean cultural history, nationalism and nation-building (and Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol), provides a fascinating context to The Pearl Button.
Guzmán studied filmmaking in Madrid in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he was in his twenties. He returned to Chile in 1971 during the left-wing revolutionary government of Salvador Allende. This was just two years before the coup d’état of 11 September 1973 and the beginning of a brutal military dictatorship that would remain in power for the next 17 years. As Guzmán, who was imprisoned briefly in September 1973, has said: “I’m a filmmaker who was very marked by the ways of the dictator. It has remained with me. I cannot leave it behind” (see ‘Patricio Guzmán, Chile’s master of documentary…’ posted on www.theguardian.com on 20 July 2012).
The Pearl Button is intensely political, but it is also – like Nostalgia For The Light that came before it – metaphorical and poetic. In Nostalgia For The Light, released in 2010, Guzmán zooms in on northern Chile, on the Atacama Desert, and the enormous telescopes that we find there studying the stars.
The connection in The Pearl Button is water. The Pacific Ocean was a source of life for the indigenous people of Patagonia, people who spent much of their time travelling around the waterways of southern Chile in canoes, people whose food came from the ocean. The Pacific Ocean has also served as a cemetery for many of the political activists (or alleged activists) who were murdered and disappeared during the military dictatorship of 1973 to 1990.
Guzmán has famously said that “un país sin cine documental es como una familia sin album de fotografía” (a country without documentary film is like a family without a photograph album). This documentary film, The Pearl Button, is about Chile – it is about the indigenous peoples of Patagonia; it is about the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet – but it also speaks to broader themes of history and memory that will be of interest to audiences far beyond Chile. How to narrate history? In a linear narrative? With a beginning, middle and end, or in a more complex, circular manner? What source material to draw on to narrate history? How to draw on it? How to incorporate different memories and voices? Which memories and voices?
You might like to think about this as you are watching the film. Whose memories are included? What impact does the photography that is included have on you, for example? What is the relationship between the photographer and the photographed? Who is interviewed? What questions are asked? How does the interviewee tell his or her individual memories and stories?
After the Discover Tuesdays screening of The Pearl Button, join the online conversation with #convocinema and let us know your thoughts about the film, plus access exclusive director Q&As, clips and articles. For the old-school at heart, analogue postcards will also be available in each cinema for your mini film reviews.
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