Student Report on the Screening and Discussion of “The Battle of Chile”

By Felipe Silvestri

On Friday, September 15th, the Film Society hosted a screening of Patricio Guzmán’s The Battle of Chile: Part I. The movie selection was motivated by the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Chilean coup d’état orchestrated by the Chilean military in conjunction with the U.S. It inaugurated a bloody 17-year-long dictatorship whose repercussions are still felt today. Although 50 years may seem like a distant past, the contemporaneity of the topic is evident, considering that, as recently as 2020, Chile still operated under the Constitution drafted during the dictatorship. Attendees were briefed on the historical context through a presentation on Latin America during the Cold War, highlighting key events that led up to 1973.

The Film Society believes DKU’s multidisciplinarity extends beyond the classroom and into the extracurricular activities we host. Guzmán’s documentary brings film, history, and political science together seamlessly, while focusing on his subjects’ lives. The screening was an opportunity for students to learn more about a region oftentimes forgotten by our discussions and events. Although South America is geographically distant from China, both regions share a similar history during the Cold War. Located in the periphery, they were heavily influenced by the overbearing influence of the bipolar world order shared by the United States and the Soviet Union. The artistic direction chosen by Guzmán also allowed the spectator to peer into interviewees’ lives, so as to not forget that people were at front and center of the coup d’état. Listening to people’s perspectives on the turvy political climate of the country in the months leading up to the coup added a human component to the documentary.

Many of the viewers were not knowledgeable about the history of Chile during these years, so it proved to be a very informative screening for them. The pre-movie debriefing also helped situate them in the broad events occurring throughout the region during the Cold War. Although we did not have any Chilean participants, our fellow students from Latin American shared their personal views and how the Chilean story unfolded in similar ways to how their countries fared during the same period. Viewers were shocked to see the dirty war waged by the opposition against the Salvador Allende government, may it be through hoarding supplies or blocking the government agenda. Most of the attendees were pleasantly surprised by the jovial manner Guzmán portrayed the everyday people in Chile through the street interviews he conducted in 1973.

The discussion component of the event proved to be crucial to the educational component of the screening. Seeing as the documentary touched on many different subjects, the discussion allowed for viewers to share their opinions and discuss their views on how it relates to their personal and national experiences. The movie’s ending was a focal point for discussion. In a prelude to the actual coup on September 11th, 1973, the military revolted in mid-1973. On the ground, Guzmán and his crew followed the events. As one of the cameramen was recording the soldiers on the streets, he was shot. Immediately after, the screen faded to black, and the lights turned on. The cliffhanger, both for the cameraman and the documentary, surely left a strong impression on spectators, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats, eager to delve deeper into the riveting narrative presented by Patricio Guzmán. Due to it being only part I of the documentary, the cutoff instigated most viewers into asking the Film Society to host screenings for the other two parts.

We would like to use this space to express our gratitude to the Documentary Lab and the Humanities Research Center for sponsoring our event and enabling us to offer an interdisciplinary, multifaceted approach to literature, cinema, politics, and history. We hope to screen the other two parts of the documentary and, perhaps, host a discussion with professors knowledgeable about the topic or the Third Cinema movement, to which Guzmán belonged.