copyright 2016, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 57, fall 2016

Resistance vs. exile: the political rhetoric of Chilean exile cinema in the 1970s

by José Miguel Palacios

On the night of September 4, 1970, the Chilean people went to the streets to celebrate Salvador Allende, who had just become the first Marxist in the country’s history to be democratically elected as president. Allende had to wait until his fourth presidential campaign—his previous attempts were in 1952, 1958, and 1964—to achieve victory, but the workers and peasants, the poor of the nation, had waited much longer for someone like Allende to represent them. An educated doctor, he was not one of them. But they called him compañero presidente because for the first time they had a president and a government that they felt were theirs. Chile quickly captured the attention of artists, intellectuals, and politicians throughout the world since Allende’s government had a different vision. Known as the Vía Chilena, or “Chilean Way,” Allende proposed a “democratic revolution” to achieve socialism: a peaceful process of change within the boundaries of bourgeois, constitutional democracy.

Allende took office with an ambitious program of social transformations that included the nationalization of major industries (controlled until then by U.S. corporations) and the redistribution of land to peasants. The experience found immediate resistance from the country’s reactionary forces—the upper classes, transnational corporations, conservative guilds and professional associations, right-wing media—and from the U.S. government, which funded the military coup that eventually toppled Allende on September 11, 1973. The “Chilean Way” had to deal with internal opposition, too. The platform supporting Allende—the Popular Unity, a coalition of several parties— was the result of two contradictory positions in the Chilean Left. One thought that the adequate path toward socialism had to be developed within existing legal and institutional structures. The other sought to intensify strategies of “popular power,” with the ultimate goal of destroying the constitutional order—thereby making room for the advent of true socialism (Casals 11).

The political fragmentation of the Left at the time found its equivalent in the variety of cinematic responses to the social process experienced under the Popular Unity government. Soon before Allende’s election, in 1970, filmmakers wrote a manifesto calling for a revolutionary cinema committed “to the task of our time: the construction of socialism” (Littin 1976: 83). The films produced during the three years of the Popular Unity were heterogeneous in their range of aesthetic and narrative choices. They were mostly produced by artists and production companies outside of Chile Films[1] [open endnotes in new window] —the state-owned film production company–and they were often critical of the historical process the country was experiencing. This cinema, far from being monolithic, reveals the political complexity of the Allende years.[2] Since most filmmakers were militants either of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, or the MIR (Movement of Revolutionary Left), internal partisan debates inevitably permeated their cinematic practice. And so the Popular Unity government saw no homogeneous or unified film program for imagining, capturing, allegorizing, or thinking with and through the social changes that were taking place in Allende’s Chile. The discussions grew more acute in the wake of the Coup, insofar as the radicalization of the social and political landscape called for a radicalized or revolutionary cinema. The question of what made cinema “revolutionary” or “political” was up for debate, however, what united Chilean filmmakers was their desire to intervene in the political sphere.

For the military, this made them part of the “Marxist cancer” that had to be eliminated. The Junta, led by Augusto Pinochet, carried out an “internal enemy” doctrine, based on total annihilation of political dissent. The government imprisoned, tortured, executed, “disappeared,” and forced into exile thousands of Allende’s supporters and leftist militants, including filmmakers. Facing real danger, directors looked for asylum as a way to leave the country and resume their lives in exile.

The large corpus of Chilean exile films produced in countries such as Canada, Cuba, Finland, France, East and West Germany, Mexico, Mozambique, Spain, Sweden, and Venezuela, among others, was possible to a large degree by cinematic networks and practices of solidarity, which enabled Chilean filmmakers to continue making films in exile. In their host countries, Chilean exile filmmakers encountered the solidarity of peers and of strangers. It was a solidarity that had naturally emerged as expression of support to a people going through a unique revolutionary process, but that had been multiplied and transformed after 1973 into a huge worldwide solidarity movement, now in support of a people resisting a military dictatorship. This support was visible in economic boycotts, in street protests, in hunger strikes, and in the creation of “Chile Committees.” [4] For exiles, and for exile filmmakers, solidarity became a way of being in the world, providing them with a new range of actions with which to act in the political sphere.

Scholarly accounts of Chilean exile cinema posit the end of the 1970s as a moment of crisis and transformation. Near the end of the decade, most studies claim, Chilean exile cinema moves away from a militant phase and turns to a much more diverse aesthetic and thematic body of films.[5] This narrative needs to be complicated. Most of the early works produced in exile, especially short films, can indeed be labeled “militant.” Overtly political, they celebrated the Allende years and denounced the crimes of the dictatorship that took over. But even if the number decreased later in the decade, Chilean directors never ceased making these films. As Zuzana Pick noted:

“while new thematic concerns and aesthetic strategies characterize the individual filmmakers’ efforts, their deeply-rooted commitment to a national and continental history determines how they approach the film medium itself” (1987: n.p.).

Two things are true: by 1975 there were already unorthodox films in their approach to exile and even films that had little to do with Chilean politics, and by the end of the 1980s there were still “militant” films, perhaps with more sophisticated political and aesthetic goals as the dictatorship endured. [6] The evolutionary narrative in which a “cinema of resistance” gives way to a “cinema of exile” does not hold. The teleology behind these accounts is misleading; nonetheless, it is undeniable that the end of the 1970s sees a change in Chilean exile cinema, both in the nature of a large amount of films and in the directors’ discourse about their exilic practice. The public debates they had in 1979 transpire a feeling of exhaustion and crisis, even if directors avoided recognizing it explicitly as such. What kind of signs can explain this exhaustion?

Exile as a historical and cultural situation—and by 1979 directors had already lived six years under it, a lapse in which they had made around seventy films—demanded new questions, forcing filmmakers to redefine both the “political” and “cinema” as they knew it. What kind of films to make? How to situate oneself as an exile filmmaker in the public sphere? Who to address in their work? How to reconcile two simultaneous and sometimes contradictory desires: the need to hang onto the cultural signs of the homeland while incorporating elements of the local culture of which they were now part?

Obviously, there could not be an homogenous response to these questions, since Chilean filmmakers were working in very different conditions: some made films for State studios in socialist countries, like DEFA in the GDR and Mosfilm in the Soviet Union; some benefited from small programs of multicultural aid or from the support of larger national film institutes, like the NFB in Canada; some developed international coproductions at a continental and Iberoamerican scale, like Miguel Littin; some made their first works while at film school, like Luis Vera in Romania; and some worked independently or formed their own production companies. The ways in which these films were exhibited and how they circulated differed, too. And so did the stories, formats, genres, characters, and topics with which filmmakers worked. But there was still some common ground. Most directors, explicitly or more loosely, thought of their work in relation to Chile and its history, its culture, and its present under a criminal and authoritarian regime. And most conceived of their films as some sort of “intervention” in the political arena. If this was the case, what changed near the end of the 1970s? Why signaling the closure of the decade as a moment of crisis?

In order to answer these questions, I move away from the films as objects of study and center my attention on Chilean filmmakers’ rhetoric. In her historical overview of Chilean exile cinema, Pick claimed:

“for Chilean filmmakers to accept each others’ aesthetic and thematic hetereogeneity, they have had to pass through a stage of bitter polemics, declarations about the need to preserve purely Chilean themes, and accusations of political opportunism” (1987: n.p.).

This essay analyzes the rhetoric behind some of those polemics and declarations. I argue that the decade did not see the passage from one phase of Chilean exile cinema to another. Instead, what happened during the 1970s was a struggle between different ways to conceive of the political nature of cinema, especially under the new historical condition that exile supposed. For Chilean exile directors, this debate took place in various gatherings and film festivals, which offered spaces of interaction where filmmakers could overcome their geographic dispersion and isolation. This essay will chart a festival road map that travels from Caracas, Venezuela (1974) to Pesaro, Italy (1974), and then to Moscow, the Soviet Union (1979). I contend that in these events Chilean filmmakers enacted a rhetoric that plays out as an ideological opposition between resistance and exile.

A film festival road map

Chilean exile directors encountered practices and discourses of solidarity in numerous film festivals and meetings. Although this road map begins with the Caracas meeting in September 1974, two precedents must be noted. The Oberhausen Film Festival (April 22 – 27, 1974) had a special program titled “Solidarity with Chile,” in which they screened eleven films about the nation’s recent events, including

As Mónica Villarroel and Isabel Mardones noted, during the festival, a group of Chilean filmmakers signing under the name of Chilenischer Widerstand — Kinofront (Chilean Resistance—Cinema Front) issued a manifesto in which they denounced the incarceration and torture of Chilean actors and other members of the film world. They also made an explicit call for solidarity:

“In the name of all of us who are part of this front, we thank you for the solidarity you have shown us. We also thank you in the name of those who use cinema as an arm of liberation and in service of the revolution. Chile does not give up! Venceremos!”

This statement is similar to the “Declaración de Estocolmo” dated February 1st, 1974, which defined cinema as an arm of liberation:

“We understood it like that under the Popular Unity. Today, we put cinema in the service of the Chilean people in its struggle against fascism” (Villarroel and Mardones 87-88).[7]

The mention of these precedents shows that Caracas, Pesaro, and Moscow were not the only events that demonstrated solidarity with the Chilean cause. But I am highlighting them because they evidence a double continuity. First, the debates over the meanings of resistance and exile that took place in Caracas were developed and reformulated in new ways in Pesaro and later in Moscow. It should also be noted that this ongoing conversation that Chilean exile filmmakers engaged in was prompted by the festival screenings they were attending, and therefore shaped to a certain degree by the curatorial decisions of programmers. The programming in these events was overtly political. Moscow and Pesaro, in addition to other festivals like Leipzig in East Germany, played an important role in the geopolitical map of cinema during the Cold War. Moscow was the major festival of the Soviet bloc and Pesaro, with its annual retrospectives, had become a relevant site in the cinematic relations between Italy and Latin America (Mestman 2012: 171). Pesaro’s 1974 version, for example, had a special program of Chilean cinema under Allende, showcasing the feature films of Littin and Ruiz. The following version focused on the first films made by Chileans in exile, therefore establishing, as Julianne Burton suggested in her review for Jump Cut,

“a continuing emphasis on Chilean cinema and an opportunity to seriously consider the options and prospects of an exiled film movement” (1975a: n.p.).

The beginning of this festival road map also shows a sense of continuity with the past. Caracas crystallized an accumulation of recent similar experiences—meetings where radical filmmakers from the Third World discussed the challenges of film production and distribution in tandem with their national struggles of liberation and decolonization. In this sense, Caracas, as an event of solidarity with Chile, is unthinkable without previous tri-continental and continental gatherings of filmmakers.

Caracas (1974)

In September 1974, more than forty Latin American filmmakers gathered in Caracas, Venezuela, for the Encuentro de Cineastas Latinoamericanos en Solidaridad con el Pueblo y los Cineastas de Chile (Encounter of Latin American Filmmakers in Solidarity with the People and Filmmakers from Chile). [8] I want to note three aspects of this meeting. First, it reaffirmed a particular genealogy of the New Latin American Cinema. Following the events held in Viña del Mar, Chile, in 1967 and 1969, and in Mérida, Venezuela, 1968, Caracas presented itself as the fourth installment in a series of festivals in which Latin American filmmakers defined their practice as a cinema of cultural decolonization and national liberation.

Three tri-continental meetings preceded the event in Caracas: Algiers in December 1973, Buenos Aires in May 1974, and Montreal in June 1974. The introduction to the statement issued by the filmmakers attending Caracas, nevertheless, mentioned these meetings only in passing, downplaying the Third Worldist impetus that guided them (“Declaración” 11). Third Worldism needs to be understood here as a dominant “discourse and ideological orientation” (Shohat and Stam 1994: 248-290; Stam 1999: 291) in the cultural and political imagination of the 1960s and 70s. In his study of the Algiers and Buenos Aires meetings, Mariano Mestman defined Third Worldism as “a utopia which allows the grouping together of newly liberated and decolonizing countries within the same project as others which, though politically independent, were perceived as ‘neocolonized’” (2002: 51). In Caracas, however, the creation of a specifically Latin American Filmmakers Committee—echoing but independent from the Third World Cinema Committee founded in Algiers—thus signaled a move from tri-continentalism to continentalism.

In this shift, the encounter of different peripheries became less important than the affirmation of Latin America as its own center. The recent proliferation of military dictatorships in the Southern Cone had changed the geopolitical landscape. In addition to Chile’s 1973 coup, Brazil had experienced its own coup in 1964 and went through a dictatorship that lasted two decades, until 1985. In 1964 as well, Bolivia saw a succession of coups and short military governments, leading to Hugo Banzer’s dictatorship—a much more repressive regime lasting from 1971 until 1978. Uruguay faced a coup in 1973, a few months before Chile, and went through a twelve-year dictatorship. And two years after the Caracas event, in 1976, a new coup initiated a brutal military dictatorship in Argentina. Each of these authoritarian regimes tortured, murdered, disappeared, and exiled leftist militants and supporters—a fate that was shared by many politically committed directors from all of these countries.

Under this new context, filmmakers claimed that the Latin American Filmmakers Committee opened an organized front of struggle with urgent tasks to accomplish.

“Our responsibility is to demarcate, in every one of our countries, the line separating imperialism and its intermediaries from all those forces struggling for true national liberation” (“Declaración” 13).[9]

In this struggle, the Chilean case—with the contested experience of Chile Films as a state-owned film production company, the right wing’s ideological control of the media, and the imprisonment, torture, and exile suffered by many members of the film world—served as the most recent and painful cautionary tale for Latin American filmmakers.

Second, as the title indicates, the Caracas encounter was an expression of what organizers called “militant solidarity.” The event was planned to coincide with the first anniversary of the coup and with worldwide manifestations to denounce the Junta, with the explicit understanding that “the struggle of the Chilean people is the struggle of all peoples of the world” (“Introducción” 7). “Before filmmakers,” the text stated, “we are militants of the struggles of our peoples” (“Documento” 22).[10] In these different invocations of solidarity the term meant concrete tasks: to devise actions of support for fellow exile filmmakers, to integrate them into their respective host nations and film industries; and to organize public campaigns to get Chilean filmmakers out of prison and out of torture centers.[11]

The discursive strategy at work here involves a deep entanglement of resistance and solidarity. One does not produce, or is the cause of, the other; both are intertwined and need each other. Acts of resistance are possible through solidarity efforts but solidarity is only conceivable if it advances resistance. In this rhetoric both concepts are abstractions, hence the need to flesh them out by listing goals and creating committees. Concepts are translated into bullet points with specific goals in order to move from ideas of resistance and solidarity to concrete practices of resistance and solidarity.

The third relevant aspect of the Caracas encounter is discernible in Miguel Littin’s long essay on Chilean cinema and the government of the Popular Unity. [12] Littin intervened by virtue of his triple status: as an exile in Mexico, as the former director of Chile Films during the first year of Allende’s presidency, and as one of the newly appointed members of the Latin American Filmmakers Committee. In his talk, Littin explained what he saw as the failures of revolutionary cinema under Allende. He claimed that filmmakers could not turn Chile Films into a “centralized organ with real power” (Littin 1974: 32) and therefore had to deal with the limitations of producing a “revolutionary cinema within the apparatus of the bourgeois state” (33). Littin also introduced an idea that was to become dominant for filmmakers and historians. In the wake of the coup, he argued, the process of class struggle was reaching such a level of acuteness, the acceleration of historical events was such, that the cinematic medium as an instrument in direct service of a revolutionary process became obsolete (Littin 1974: 41).[13] (I will return to the implications of this idea for Chilean exile cinema later in this essay.)

Littin concluded his speech with a reflection on the role of artists and intellectuals under the current political situation. He mentioned that Chilean filmmakers had organized themselves in a Front of Resistance, echoing the strategies of popular resistance devised by the masses in Chile. Littin proposed a series of tasks to be undertaken by filmmakers throughout the world, which included organizing screening series devoted to Latin American cinema as a way to raise funds for the Chilean resistance, and working to facilitate conditions so that every Chilean exile director could make the film that “the Chilean resistance demands” (1974: 51).

What did this demand mean? In his words, it meant all films that “have as a priority to forge the image of a people in struggle and with faith in victory” and those “that analyze different periods of the life of the country so as to rightfully comprehend recent events and project the future” (Littin 1974: 50-1).

But Littin’s intervention is marked by an absence: he never says the words “exile cinema.”

Pesaro (1974)

Consider the last paragraph of a statement read by the Chilean delegation present at the 10th Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema de Pesaro, 1974. Instead of a cautious avoidance of the term, exile is formulated in conceptual opposition with the idea of resistance:

“We define our movement as that of a cinema of resistance in opposition to a cinema in exile devoid of real contact with the struggle of our people. We are dedicated to strengthen our ties with the groups that are working towards further developing this struggle, through the tasks defined by the parties and organizations in relation to the spheres of cinema and mass media.The Chilean resistance shall overcome.” (“Déclaration collective”: 42)

Directors Miguel Littin, Raúl Ruiz, Valeria Sarmiento, and actor Nelson Villagra formed the Chilean delegation at Pesaro. A number of elements indicate a continuity with the declaration offered only days earlier in Caracas: the reference to the 1970 manifesto as the document that defined the foundations for the cinema to come; the political analysis of the Popular Unity; the summary of tasks achieved by Chile Films; the call to free imprisoned directors and actors; and the tendency to reduce everything to a question of cultural and ideological struggle. These aspects also suggest that the author of the Pesaro statement was most likely Miguel Littin.

In this idea of “making the films that the Chilean resistance demands” and in its opposition to exile, resistance comes to name an overarching category of films very different in nature. They are grouped by the fact that they can all be regarded as instruments of cultural and political struggle. But privileging this sense of unity had costs. It inevitably excluded a whole range of exile films and, at the same time, it homogenized the diversity of films that self-identified as from the left. Resistance thus produced Chilean cinema’s own “others,” which, the Pesaro statement tells us, go by the name of “exile cinema.”

It is reasonable to assume that at least both Ruiz and Sarmiento were not in agreement with the language of this proclamation, especially its last paragraph, which suggests that filmmakers will follow political organizations in any way they deem necessary. Even if Ruiz was a militant of the Socialist Party, he was always against the category of the militant artist—in his words, “always a bad militant and a bad artist.”

Ruiz’s work in Chile offered evidence of his political unorthodoxy from the beginning; however, his caustic critique of the Chilean exile experience in Dialogues of Exiles (1974), which premiered at Pesaro, surprised his fellow filmmakers and was thought to be deeply inappropriate for the political conditions of the times. That is, in 1974—a moment in which the Chilean dictatorship’s rates of imprisonment, torture, murders, and disappearance were at their highest—the priorities of Chilean exile cinema should be anything but internal critique. This was, at least, what the rhetoric of resistance was broadcasting. Only one year after the Coup, the Pesaro statement must be read, then, as a sign of unity—or at least as a sign that unity was an attribute Chilean filmmakers were obliged to exhibit in their relation to the international community.

By no means do I want to create an artificial opposition between Littin and Ruiz. It is relevant to sketch, nonetheless, some of the differences between them. During the Popular Unity government, Littin was seen as the cinematic embodiment of the 1970 manifesto—in short, someone who conceived of cinema as an instrument, a tool in service of something much larger than cinema: revolution. Ruiz, in turn, deviated from all aesthetic norms and mandates. Ironic and mordacious, his early films were direct challenges to Leftist aesthetic imperatives. But even if they were unorthodox, Ruiz still made these films with the desire to engage with, not move away from, the aesthetic debates in the Left. The difference was that Ruiz thought of “resistance” not as the master concept under which to imagine practices of cultural struggle, but as a series of “tactics of rejection of any given order.” Differing from Littin’s acute sense of political responsibility, Ruiz considered his relationship with politics as one of “irresponsibility” and “experimentation” (Christie and Coad 103-114).

Exile placed Littin and Ruiz in different paths, too. This is not the place to examine at length the trajectories each of them faced after the coup, although it is safe to say that if exile enabled Littin to reimagine his affiliation to the Chilean nation by virtue of a strategic continentalism, exile provided Ruiz with the nomadic dream of a portable homeland, the world-citizenship of cosmopolitanism. What matters for the purposes of this essay is that one of them, Littin, responded to exile through the logic of resistance, forging the image of a people in struggle. And the other, Ruiz, responded very critically to what he called “the ideology of exile.”[14] By this he meant the idealization of the past, the fetishization of the nation, and the easy reliance on “popular memory” and folk culture as ways to establish a closer link with the people. These are all elements that can be associated with Littin’s cinema, and elements that Ruiz was highly suspicious of.

This contrast was also noted among critics at the time. In the review of Pesaro that preceded the published version of the Chilean “collective declaration” in Positif, Zuzana Pick articulated this confrontation quite well in her opening paragraph:

“Even if the X Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema de Pesaro, version 1974, opened with La tierra prometida by Miguel Littin (Chile, 1974), it isn’t perhaps until Dialogues of Exiles (1974) by Raúl Ruiz that we can realize the new meaning we should give to the struggles of liberation in Latin America. Because it is not enough for the revolution to pursue its course that survivors pick up the firearms of dead combatants, Raúl Ruiz shot last spring, in Paris, this Dialogue that is so much more than a film about the condition of Chilean exiles in France” (1974: 39).

Pick is making a reference here to the final sequences of Promised Land, in which Littin orchestrates a double “return of the heroes:” Chilean historical figures appear in the battleground to hand over a firearm to José—the peasant protagonist who had just been violently executed after leading a successful, however brief, takeover of a small town in the countryside. Later, José in turn hands over his arm to Chirigua, the younger man who survives him. In a kind of revolutionary passing of the mantle, the scene was meant to suggest that political struggles exist in a continuum and that the Chilean people have history on their side.

Pick’s remark already anticipates, as we shall see, the debate in Moscow in 1979. The central point of her critique was that historical conditions had changed, and therefore, the visual iconography and political rhetoric of yesteryear no longer sufficed. She suggested they must give way to new aesthetic strategies if the cultural struggle of liberation was to have any meaning at all in the future.

Moscow (1979)

“As an ideological concept, I prefer much more the definition of Cinema of Resistance than that of Exile Cinema” (“Orientación”: 120).

Miguel Littin voiced these words in the Soviet Union in 1979. The Moscow International Film Festival had invited a group of Chilean exile filmmakers and writers for a panel entitled “Orientation and Perspectives on Chilean Cinema.” Participants included novelist José Donoso and directors Jaime Barrios, Orlando Lübbert, and Miguel Littin, who came from Madrid, New York, East Berlin, and Mexico City, respectively. A few local figures, exiled in Moscow, joined the panel: director Sebastián Alarcón, cinematographer Cristián Valdés, journalist and former director of the Chile Films newsreel Eduardo Labarca, and novelist José Miguel Varas, who acted as a moderator. In fact, Littin’s words came as a response to Varas, who began by reminding everyone of José Donoso’s call to avoid the radical separation between those in Chile and those in exile—the need to insist that there was only one Chilean Cinema. Littin’s understanding of cinema as a practice of cultural struggle thus enabled him to bypass that odious distinction between inside and outside that exile necessarily signals by its very name.

By deeming the nature of his definition “ideological,” Littin acknowledged that a different ideological analysis of the historical condition known as exile would allow for an equally valid alternative definition of exile cinema. Nevertheless, his opening sentence elicited a back and forth discussion between him and Donoso. Right after the words quoted above, Littin went on to explain why there had never been an exilic cinema as “vigorous” as the Chilean one, for two reasons:

“the huge international solidarity movement and the fact that cinema [in Chile] was born committed to the popular cause” (“Orientación”: 121).

Donoso replied by stating that they cannot be slaves of a single topic:

“We can't keep doing for thirty or forty years of exile the film of the revolution or the film of torture. Our danger is to produce a pedagogic cinema and fail to take this great anger we feel as a starting point to open ourselves to the private life, the bureaucratic life, to the tragedy of exile” (122).

Littin argued back: the cinema that was born with a vocation of revolutionary cinema, with the people as its protagonist, cannot forget what happened in 1973 (123). The tone grew gradually harsher until they both settled the argument in a rather unexpected fashion: they concluded that there was in fact no disagreement since they were both saying the same thing.

But they weren’t.

A conceptual opposition was proposed at the beginning of this conversation. On one side, “resistance” would follow the politically committed tradition of the cinema produced during the Popular Unity and seek to further the idea of Third Cinema as a “guardian of popular memory,” as Teshome Gabriel once claimed.[15] On the other side, “exile cinema” would be a cinema that would eschew that commitment, avoid didacticism and explicit politics, and search for stories in individual rather than collective dramas. On the one hand, on the other.

It was, of course, a forced opposition that obscured a great deal of common ground. All participants in the roundtable ended up agreeing to several points: that the cinema produced in exile had opened up multiple and simultaneous aesthetics and themes, and that sustained political denunciation of the Junta and active support of the popular resistance in Chile were still urgent. At the same time they all recognized that there was an encroaching “exhaustion of material,” in the words of Sebastián Alarcón. Here, Alarcón argued that they needed to move from documentary to fiction and to allegory. He also complained that they were finding great difficulties, especially in capitalist countries, to convince producers to make films about Chilean politics.

But in spite of this general consensus, the words used throughout the discussion carried their heavy weight. “We were a rhetorical generation,” claimed Lübbert near the end, almost as an apology. To this Littin replied:

“I am not afraid of that word or of being didactic. It's just that everything is valid in our struggle against fascism” (“Orientación”: 130).

Political rhetoric produces its own meanings, hierarchies, and myths. Littin’s lexicon placed resistance as a political ideal of Chilean cinema at the same time that it used the term as a proxy for establishing a genealogy—one in which Chilean cinema was born with and out of the revolutionary process. Not only did such a distinction obliterate every film produced before the advent of what was called the “New Chilean Cinema” in the late 1960s, it also made irrelevant the enormous diversity of aesthetic and political projects that could fit under the rubric of a cinema committed “to the popular cause.”

And so we reach a dead end. Littin spoke of the ideology behind opposing an exilic cinema and favoring a cinema of resistance. And Ruiz, as we saw earlier, speaks of an ideology of exile to designate something very close to Littin’s ideology of resistance.

What is at stake in this opposition? Are these simply interchangeable terms? They can’t be simply interchanged because they do not refer to the same thing. In this entangled rhetoric, resistance and exile are both products of the military coup, but they offer two distinct understandings of the same historical situation. Opposed concepts, each designates a set of very different practices and beliefs.

For Chilean exile filmmakers, the rhetoric behind resistance sought to produce a cinematic equivalent of the social practices of political struggle that go by that name. Invoking resistance aimed to accomplish three goals:

An immersion in the drama of exile, on the other hand, was seen as a sign of failure. Here we find the seeds of what was to become another standard narrative: that the history of Chilean exile is also the transit from collectivity to individuality, from a politics expressed in the “we” to one expressed in the “I.” After the political defeat (and the mourning that came in its wake) all that was left was the individual subject. Within this narrative, the idea of the community vanishes in the dispersion of the diaspora. The first-person plural gives way to the first-person singular. Resistance gives way to exile.

The conceptualization of resistance that I have sketched above, however, implies a lag in the political temporality of the exile subject. Resistance is antithetical to exile in that the latter refers to the present conditions that define one's subjectivity. Everything in the rhetoric of resistance moves us from the present to the past. Its focus is on the Popular Unity, not exile. In short, resistance points towards the time when cinema was defined as a revolutionary art. It restores continuity to an aesthetic project and to a political temporality broken by the coup.

Here we need to recall Littin’s argument of historical acceleration. In Allende’s last months in power, the historical experience of the Chilean people was defined by velocity: important events would succeed each other in a matter of hours, not even days. But once in exile, their experience became defined by waiting: nothing happens because the only event that could happen would be the fall of the dictatorship, which would allow the exiles to return. So if the Popular Unity meant historical acceleration, resistance meant historical arrest. This need for detention is evidenced, aesthetically, in Chilean exile cinema’s almost ritualistic gesture of freezing the frames on leftist icons: fists, red flags, Allende’s close up, the presidential palace in flames. The freeze frame produces the sudden appearance of stasis in the continuum of the filmstrip while it also makes evident the breaks and discontinuities of historical time (as well as the radical rupture that the coup signifies). In these films, the freeze frame reminds us that the past extends itself into the present.

Reading the transcript of the Moscow debate, one gets the growing feeling that the participants knew that something had just changed or was changing in front of their eyes, but they could not state exactly what it was. The ready-made phrases proliferating in their language did not account for the depth of their own work or that of their fellow filmmakers. The concepts they were used to reiterate—solidarity, resistance, revolutionary cinema—did not describe the complexity of the historical crux in which they were: exile. That, no less, was the crisis: the ideological concepts Chilean exile filmmakers had clung to no longer sufficed.

The danger implicit in the rhetoric behind resistance was that the political might end up standing for an un-critical proliferation of leftist iconography and anti-imperialist lexicon, and nothing more. That is, political cinema would be reduced to iconic images or, even worse, to a platform from which to read formulaic declarations or statements.[16] Chilean exile filmmakers’ use of “exile cinema” was filtered through a lens of defeat—that was its danger. They failed to realize that a process of self-introspection (a radical questioning of the subjectivity of exiles) could coexist with the logic of political resistance. One did not exclude the other, and certainly, one did not come after the defeat of the other. In the rhetoric behind their critique of the turn to the private and the intimate, Chilean exile filmmakers also failed to realize that a first-person enunciation could be simultaneously singular and plural, individual and collective, subjective and historical.

As an ideological simplification, the rhetoric opposing resistance and exile soon collapses because it did not match the complexity of life under exile. To protect against this, the official rhetoric, paradoxically, joined the two terms together. There was no resistance without an invocation of solidarity and there was no exile without an invocation of resistance, even if Chilean filmmakers situated resistance and exile at opposite ends in their conceptualization of cinema as a political practice.

With this critique I don’t want to suggest that there is no proper exilic discourse in Chilean exile cinema during the 1970s—by which I mean a discourse that reflects simultaneously about the experience of uprootedness and the experience of making cinema in a different culture and under the umbrella of a foreign nation-state. Indeed, the production of such a discourse began soon after the coup. My point is that it was overshadowed by the more grandiloquent notion of resistance.


Chilean exile cinema’s moment of exhaustion at the end of the 1970s expressed itself as a rhetorical impasse, a standstill that took on the form of an opposition between “resistance” and “exile.” As I characterized it, “cinema of resistance” implied a lag in the temporality of the exile insofar as it insisted upon the political language and the militant aesthetics of the past in order to give meaning to the present. “Exile cinema,” in turn, implied a direct confrontation with the historical and cultural conditions defining that present. For the more dogmatic filmmakers, making an exile cinema and being an exile director put forward an unruly focus on the individual. Who was the exile person? What was, after all, being an exile? No wonder some saw it as a kind of failure: with its attention to the everyday dramas of intercultural life, with its concern for the pains and sorrows (and perhaps even for the small joys and benefits, what a heresy!) of uprootedness, exile cinema departed from the major goal of a cinema of resistance. This goal was to render the political community that had been defeated visible. Resistance implied the invocation of this community to make it present, whether to mourn or to celebrate it.

Exile cinema, in turn, was devoted to redirecting the object of mourning through the imaging of its present remains. Since archival footage of the people in the streets, the iconic murals, the revolutionary songs, the slogans in chants, and the political analysis codified by an anachronistic language had all lost their efficacy, such redirection, in order to get to the core of the exile experience, could only mean a turn inwards, a turn towards the exile subject.

The usage of resistance lost some of its prevalence among Chilean exile filmmakers in the latter part of the 1970s and the following decade.[17] But it did not disappear or exhaust itself; it resisted and persisted in important platforms for the circulation and critical reception of Chilean exile cinema. Two examples were the Havana Film Festival in 1979 (where The Battle of Chile won the documentary prize) and the Leipzig Film Festival in 1983 (with the special retrospective “Cinema in the Struggle for the Liberation of the Peoples—Chile”).

In this essay I have focused on programmatic and discursive platforms like film festivals and filmmakers’ meetings, with the understanding that a historical phenomenon like Chilean exile cinema cannot be limited to a study of its films alone. If festivals have been theorized in recent years as nodal points in the networks of transnational film production, one can extend this to argue that they also served as key poles in the exilic “ciné-geography” of Chilean cinema and became tools through which exile filmmakers navigated the fraught geopolitical space of the Cold War.

The meetings in Caracas, Pesaro, and Moscow allow us to follow the trajectory of an ideological exchange. Resistance, solidarity, and exile are not static terms; they move across different films, geopolitical spaces, and times. Following that movement, I want to suggest that discourses associated with these concepts were instrumental in producing the emergence of Chilean exile cinema and also its survival. Far from being exhausted by the end of the 1970s, the idea of resistance persisted not only in the tautological political rhetoric of filmmakers. It found new channels of expression in networks of solidarity where film festivals played a key role.


1. Most of the films realized between 1970-1973, especially documentaries, were produced by or in close cooperation with institutions tied to universities and unions. Cine Experimental de la Universidad de Chile was the most prolific, but there were other hubs, such as the Instituto Fílmico de la Universidad Católica, Departamento de Cine de la Universidad Técnica del Estado, and Departamento de Cine de la Central Única de Trabajadores (CUT, the main union association in the country). For a recent reevaluation of the work of Chile Films during the Popular Unity, see Del Valle Dávila (361-377). [return to text]

2. For an elaboration of this claim, see Palacios 2013 (134) and 2015 (148).

3. For a historical overview of Chilean exile cinema, see Zuzana Pick’s piece in Jump Cut (1987). [link] Pick’s long commitment to researching this exilic phenomenon produced the most relevant essays on the subject until this date. For a more theoretical account of Chilean exile cinema, the reader should go to her article in Framework (1988).

4. Perhaps the strongest expression of solidarity with Chile after the coup manifests itself in the associations and groups formed by local members of the host society together with exile communities. The numerous “friends of Chile” groups, “Chile committees,” and “Anti-Fascist Leagues” that emerged everywhere in the world are the best example.

5. Jacqueline Mouesca claims that after five years of exile a new set of themes begins to emerge and that by 1983 the cycle of Chilean exile cinema was reaching an end (1984: 36; 1988: 147-55). Peter B. Schumann (13-4) and José Agustín Mahieu (241-56) have made similar claims: sometime in the late 1970s, Chilean exile cinema opens up to a variety of themes, less concerned with Chilean politics. More recently, Michael Goddard has argued that the kind of ethnography of exile that Ruiz was practicing by 1974 would characterize a good deal of Chilean exile cinema, “but only at a later moment in time” (32). Zuzana Pick does not make this evolutionary argument. Nonetheless her division of Chilean exile filmmakers into various generations implies that the younger directors show a broader range of thematic and political concerns (Pick 1987: n.p.).

6. Among the early films that did not have a militant approach to exile or Chilean politics, consider Diálogo de exiliados (Raúl Ruiz, France, 1974), Il n’y a pas d’oubli (Jorge Fajardo, Marilú Mallet, and Rodrigo Gonzáles, Canada, 1975), Los transplantados (Percy Matas, France, 1975), and La femme au foyer (Valeria Sarmiento, France, 1975). Among the 1980s films that retained a militant aspiration, we can find Apuntes nicaragüenses (Angelina Vázquez, Finland, 1982), Nicaragua: The Dream of Sandino (Leutén Rojas, Canada), Así golpea la represión (Peter Nestler and Rodrigo Gonçalves, Sweden, 1983), Chile, no incovo tu nombre en vano (Colectivo Cine-Ojo, France/Chile, 1983), Chile: wo der Schmerz beginnt (Orlando Lübbert, West Germany, 1983), and Acta General de Chile (Miguel Littin, Spain, 1986),

7. This was probably the first manifesto published by Chilean filmmakers after the Coup and a collective effort in cooperation in spite of geographic dispersion. The document was signed by Group Stockholm, Group Paris, Group Havana, Group Berlin, Group Madrid, Group New York, Group Canada, and Group Mexico City (Villarroel and Mardones 87-8).

8. See Por un cine latinoamericano (1974) for the procedures of this event. The book, published shortly after the Caracas encounter, includes transcriptions of speeches, statements, and resolutions from the different working groups that met to discuss issues of film legislation, production, distribution, and archiving and preservation. For a recent and more personal recollection of the Caracas encounter, see Trabucco (2014: 385-93).

9. All translations from Spanish and French are mine unless otherwise noted.

10. Here we find an echo of the Chilean manifesto in 1970, which declared: “before filmmakers we are men engaged within the political and social phenomenon of our people” (Littin 1976: 83).

11. While Chile serves as the main example, these tasks are extended to all nations in the Southern Cone under military dictatorships, which by 1974 included Bolivia, Uruguay, and Brazil.

12. Besides the inclusion of Littin’s talk in the book collecting the documents from Caracas, the text is also reprinted in the Mexican magazine Octubre (Littin 1975).

13. Littin would reiterate this idea in his interview with Cahiers du Cinéma (“Entretien:” 61).

14. See Pick 1974: 39.

15. Gabriel himself often used Littin’s films as examples in his essays (1989).

16. In her review of Pesaro 1975, Julianne Burton claims that “the political content of the festival itself, apart from what was manifest or to be construed on an individual basis from the specific films, was generally reduced to the formal reading of declarations” (1975a: n.p.).

17. Another way to think about this issue comes via an exilic institution. Devoted to cataloguing, archiving, and promoting Chilean cinema, Cinemateca Chilena was founded in exile by Pedro Chaskel and Gastón Ancelovici in 1974. I say “Cinemateca Chilena” in order to avoid the confusions arising from its dual name, which went from Cinemateca Chilena de la Resistencia (Chilean Cinémathèque of Resistance) to Cinemateca Chilena en el Exilio (Chilean Cinémahèque in Exile). The reasons, history and timeline for this change are unclear and to some extent contradictory. Discussing it requires a different essay, but what warrants attention is that the shift in the naming of this institution suggests the idea of different phases—“exile” being different from the phase intelligible under the name “resistance.” The assumption, in a similar vein of what was discussed in Moscow in terms of “exhaustion,” is that “resistance” was becoming a less fashionable term especially in non-socialist countries, given that the international solidarity movement with Chile was in decline by the late 1970s.

18. See De Valck and Iordanova.

19. Kodwo Eshun and Ros Gray used the term “ciné-geography” to designate “situated cinecultural practices in an expanded sense.” Conceived as a way to map the exchanges between different movements associated with the “militant image,” the concept of ciné-geography makes thinkable the transnational connections between forms of political organization, modes of production/ distribution/ exhibition, and “discursive platforms” such as gatherings, meetings, and manifestos (Eshun and Gray 1).

Works cited

Burton, Julianne. “The Old and the New: Latin American Cinema at the (last?) Pesaro Festival.” Jump Cut 9 (1975): n.p. Accessed on April 9, 2016.

------. “The Promised Land.” Film Quarterly 29.1 (Autumn 1975): 57-61.

Christie, Ian and Malcolm Coad. “Between Institutions: Interview with Raúl Ruiz.” Afterimage 10 (1981): 103-14.

Cuneo, Bruno. “Mi pequeña historia de O.” Ruiz: entrevistas escogidas—filmografía comentada, ed. Bruno Cuneo. Santiago: UDP, 2013.

“Declaración del encuentro de cineastas latinoamericanos en Caracas.” Por un cine latinoamericano. Encuentro de cineastas latinoamericanos en solidaridad con el pueblo y los cineastas de Chile. Caracas, Septiembre de 1974. Caracas: Rocinante, 1974 (9-13).

“Déclaration collective des cinéastes chiliens à Pesaro.” Positif (Déc. 1974): 40-42.

De Valck, Marijke. Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007.

Del Valle Dávila, Ignacio. Cámaras en trance. El nuevo cine latinoamericano, un proyecto cinematográfico subcontinental. Santiago: Cuarto Propio, 2014.

“Documento de la comisión sobre producción y coproducción.” Por un cine latinoamericano (21-3).

“Entretien avec Miguel Littin.” Cahiers du Cinéma 251-2 (1974): 59-68.

Eshun, Kodwo and Ros Gray. “The Militant Image: A Ciné-Geography.” Third Text 25.1 (2011): 1-12.

Gabriel, Teshome. “Third Cinema as Guardian of Popular Memory: Towards a Third Aesthetics.” Questions of Third Cinema, eds. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen. London: BFI, 1989.

Goddard, Michael. The Cinema of Raúl Ruiz. Impossible Cartographies. New York: Wallflower / Columbia University Press, 2013.

“Introducción.” Por un cine latinoamericano (6-7).

Iordanova, Dina. “The Film Festival as an Industry Node.” Media Industries Journal 1.3 (2015): 7-11.

Littin, Miguel. “Filmmakers and the Popular Government Political Manifesto,” trans. Sylvia Harvey. Chilean Cinema, ed. Michael Chanan. London: BFI, 1976 (83-4).

------. “El cine chileno y la Unidad Popular.” Octubre 2-3 (1975): 15-22.

------. “Fragmentos del informe de la delegación chilena, presentado por Miguel Littin en el encuentro de cineastas latinoamericanos.” Por un cine latinoamericano (31-52).

Mahieu, José Agustín. “Cine chileno en el exilio.” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 482-3 (1990): 241-56.

Mestman, Mariano. “From Italian Neorealism to New Latin American Cinema. Ruptures and Continuities during the 1960s.” Global Neorealism. The Transnational History of a Film Style, eds. Robert Sklar and Saverio Giovacchini. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012 (163-77).

------. “From Algiers to Buenos Aires: The Third World Cinema Committee (1973-74).” New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 1:1 (2002): 40-53.

Mouesca, Plano secuencia de la memoria de Chile: veinticinco años de cine chileno (1960-1985). Madrid: Ediciones del Litoral, 1988.

------. “El cine chileno en el exilio (1973-1983.” Cine Cubano 109 (1984): 34-43.

“Orientación y perspectivas del cine chileno. Mesa redonda realizada en el Festival Internacional de Cine de Moscú 1979. Participantes: Sebastián Alarcón, Jaime Barrios, José Donoso, Eduardo Labarca, Miguel Littin, Orlando Lübbert, Cristián Valdés y José Miguel Varas (moderador).” Araucaria de Chile 11 (1980): 119-36.

Palacios, José Miguel. “Chilean Exile Cinema and its Homecoming Documentaries.” Cinematic Homecomings: Exile and Return in Transnational Cinema, ed. Rebecca Prime. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015 (147-68).

------. “Contradicciones del manifiesto de los cineastas de la Unidad Popular.” Enfoques al cine chileno en dos siglos. Santiago: LOM, 2013 (127-35).

Pick, Zuzana. “Chilean Cinema in Exile (1973-1986). The Notion of Exile: A Field of Investigation and its Conceptual Framework.” Framework 34 (1988): 39-57.

------. “Chilean Cinema: Ten Years of Exile (1973-1983).” Jump Cut 32 (1987): n.p. Accessed on April 9, 2016.

------. “Pesaro à l’heure de la lutte contre le fascisme.” Positif (Déc. 1974): 39-40.

Schumann, Peter B. “Chilean Cinema in Exile.” Framework 10 (1979): 13-4.

Shohat, Ella and Robert Stam. Unthinking Eurocentrism. Multiculturalism and the Media. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Stam, Robert. Film Theory: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

Trabucco, Sergio. Con los ojos abiertos. El nuevo cine chileno y el movimiento del nuevo cine latinoamericano. Santiago: LOM, 2014.

Villarroel, Mónica and Isabel Mardones. Señales contra el olvido. Cine chileno recobrado. Santiago: Cuarto Propio, 2012.