Breaking the Silence : Chilean Documentary Film as a Source of Memory During and After Pinochet's Dictatorship
Kehoe, Jessica M.
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Two key concepts central to the analytical approach of Chilean documentary films, "memory knots" and olvido, shape this study. The first refers to memories marked by humanity, space, and time that have become "so bothersome, insistent, or conflictive" that they interrupt everyday life and refuse to be silenced. Drawing from ideas about mnemonic memory, the same "memory knots" appear in film after film, hinting at people, places, and moments that significantly shaped the dominant collective counter memory in Pinochet's Chile. The second concept, olvido, is the Spanish word for "forgetting" or "amnesia"; although it has a far more nuanced and complex meaning in Spanish. As defined by Latin American historian Steve J. Stern, specifically in the context of a dictatorship, "olvido is closer to a particular kind of oblivion,” the nothingness that originally expresses a certain will to forget, cover up, or leave behind." Although olvido might seem similar to official memory, the two are not interchangeable. Yet, olvido does exist within the official memory and accounts for the holes in what would be an otherwise spotless narrative. This tension between memory and olvido became a defining cultural characteristic of Pinochet's Chile and, subsequently, a vital tool in understanding and analyzing the work of Chilean documentarians since 1973. This rhetoric of memory and olvido that permeated Chilean society and culture provided filmmakers with not only the language to talk about "memory knots," but also the context in which to discuss them. While their use of these "memory knots" may not have been conscious, these sites of humanity, space, and time were, and continue to be, so pervasive in the everyday lives of Chileans that to ignore them would be nearly impossible. The use of certain "memory knots" in documentary films made clandestinely, in exile, and after the return of democracy in 1990, accomplished three things. Firstly, it helped to shape and solidify the collective counter-memory that emerged throughout the dictatorship's seventeen years, and in doing so, highlighted the schism between that memory and the official memory propagated by the regime. Secondly, documentary film's dual-existence as a counter-memory of its creator, as well as a communicator of the counter-memories of others, made it a weapon against the olvido interwoven throughout society and the official memory. And finally, by countering the official version of history through their films, directors negated the veracity of the official memory, denying its claims to be representative of the Chilean population's actual experience under Pinochet.