As all countries in Latin America, Chile is exceptionally diverse. Over centuries, waves of Spanish, German, Palestinian, British, and Croatian immigrants created a multi-ethnic European melting pot out of the narrow western strip of South America’s southern cone. But we all know that well before the first European conquerers set foot in the territory, the region of south-central Chile was dominated by the proud Mapuche people. Proud because they resisted centuries of Incan domination, then became master horseman and resisted the Spanish, then held out after Chile declared independence and even enjoyed the status of an independent kingdom for a few years.
So naturally Chileans are fiercely proud of the independent warrior tradition of their Mapuche forebears, right? Actually, nah. Somewhere around the mid-nineteenth century the Chilean government decided it would just be easiest to wipe out half the Mapuche population and take their land once and for all, and suffice it to say that a general bias against all things Mapuche persists to this day.
A few years back, we shared a track by Chilean guerrera-rapera Ana Tijoux made especially for the feature documentary titled Genoveva. Entitled “Canelo Sagrado” the song parallels director Paola Castillo’s search for her own roots, following the rumor of a Mapuche great-grandmother. Along the way she runs into indifference from her own family and deeply-ingrained prejudice from Chilean society as a whole.
Genoveva joins a rapidly expanding genre of family-investigation documentaries perhaps best exemplified by Natalia Almada’s 2009 Sundance award-winning El General. In the same vein, Genoveva is structured around an archive of family photos and videos that suggest a mysterious provenance for a not-so-distant ancestor named Genoveva. Castillo’s search for answers is further mixed with interviews with living family members, and a photo session in which a Mapuche-descended model tries to recreate the poses of Castillo’s faded family photos.
Like Almada’s own masterpiece, Genoveva is more than an inward looking personal doc, but rather an intelligently assembled film that uses the personal to speak to greater social issues. After picking up important awards at Chile’s Santiago International Film Festival and Antofodoc, Genoveva had a theatrical run in Chilean cinemas and is now available to stream online.