5 Questions With Set Decorator Turned Documentary Director Macarena Aguilo

Macarena Aguiló is a Chilean documentary filmmaker who made waves back in 2011 with her debut feature, El edificio de los chilenos. After working for many years as an Art Director in Chile, Aguiló eventually decided it was time to share her own story with the world and the powerful result was featured in film festivals the world over. The multi-award-winning doc explored the highly personal story of 60 Chilean youths who were left to live in a communal house under the auspices of the Cuban government while their parents fought a clandestine battle against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

As she prepares to begin shooting her second documentary, Aguiló took the time to talk to Remezcla about learning on the job and the future of Chilean film.

When did you decide to pursue filmmaking?

When I was 19, I decided to study something that would eventually lead me to work in film. Back in those days there still wasn’t a film school in Chile, since they had all been closed during the dictatorship, and it took a few years after the return of democracy to reopen the major ones. When I graduated from the department of Audiovisual Communication I worked for a number of years in different areas (commercials, film, TV series) without wanting to direct, but rather to learn. I didn’t have a clear idea of what profession I wanted to pursue, but I wanted to see how everything worked. I was an Assistant Camera, Assistant Director and spent several years working in the art department, first as a Set Decorator and then as an Art Director, until my desire to tell the story in my first documentary became stronger and I looked for a way to tell it.

Why have you tended toward documentary rather than fiction?

“Chilean cinema still doesn’t have the necessary recognition to ensure those who dedicate themselves to this work can do it in a continuous and sustained way.”

I don’t prefer it, I had worked previously in narrative films. But I think that what I want to say is better suited to documentary. It has been natural for me to think about the stories that motivate me from the perspective of documentary. I am challenged by the materiality of the real, the uncertainty you have to deal with when it’s time to go and get what you’re looking for, and the process in itself, which in general is much longer both in shooting and editing. I like this aspect in particular, because I’m not very quick to make decisions and I need time, distance to to see how to articulate something. But I speak from the only experience I’ve had as a director with El edificio de los chilenos, and now I’m beginning production on my second film.

What is the situation like for filmmakers in your country?

Chilean cinema still doesn’t have the necessary recognition to ensure that those who dedicate themselves to this work can do it in a continuous and sustained way. In the last few years, film production has grown in large part thanks to government support, but until now there have been a lot of debut films, a lot of directors who come out of film schools and communications departments. There’s recognition on an international level of a few directors who with great effort have managed to produce several features, but with a few exceptions, these directors don’t really reach the Chilean public. It’s an audience that has spent years seeing commercial cinema from the United States.

Recently they have implemented programs to support diffusion, distribution and the creation of audiences, which are still insufficient. The big issue of the moment is getting children and young people to start seeing a different type of film, not just Chilean film, but films from Latin America and the rest of the world. It’s the only way to guarantee that in the future, hopefully the near future, they will be consumers of films that are made in Chile. This will allow us to make our productions economically solvent. There is a huge disconnect between the concept of a “film industry”, the exhibitors (the large multiplexes that have co-opted the mass audience over the last few years), with the economic reality of the films that are made in Chile. This tells us that our films don’t necessarily have to be on such a large scale, but we have to look for a way for these films to reach an audience. To this end they are exploring new methods: more independent theaters, traveling showcases throughout Chile, etc.

Which film has most inspired you and why?

“… we have to look for a way for these [Chilean] films to reach an audience.”

I can’t speak of just one. What inspires me to dedicate myself to film is the construction of meaning through a number of films that have affected me for different reasons. And within those there are diverse works. I can speak about films by directors like Wenders, Antonioni, Panahi, Kiarostami, Pedro Costa, Namoi Kawasi, Ignacio Agüero, Rithy Pann, among many others that have left an impression on me.

What’s one film you’ve always wanted to make but haven’t been able to?

The film that I had previously “always wanted to make,” was El edificio de los chilenos. It was a film that had followed me unconsciously since I first began studying and it’s part of my history and what I felt I could give the world from my personal experience. As I said, I do things rather slowly, so it wasn’t till after I finished that film that I could take on another project, which I will be filming this year. Luckily until now, I have been able to adjust my dreams to reality.