To the world Chile is known as a nation of poets: from Nicanor Parra and Pablo Neruda, to songwriters like Victor Jara and Violeta Parra, to that guy on the street wearing a Colo-Colo jersey and unintelligibly yelling, “cachai la wea weon?” But of late, thanks to figures of international renown like Pablo Larraín, Sebastián Lelio and Jennifer Lopez, it has also become a nation of cinema. Yes, I said Jennifer Lopez, and yes, I know she’s not Chilean, but let me make my point.
A recent report released by the Fundación Imagen de Chile has compiled an analysis of 20,152 articles from 147 different publications across 25 countries to see what exactly people are talking about when they talk about Chile. First place? Politics (probably doesn’t hurt that their version of Che Guevara looks like Camila Vallejos). Second Place? Soccer (hence the guy in the Colo-Colo jersey). And in third place — drumroll please — culture! Of course, the traditional cultural powerhouses mentioned above, along with recently sanctified figures like Roberto Bolaño, generally dominated the culture-oriented headlines, but film made an impressive showing with 26% of all cultural news items relating to Chile.
According to the study, the upcoming survival drama Los 33, directed by Mexican Patricia Riggen (La misma luna) and starring Antonio Banderas along with 32 other non-Chileans, is ironically the film that most captured international attention. The tense saga of the trapped Chilean miners was originally set to star none other than Jenny From The Block, whose attachment to the film was a boon for international entertainment media until conflicts with American Idol forced her to drop out of the project (now you get it?) She has since been replaced by French actress, Juliette Binoche, which is somehow even more confusing.
Close behind Los 33 are the usual suspects: Pablo Larraín for his Oscar-nominated feature No; Sebastián Lelio for Gloria, which won actress Paulina Garcia a Silver Bear award at Berlin; and the New York-based Sebastián Silva for somehow making 300 films a year. Mixed in with the big shot directors was Director of Photography Claudio Miranda who picked up an Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work on Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.
So why does all this matter? The answer may lie in Chile’s cinematic past, when a diverse group group of Latin American filmmakers came together at the 1968 Viña del Mar Film Festival to create a movement called New Latin American Cinema. Their vision of a culturally decolonized continent was summed up succinctly in the words of Cuban filmmaker Julio García Espinosa: “A country without an image is a country that doesn’t exist.” Today, nearly 50 years on, Chileans and J. Lo alike can take pride in the fact that their nation, in all its idiosyncrasy, has captured the imagination of the world.