Chilean photographer and artist Alfredo Jaar is getting the feature documentary treatment. Known for his avid curiosity and his politically motivated work – he’s covered the Rwandan genocide, Chile’s military coup, and the deaths at the U.S.-Mexico border – Jaar is front and center in the film that bears his name. Directed by Paula Rodríguez, this look at the world-renowned artist gives the audience a look into his process and politics. “I wanted to document,” he says in the recently released trailer for Jaar: el lamento de las imágenes, “I wanted to be a witness to this reality.” It’s why he committed himself to shooting and photographing everything he could. He was always eager to embark on projects that forced people to look at the world around them anew. Showing us his photos of Rwanda, taking us to visit his many museum installations around the world, and even featuring a score by his own son, Jaar is a timely art doc on politics in a divided world.
Jaar is best known, perhaps, for his “This is not America” billboard. A simple neon sign bearing those words overlaid on top of a map of the United State, the art piece was mounted in Times Square back in 1987. It was a probing commentary on the decades-long rift between the U.S. and Latin America at large. It’s no surprise he unveiled it again at Piccadilly Circus in London just last year, the slogan having new resonances this time around given the state of American politics and its standing in the world. Never afraid to speak his mind and use his work to ask pointed questions, Jaar is the perfect guide for a documentary that’s half a masterclass on his work and half a manifesto on political art-making. As he puts it in the trailer for Rodríguez’s film, “Culture is our most precious capital. And the spaces of culture are today, the last remaining spaces of freedom.” In these trying times, his message feels more urgent than ever.
Jaar premiered at the Santiago Festival Internacional de Cine.