When documentary director Patricio Guzmán began filming political unrest in the streets of Santiago in 1972, he had no idea he would capture the destruction of his country’s democracy on film. “The major political film of our times,” according to the Village Voice’s 1978 review, The Battle of Chile gives a real-time, on-the-ground account of the events surrounding General Augusto Pinochet’s bloody, US-backed coup.
Fifty years later, the three parts of this rarely-screened masterpiece will premiere on September 8 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in a restored print.
Over the course of nine months, Guzmán captured the escalation of right-wing opposition from the polls to the streets, culminating in socialist President Salvador Allende’s last radio messages to the people of Chile and the military assault on the presidential palace.
“This documentary cross-section view of a collapsing government is surely unprecedented. We actually see the country cracking open,” wrote legendary film critic Pauline Kael in The New Yorker in 1978.
After being held by the military for ten days in the concentration camp that operated inside Santiago’s National Stadium, Guzmán fled Chile into exile. He completed the editing in Havana, Cuba, and premiered the first part at the Cannes Film Festival in 1975; the second premiered there in 1976, and the third in 1978.
In Europe, Guzmán — who currently lives in Paris — continued to make documentaries on the consequences of state terrorism in his native country, often with a very personal approach. His latest films have won awards at top film festivals: his 2010 film Nostalgia for the Light received the Best Documentary award at the European Film Awards, while The Pearl Button premiered in the Berlin Film Festival’s official competition in 2015, where it won a Best Script prize.
The restoration of The Battle of Chile is presented as part of the retrospective series “Dreaming of Utopia: 50 Years of Revolutionary Hope and Memory“, which will take place in three New York City cinemas simultaneously, beginning on September 8 and including nine films by Guzmán, along with special conversations and guest speakers.
The Battle of Chile will have a weeklong run at BAM Rose Cinemas in New York City, followed by the Harvard Film Archive in Boston, the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, and other cities.
Co-presented by Icarus Films and Cinema Tropical, the program also includes Guzmán’s debut film The First Year, which documents the initial 12 months of Allende’s democratically-elected Socialist government. Completed before the coup, the film was released in 1972 in Chile, but most of the prints were lost or destroyed once the military took power. The film will premiere at the Anthology Film Archives.
Guzmán’s latest film My Imaginary Country, which premiered in Cannes last year, focused on the massive demonstrations that erupted in Chile in 2019 and 2020.,The uprising led to a major political and social shift in the country, with the election of left-wing President Gabriel Boric and the ongoing process of creating a new constitution. The current document dates back to Pinochet.