Repression of Documentary Filmmakers in Chile

In the last five months there have been several incidents of arrest, detainment, and in one case expulsion of documentary filmakers by Chilean authorities. Each case is unique, but what they all have in common is that all three groups have been filming documentaries about the Mapuches. In the last five months there have been several incidents of arrest, detainment, and in one case expulsion of documentary filmakers by Chilean authorities. Each case is unique, but what they all have in common is that all three groups have been filming documentaries about the Mapuches in the IX region of southern Chile, near the city of Temuco.

First, French filmmakers Cristopher Cyril Harrison (26) and Joffery Paul Rossi (20) arrived to film the day-to-day reality of the Mapuche community. One night they filmed a fire and caribineros saw them and asked them if they started the fire, and if they were part of the ETA in Spain. The police left later as they could not enter the towns property.

A few days later, on March 20, they travelled to the nearby town of Collipulli , when around 10-15 police approached them and asked them for identification and told them this was only identity control. When one of them was found without his papers, they were both taken into custody and detained for more than 10 hours, without council or a translator.

“We didn’t know what was happening or if they were suspects” said Harrison.

They were taken to Angol and spoke with the Fiscal there who told them they were a witness to what happened and so they confiscated their camera and tapes.

“You can not make a declaration or interview without an interpreter this is international law, we were treated like common criminals,” said Harrison.

Later they told them they were in violation of Article 26, No.1 of the foreigner’s law, which was adopted by Pinochet during his dictatorship. The law states, ” A foreigner can not act against the interest of the State.”

A unidentified police officer said to one of the filmmakers, “Chile washes its dirty laundry among (familia) family.”

The Indententia Nora Barriente of Temuco met with the French embassy to help mediate their arrest and possible expulsion. The Indenentia has the power to allow the filmmakers to stay or expel them from the country. They were allowed to stay in the country as long as they signed a notification to respect "strictly the laws of the country.” The representative from the French Embassy told the filmmakers, “we don’t want any trouble, I can’t help you if this goes to trial. We don’t want to get involved.”

A controversial Mapuche leader of the organization Consejo de Todo La Tierras known as Aucan Huilcaman, who invited the filmmakers to the community to film the reality, spoke out to give support to the French filmmakers.

“There are two laws that are left over since the dictaorship of Augusto Pinochet that have not been used in over 10 years , the law of anti-terroist and the law of foreigners . They have not made any modifications to these laws and can be used arbitrarily to any Mapuche or supporters of our community,” said Huilcaman.


Guiseppe Gabriele

Two other filmmakers, Dario Inseffi (19) and Guiseppe Gabriele (28), both from Italy, were also in the region to travel to several indigenous communities in different countries and document their lives and struggles. They were just beginning their journey when they filmed a symbolic event, which was considered illegal, and on May 13 they were subsequently arrested. They were arrested for the same infraction of the law as their French colleagues, as well as public disorder.

“We were treated like the worst terrorist,” Inseffi told the Diario Austral of Temuco.

However in both these cases “what was considered illegal by the authorities doesn’t even constitute a crime. It all depends on how you interrupt the law,” said an unnamed source.

This time the Italians appealed the decision but were not allowed to leave the city of Temuco and had to call the authorizes to let them know where they were at all times. They were stuck in Temuco for two months before the authorities made their final decision.

The Intendentia was emboldened this time with the precendent of the French case, and with what the government saw as an increase of foreigners traveling to the region to support and document the Mapuche struggles. The message the government wants to send out is that in Chile won’t allow foreigners to visit and participate in activism or solidarity to groups like the Mapuche. The government decided to come down hard on these filmmakers to make an example of them. They were expelled from the country for ” public disorder” because since they entered as tourists they violated their tourist visa. And once expelled they are never allowed to return.


Nora Barrientos, the Indentenia of the Temuco IX Region

During a press conference, Nora Barrientos, the Indentenia of the Temuco IX Region said, ” in this case it is different the French filmmakers recorded from a distance where the Italian filmmakers participated. This is a serious situation, because what they filmed is illegal .”

Sevreal attempts to set up an interview with Barrientos through her office went unanswered.

“The other reason was they are not considered accredited journalist or for that matter documentary film makers, they were considered tourists,” said one local journalist. “They are considered ‘Idealists’ or ‘activists’ and they don’t have the same rights or privileges that we have as journalists. They arrive here to film and live among the Mapuche people to see their reality and their day- to-day lives. Which to any foreign person would be a great experience. They arrive with that mentality and without knowing the laws or norms of the country."

The last, and most bizarre case involves Chilean filmmaker Elena Varela. In May, Varela was shooting a documentary called “NEWEN MAPUCHE”, with financing from the state FONDART . The film covers the land conflict between lumber companies and Chile’s Mapuche Indigenous people. She was taken from her home production office in Paguipulli, which is 2.5 hours from Temuco, and flown to Rancagua.


Chilean filmmaker Elena Varela

“I am being arrested for the film I am making about the Mapuches,” said Varela. In this case the filmmaker was arrested along with six others, and taken to a Rancagua jail until trial. They are accused of two bank holdups, one in Lonche, and other in Machali where four people died in that incident.

Her video camera, over three years of filming (250 mini dv tapes), a hard drive and costumes were taken as evidence. Amnesty International believes that the authorities have arrested her in an attempt to halt investigations into this conflict and in an attempt to intimidate her and the Mapuche Indigenous people.

They fear that this information could be used by Chilean security forces to intimidate and harass Mapuche activists and those who contributed their opinions to the research.

“This is the strangest case I have ever worked. As of today, she has not been formally charged with any crime after over 3 months in jail,” said her lawyer Rubern Perez .

If this type of repression is allowed to continue in Chile, it will signal the “death of the Documentary in Chile as we know it, and infringes on other forms of expressions," said Fransico Gedda Professor, a professor of film studies at the University of Chile (speaking at a press conference which local media largely ignored).

Time will tell whether the government’s "iron fist" approach foreign and native (activist) filmmakers working in Chile will decrease, or will rather draw more attention to the problem and cause more conflict.

Link to filmmaker video on You Tube (in Spanish)