Nostalgia for the dictatorship

Nostalgia for the Light

Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman has sent a letter to his country’s education ministry denouncing an incident in which a screening for students of his award-winning documentary, Nostalgia for the Light, was interrupted by the school’s director. The film, shot in Chile’s Atacama Desert, links the work of astronomers researching the origins of the universe with efforts by relatives of the disappeared to locate remains of their loved ones. One reviewer described it as “remarkably lyrical, strikingly beautiful documentary reflecting on memory, mortality and the inexorable passing of time.”

Nostalgia for the Light was awarded best documentary by the European Film Academy and the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010, among other international film prizes. Here’s a trailer for the film:

And here’s a translation of Guzman’s letter:

Sra. Carolina Schmidt Zaldivar

Minister of Education

París, October 6, 2010.

Dear Madam Minister,

On September 28 a history teacher at the Farmland School in central Chile (Curacavi), Daniela Moraga, Zavala, mother of two children and gradúate of the :Metropolitan University Education Sciences department, showed her students my award-winning film, “Nostalgia for the Light.”

She selected this work in particular because it seemed a “sensitive and altruistic” way of discussing the issue of the detained and disappeared, a subject which, according to the teacher, “is approved by current [Chilean education ministry] plans and programs.”

During the screening the school’s director violently burst into the room, turned on the lights and put an end to the showing, telling the students (who were astonished) in a very aggressive way that “her school” did not permit videos alluding to the time of the dictatorship because these “are things that cannot be dealt with in schools.”  She added that it was “political material of politicizing effects for third-year high school students.”

The director convened the Council of Teachers where she repeated the same accusations before the teacher, threatening her with dismissal without severance pay.

Fortunately the young teacher Daniela Moraga Zavala is a well-informed person who possesses a serene personality. She is a professional with experience who knew how to defend herself calmly until she had refuted the arguments of the director, who is also the establishment’s proprietor.

Madam minister, I will take it upon myself to divulge in detail this regrettable incident in the cities I will visit in the coming weeks during the showing of this same film: Berlin, Hamburg, Lyon, Rennes, Lisbon and Grenoble. And I will repeat this example during all public appearances in the future because it is a symptom of the Chilean situation.

For your information, “Nostalgia for the Light” has received 32 prizes and distinctions around the world (I attach a list at the end) and it is not a work that spreads anger but on the contrary, puts the everyday fascism which still reigns in many corners of Chile in its proper place, to the shame of everyone.

Distinguished madam minister, I cannot stop writing this simple letter because it is not possible to remain indifferent in the face of offenses received by a decent teacher like Mrs. Daniela Moraga Zavala, who is part of the ministry which you direct.

With my respectful greetings,

Patricio Guzman

Chilean filmmaker

Hollywood Academy member

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