La Batalla de Chile: Creating the Documentary Epic

Para la versión en español, cliquea aquí

This week I will be focusing on Chile from the fall of Allende to the issues of a post-dictatorship Chile. It’s an incredibly important part of world history so please take more time to read about how something like this happens.


 La Batalla de Chile (1973-1979) is a three-part documentary detailing the events that led to the coup against Salvador Allende’s government on September 11, 1973. The first part details the 1972 elections and interviews the bourgeoisie who are certain they can take out Allende and his party democratically. It ends with the bombing of the government palace in June 1973. Part Two follows the military’s role in the months leading up to the coup. The film ends with a positive perspective on the workers who continued to fight even when they saw that the coup was inevitable.

Between Moderation and Marxism: Chilean Politics between 1958 and 1973

Jorge Alessandri

In the 50s and 60s, Chilean politicians tended to be overly moderate in a bid to please everybody, but in doing so not many people were satisfied. The elite continued to take their businesses and money elsewhere, the middle class cried for stability, and the working class simply could not make ends meet. In 1958, Jorge Alessandri, son of the former president, Arturo Alessandri, was elected and had two objectives: lower inflation and bring back Chilean money. Thanks to the US program, Alliance for Progress, as well as Alessandri’s own programs, Chile saw a rise in school enrollment as well as economic progress. Unfortunately, the 1961 Valdivia earthquake undid a lot of his reforms as he was forced to devalue the national currency, and inflation increased. In 1964, Eduardo Frei was elected president but was dealt a very uncooperative congress.

He sought to give the Chilean government the majority share in their copper mines as well as implement a progressive tax system. Though, Frei still wanted to appease the elite establishment. Miner strikes were quashed violently and when General Viaux briefly revolted by marching tanks through Santiago, Frei relented and gave the military a bigger budget.

The Bombing of La Moneda

By 1970, Chileans were looking for real change and when the socialist and communist parties created an alliance, the frequent political candidate, Salvador Allende, finally won. Immediately, the US tried to block his election and began limiting supplies and aid to Chile. Allende’s first order of business was to expropriate all foreign mining companies. Workers became Allende’s main support base as unemployment reached a historic low and wages went up. Unfortunately, the middle class was not pleased as there were food shortages and black markets popping up everywhere. Near the end of his term, the middle-class truck drivers struck and paralyzed the country. This was followed by another strike in the El Teniente, an extremely powerful mine, which put the final nail in his coffin. By September 11, 1973, Allende was dead and Pinochet was president.

A Lesson in Presenting Ideology

For some filmmakers, documentaries should not contain a specific point of view. It should just detail things as they are and let the audience decide. Patricio Guzman would vehemently disagree with this. His three-part epic not only uses traditional documentary strategies like a pro-Allende voice-over, but traditional narrative film structures to portray his version of events. When interviewing a bourgeois middle-class woman who does not support Allende, the camera pans away from her and does close-ups on her luxurious living room items. On the other hand, when he interviews an Allende supporting miner, the camera pans down to his hands as well as doing close-ups on his face. Guzman emphasizes anti-Allende Chileans as synonymous with consumerism while pro-Allende Chileans are seen as tried and true workers connected to the earth.

La Batalla de Chile

In the second part of the film, footage of the funeral of Allende’s aid, Arturo Araya, whose death is presumed to be the fault of the military, is shown. Guzman includes shots of military men smiling and making small talk at the funeral but without audio. This forces the audience’s mind to race with the possibilities of what they are saying. Are they gloating about getting away with murder? Are they planning another? This was a calculated effort on Guzman’s part to get the public on the side of Allende and the workers.

Film By & For the Proletariat

La Batalla de Chile

One of the most powerful shots in the film comes at the end of the first part. Leonardo Henrichsen, an Argentinian photojournalist, was reporting on the scene of the June military revolt. The footage is taken from his camera and shows soldiers shooting at civilians until Henrichsen captures the attention of a soldier. The soldier looks at him, points his gun directly at the camera, and shoots. Henrichsen, effectively, shot his own death. This footage allows us to identify with the struggle in a way no other article or slogan could. When the soldier points at Henrichsen, he also points at us, the audience. Guzman emphasizes that this struggle for freedom in Chile is one fought by ordinary people using whatever means they have like a camera and he puts us right in the middle of the action.

Guzman himself was barely able to get enough film to shoot the movie if it weren’t for a generous donation from director Chris Marker. They attained interviews by lying and saying they worked for Channel 13 news. Guzman and his cinematographer, Jorge Muller, were detained in the National Stadium after the coup with only Guzman making it out alive. Parts Two and Three are dedicated to his memory and the lives of countless others who fought because they had to with whatever they could.

A Final Message of Hope

Even with all this death from men like Muller and Henrichsen, Guzman still manages to leave us with a sense of hope. This probably has something to do with the fact that Guzman finished editing the film while in exile in Cuba. The spirit of revolution infected every part of the documentary and influenced him to put the “Power of the People” section not at the beginning but at the end. This section contains all the ingenuity that the working class in Chile should be known for as well as the confidence they gained through their strikes and manifestations in support of Allende.

La Batalla de Chile

We see the brilliance in these workers’ solidarity through the creation of cordones industriales, which functioned as unions for groups of 30 factories each, or when the rural and urban workers fought together in order to take land. Though, their confidence should not be viewed as ill-advised or misplaced simply because we know that Pinochet wins. Just because the workers are confident, does not mean they are dumb. At a certain point, they understand full well that a coup is coming. This fight is not naive, it is necessary. By inverting the story, Guzman forces the audience to keep fighting even when the people of Chile have been silenced.

One response to “La Batalla de Chile: Creating the Documentary Epic”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: