On site: Filmmakers pause on set during the making of the documentary 'Archaeology of Memory: Villa Grimaldi,' now playing Mill Valley Film Festival. (Photo by Guillermo Prado, courtesy MVFF)

MVFF: Mulford and Cruz On Chile's Dark Past

Michael Fox October 8, 2008

Claudio Cruz was a teenager in Chile and a rising musician when the military deposed Salvador Allende in 1973. Shortly after Augusto Pinochet moved into the top job, Claudio was arrested, tortured, and bounced for the next year from one detention camp to another. He was then deported, rather than disappeared, eventually migrating to Northern California and adopting a new name, Quique, and creating a new life. But his scars never fully healed. The end of the dictatorship, and Pinochet’s arrest, inspired Cruz to embark on the ambitious Archaeology of Memory: Villa Grimaldi, consisting of a musical suite, a book and a documentary. Veteran Bay Area filmmaker Marilyn Mulford (Chicano Park, Freedom on my Mind) collaborated with Cruz on the documentary, which has its U.S. premiere in the Mill Valley Film Festival in a pair of shows (one passed already, but one is upcoming, on Sunday, Oct. 12). Pensive, humanistic, and ultimately inspiring, Archaeology of Memory uses Cruz’s quietly insistent acoustic songs, typically performed by an ensemble, as its heartbeat.

SF360: I understand that Quique was not going to be in the film originally, but reluctantly realized that his story—and not just his music—was crucial to the structure. What was it like working with him?

Marilyn Mulford: When I knew Quique at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley years ago, he talked a lot about what was happening in Chile—he was and is very political—but never talked about himself. He was very secretive. Over the years we worked together, more and more of his personal story emerged….in pieces. The first interview we did, he was getting ready to have an operation on his face and he was terrified it would end his flute-playing career. That was an incredibly emotional time for him and it shows in the interview. The next interview was at the Villa Grimaldi Park — site of the torture center [in Chile]—and obviously that brought back memories. When we came back from Chile after our first shoot, [where] he had interviewed his friends and his mother for the first time, that brought back things for him. When Pinochet was arrested in Europe, we did another interview that brought back other things, and as his musical suite emerged or as he struggled with some of the musical pieces, we did an interview that talked about this. And so it went. I think the long process helped a lot, although it forced poor Quique to submerge himself in this for years.

SF360: Did your familiarity with Chicano culture help with this project?

Mulford: The Chicanos in Barrio Logan [in San Diego] were very oppressed financially, culturally in the mainstream, politically, etc. But they had a very rich cultural life inside their community. I think the [Chilean] exile experience is very different. They’re cut off from their culture and struggle to maintain what they left behind, especially in Quique’s experience where he and others believed Pinochet would be quickly overthrown and they’d return and pick up where they left off. That didn’t happen, and put people’s lives on hold for years, and sometimes the art became an art of resistance and holding on to the past. Then, for many like Quique, it became an art of assimilation. This experience expanded my understanding of the many exiles I had met through the years, especially at La Peña. How they tried to reconstruct the country that they left. How they’d go back and find it all different, and then have to reevaluate where they belonged. In the film, I think you can see some of this in the evolution of Quique’s music, and in his search to find a form to tell his story in the performance piece, and then his fear of taking it back to Chile.

SF360: Before he was exiled, Quique was imprisoned and repeatedly beaten. What insights did you glean about that terrible period in his life?

Mulford: I got a much deeper understanding of what torture does and how its long-term effects work. That surviving the actual experience is just the beginning, and the effects stay with a person, their family and their community always. It’s often something the community doesn’t talk about, so an outsider doesn’t realize this. That’s not to say that Quique lives his life as a victim. Quite the contrary. On the surface he’s an accomplished musician and scholar with lots of friends and a very full life, but he still lives with what happened to him in his dreams, in memories that live just below the surface and with his health. These are the types of things I didn’t understand very deeply when I was getting to know the Chilean exile community years ago.

SF360: As a filmmaker, what trick or technique do you find most useful in bringing memory to life?

Mulford: I don’t think there’s any one formula. In this film, we had a lot to work with. We had the artists’ work, and we manipulated it with their consent, and then we also used the footage—both beautifully shot footage and archival footage—by manipulating it and changing the color and sometimes the speed. And we used music to trigger memories.

SF360: A number of documentaries have addressed this period in Chilean history. What distinguishes
Archaeology of Memory from those works?

Mulford: We’re hoping this film gives another dimension to the Chilean story by bringing people into the experience of being disappeared and tortured and forced into exile by using music and art in a very personal and emotional way. Because we’re not concentrating on the facts but the emotional aspects, the story is very universal. Also, the film shows the power of music and art to tell difficult stories. But we haven’t thought out a distribution plan. I’m imagining human rights groups and exile groups will find something in this story they can connect with. Finally, given where this country has been recently in terms of torture, I think it’s important people understand the long-term consequences of what we’re doing.

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