For the men and women in The Chilean Building, patriotic duty took an unusual form: childcare rather than warfare. While their parents battled the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, a group of 60 children were raised, first in Europe and then in Cuba, safely and communally. The 20 adults who supervised “Project Home” saw their charges through to adulthood, children whose mothers and fathers—members of the leftist organization Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR)—fought for freedom at home, many never to be seen again. In this documentary, director Macarena Aguiló, herself a product of Project Home, provides an intimate, behind-the-scenes examination of a grand and surprising social and political experiment.
The U.S. Theatrical Premiere of The Chilean Building, is at The Maysles Cinema in NYC from Monday, August 13 through Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. nightly as part of the bi-monthly DocumentaryinBloom film series. Curator Livia Bloom spoke with Aguiló about her childhood and her cinematic construction.
Livia Bloom: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Macarena Aguiló: I arrived at cinema from an unusual path. My passion had always been dance and drawing, but I thought that a career in dance performance or fine arts would be too isolated and personal. I wanted something related to communication and media expression that would require a collective creative process.
I suddenly realized that film had all the elements I liked: movement, composition, and a collective creative process. It was an abstract decision at the time, and I didn’t initially consider directing. Instead, I tried a variety of different roles I enjoyed within the world of cinema: I worked as an assistant cinematographer, assistant director, and I was even the art director for several narrative films. I worked in nearly every position in the art department, continually seeking the integration of the creative elements that mattered to me. When I finally directed The Chilean Building, I realized that that path had provided me with the necessary stubbornness to take charge of the stories I want to tell.
Livia Bloom: What surprises did you encounter while directing The Chilean Building?
Aguiló: There were many! The first was the beautiful and intense re-connection with many of the people who lived in Project Home or who were otherwise connected with this story.
The second was the realization that I had a truly collaborative crew who were willing to go the extra mile for the film. This was a surprise because in my previous experiences on narrative films, the idea of deep human connection and genuine collective work environment that initially attracted me to cinema had been very difficult to find. In many of those experiences, hierarchies and power struggles had replaced collaboration.
Growing up, I experienced Project Home and cooperative living deeply and wholly. When it came time to document that experience by making The Chilean Building, I sought to create a collective, creative space that would mirror my personal experience. It was incredible to discover that this was possible on a film set. Documentaries are done with smaller crews than narrative ones; here, close relationships can grow. This led to the final, biggest surprise of all: finding, among this group, the man who would become my life partner and with whom I had a child before the film was finished.
Livia Bloom: What challenges did you encounter while directing the film?
Aguiló: When I started work on this project, I didn’t have experience producing a film! I wanted to do all kinds of things but lacked reference points for how to accomplish them. It was also challenging to find a balance between my role as the director and the therapeutic and emotional work that the reconstruction of this story necessitated–mostly because I consciously chose not to distance the two. I was reconstructing childhood memories from pure emotion, sentiment, and observation. I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be able to find the empathy I was looking for if I kept a distance from those elements.
From the narrative point of view, the challenge was to tell an unknown story that followed the events all the way to the present. I needed a connective thread, and eventually discovered that that thread was my own story. Having to take charge of that was a difficult process, because I wasn’t only exposing myself but also my parents and the other members of my family.
The editing was a big, slow challenge, a constant balancing act between the different narrative lines that construct the film. I wrote the voiceover narration only once we had found that structure.
Livia Bloom: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you remember Project Home?
Aguiló: The constant play! The sense of belonging to something not related to the material world! And knowing that I was a participant in the construction of something very different: a way of life based on the basic elements of love, friendship and the right to disagree.
Livia Bloom: Are there aspects of Project Home you would like to share with your children?
Aguiló: Project Home was a loving environment where each person had specific roles and responsibilities. A large part of the difficulty children face in growing up to become positive part of society is related to the absence of responsibility during childhood. Children are happier when we believe in them and in their abilities and when they have tasks to achieve. It’s dangerous to be too overprotective. Children’s participation in the creation of and respect for social space are a vital part of their formation.
But at Project Home, we had too much of these elements. Knowing the risks our parents were taking and managing such complicated emotions an early age is similar to the trauma people have experienced during wartime throughout history around the world. Our parents needed us to be aware, to be somehow involved in their efforts to fight Chile’s dictatorship–it was the only way we might be able to support their decision. This violent context is something that I want to protect my children from; I never want them to have to go through that. I am fortunate not to have to put that kind of strain in our relationship. I hope that my children–and other children throughout the world–never have to live with such violence.
Livia Bloom has lectured on documentary film at Cornell University and New York University, contributes to Cinema Scope and Filmmaker Magazine, and is Director of Exhibition and Broadcast of Icarus Films, an all-documentary distributor.