Revisiting the bad old days of Augusto Pinochet
by Martin Hafer
I have never heard of Victor Jara before I saw this film and had little in the way of expectations about the documentary. This makes sense, as Jara and his murder in Chile happened long ago…when I was just a small child. Because most readers are even younger than me, I think it would help if I try to explain the context a bit. Chile became the first country in South America to embrace socialism back in 1970 when Salvador Allende was elected president. Over the next several years, his administration moved closer to communism–so close that there was a strong reaction against it. A combined effort of the Chilean military and the CIA soon toppled this democratically elected government and replaced it with a brutal dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet. During this time, many thousands of Chilean leftists were killed or simply disappeared. It’s not one of the prouder moments for American foreign policy nor for the Chileans.
As to Victor Jara, he fits into all this because he was a very famous folk singer and dramatist from Chile and his work was strongly infused with messages of social justice and social upheaval. His work helped lead to the election of Allende and was also instrumental as a voice of change during the dictatorship…even though Jara himself was one of the first casualties of the military junta back in 1973. The film both follows his life as well as his impact on Chile in the decades following his death and it’s told using a lot of vintage footage as well as interviews with his friends, family and a few others.
How much you like this film and even whether or not you’re willing to watch it in the first place is most likely related to your own politics. While the c-word (‘communist’) is clearly avoided during the documentary, by most standards Jara and his friends were communists. However, regardless of his politics, his murder was an act of evil…and the film ends with a strong push for justice for Jara, as the man directly responsible for his murder is currently living in the United States. The documentary is very well constructed and makes for a compelling story. During a question and answer session at the film festival where I saw this film, director John Travers admitted that the film could use some editing and that this will likely occur before it is released nationwide. I do agree…the message could have been stronger with a little judicious editing but the film still makes a strong statement about Jara, injustice and his legacy.