The renowned Chilean director discusses today’s social movements, the COVID-19 pandemic and the relevance of his iconic film The Jackal of Nahueltoro fifty years after its release.
Interview by Isabel Aguilera, Ricardo Diaz-Cuffin and Simon Diaz-Cuffin.
When the filmmaker Miguel Littín left Chile following the military coup in 1973, he was already well-known for his breakout hit, El Chacal de Nahueltoro (The Jackal of Nahueltoro, 1969), the true story of the life and imprisonment of José del Carmen, an itinerant and uneducated worker who murders the family that took him in. Confronting the injustices embedded in Chilean society, Littín’s feature debut critiqued the socio-political conditions that push people to commit these crimes.
On the back of this success, he went on to occupy the role of director of Chile Films, a state-run production company under Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government. During this period, he also shot the documentary Compañero Presidente (Comrade President, 1971), which compiled different interviews with Allende conducted by French philosopher and writer Regis Debray.
As the CIA-backed coup struck Chile in 1973, Littín was finishing his second feature film, La Tierra Prometida (The Promised Land, 1973), which would be completed in Cuba during his exile. Throughout his career as a filmmaker and writer, he has focused on recovering historical memory through culture, reviving an awareness of the past to serve the present. In Actas de Marusia (Letters from Marusia, 1975), his first film in exile and first Oscar nomination, Littín used the massacre of the saltpetre town of Marusia in 1925, when over 500 striking workers and their family members were killed, as an allegory of Chile at the time, with the military repressing any form of collectivised organisation in order to protect foreign economic interests.
During his years in exile, Littín worked between Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba and Spain, expanding beyond Chile’s national landscape towards international contexts. During this period, he also established a relationship with Gabriel García Márquez, adapting his short story La Viuda de Montiel (The Widow of Montiel) in 1979. He also garnered his second Oscar nomination with Alsino y el Condor (Alsino and the Condor, 1982), set during the Nicaraguan Revolution, also in 1979.
In 1985, Littín returned to Chile disguised as a Uruguayan businessman to make Acta General de Chile (General Report on Chile), a four-part documentary series surveying the past-and-present Chilean identity of resistance. This experience subsequently inspired Márquez’s best-seller, Clandestine in Chile (1986), which applied further international pressure on Pinochet’s dictatorship. Littín inaugurated his return to Chile with his film Los Naúfragos (The Shipwrecked, 1994), going on to produce films like Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire, 2000), La Ultima Luna (The Last Moon, 2005) and others. More recently, Littín released Allende in his Labyrinth (2014), which chronicled the president’s final hours in the Moneda palace, and is publishing his latest book Los Murmullos de la Ausencia (The Whispers of Absence, 2020).
Alborada spoke to Miguel Littín about his career, the recent protests launched in Chile and the longlasting impact of The Jackal of Nahueltoro.
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