Little Claudia Huaiquimilla didn't expect to be paraded class by class like a museum exhibit in her first national holidays at an all girls Catholic school. Unlike her other classmates, who were dressed in the traditional Chilean criollo dress, Cladiua had come in her ancestral garments: As a Mapuche.
Usually afraid of exposure, 33-year-old Huaiquimilla remembers to have been particularly calm that day. Unlike the shy Cheo, protagonist of her 2017 hit film Mala Junta (Bad Influence), recently launched on Amazon Prime, Huaiquimilla had always been proud of her identity. Her father often described to her the image conveyed by her Mapuche last name: The ray of sunlight reflected from a flying spear.
Filmed both in Spanish and in Mapudungun, the Mapuche language, Mala Junta tells the story of the friendship between Tano and Cheo, two teenagers affected by prejudice: the first for having partaken in petty crime, the second for being indigenous.
The film takes place in the Chilean South, a zone ripe with political conflict. In the late 19th century, the Chilean State sent the army in an expansion campaign, which stripped the Mapuches from their land. The 9.5 million acres of stolen territory were given to European migrants, in change. Ever since then, the Mapuches have waged a fight against the State to recover their land. It is in the middle of this fight that the story of Tano and Cheo unfolds.
Film Strip by joseph_alban(Pixabay License / Pixabay)
I talked with Huaiquimilla to revisit her film in today's critical context, where heavy protests against inequality fill the streets of Chile once more, as it did in October of 2019. During the COVID-19 lockdown period, Mala Junta was the most seen film in the Chilean streaming service, Onda Media.
Quarantine hasn't been bad for Huaiquimilla, who feels more productive than ever working from home. "It's been intense. I can talk to you, then hang up and do class right away. Then I hang up and spend time with my daughter. I'm so privileged to have an internet connection, house, and food." Education seems to be where Huaiquimilla's prescience is at its broadest, teaching in various institutes, including Chile's two most prestigious universities: The Universidad de Chile and the Universidad Católica.
But maybe I just think that because she was my assistant professor when I was a film student myself at the Universidad Católica.
You've always been a pedagogue.
I've always liked teaching. I'm the daughter of a teacher. Actually, in October I'll start something really cool. It's a film school called Diversa, for young Indigenous people in all Chile. It was going to be a physical encounter, where we were going to film, but now we're doing it online. It's an encounter based on virtuous exchange, like our Rapa Nui, Aimara, Diaguita, Selk'nam and Mapuche ancestors used to do.
Have you always been that connected with your Mapuche identity?
It has always been very natural. Instead of teaching me to count in English, my father taught me to count in mapudungun. We always had a food garden wherever we were, and in the Mapuche tradition, we left the first fruits for the earth.
I never hid it, all my classmates knew I was Mapuche. I transmitted it in class, everywhere.
How did you transmit your identity in class?
Like in history class, for example, knowing things from a different side. They used to say I was "Araucana". "No", I would say, "that's how Spanish literature named us. I am Mapuche. Mapuche means people of the land. They see the land as their mother." So I basically explained my worldview. That wasn't in any book, so it was really weird for them.
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The young gaze and social criticism are constants in Huaiquimilla's work. Mis Hermanos Sueñan Despiertos (My Brothers Dream Awake), her second film that's currently in post production, takes place in the Sename, Chile's notorious children protection system. A chronic lack of human, financial, and material resources has made this system a living hell for thousands of vulnerable children. Police investigations have shed light on systematic abuse, many times sexual, in Sename centers. As of December of 2019, 1669 children have died over the span of 11 years.
Huaiquimilla's film is based on a real event when teenage inmates in the Sename social rehabilitation division organized a mutiny, with deadly consequences. Currently she's waiting for cinemas to reopen sometime in 2021 to premiere the film.
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How did you come to make this film?
I felt indebted to the Sename after researching and showing Mala Junta. We screened the film in Sename centers, we held talks with the kids. It felt really natural.
I revisited that research during post production, and saw a real case that I couldn't get out of my head. It's about the hopes and dreams of two locked up kids. About kids who made very abrupt choices to demand for changes when they think there's nothing else to lose.
Francisco Pérez-Bannen as Javier and Andrew Bargsted as Tano (IMDB)
Just like last year's protests.
Exactly! Everyone who read the script during pre production was like "Man, it's even more meaningful to shoot this now." We even incorporated some phrases of the protests that became emblematic. The explosion became a part of the film, I think we're not totally aware yet of how. I didn't understand Mala Junta until we showed it to people, and they saw stuff there themselves.
I'm sure that when we show [Mis Hermanos Sueñan Despiertos], stuff is gonna come out that we weren't aware of, and that was a part of the context in which we filmed.
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As if it were one of the country's recurrent earthquakes, everybody in Chile knows where they were on October 18 , when what started as a protest against a hike in the subway fare became a countrywide popular revolt against a decades long inequality inherited from Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. In retaliation, right wing president Sebastián Piñera deployed the army against the demonstrators.It was weeks of protests, fires, and police brutality that resulted in 33 dead.
Coincidentally, Huaiquimilla and I lived nearby in Plaza Baquedano, one of Santiago's most transited squares, and where daily demonstrations took place. From our fourth floor window, my wife and I saw daily Red Cross volunteers taking wounded protesters. Many had been shot on the head by the police's rubber bullets, which were later proved to contain lead. These bullets produced over 460 victims of eye trauma, even blindness.
Huaiquimilla was often in the trenches of Plaza Baquedano, recording the historic moment.
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What was your experience during the protests?
I was there, with my camera, when the tanks and the soldiers first came. I'm very used to violence in demonstrations, because Mapuche demonstrations are very violent. But this was so much worse. We're not afraid of the soldiers, like our parents and grandparents. But they jumped out and aimed at us with their guns!
When I saw my camera footage later I was like "fuck". I have a great pulse, but even my camera was shaking then. I had never seen that, the soldiers doing those motions.
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Currently, Huaiquimilla is developing her third film, a semi autobiographical story of a young Mapuche girl growing up in Chile during the 1990s. Meanwhile, she does activism for her people's cause.
Over recent months, Mapuche prison inmates have been waging a hunger strike for the Government to allow imprisoned spiritual leader, Celestino Córdova, to fulfill his ceremonial duties. Protesters have taken the streets in support of the strike.
How have you been helping the cause?
I'm in collective projects, doing all kinds of work, from teaching people how to broadcast through Zoom to recovering footage. From an hour-long live video, I look for the 20 seconds where something happens and share it in social media.
For example, somebody took pictures of a Mapuche leader who had been detained. She's a very well known leader, who was fundamental for the Mapuche movement during the dictatorship. She was recently very violently detained, so I had to take that photo, quickly build a mini video, and launch it.
How did you come about the story of your third film?
It came to me during the pandemic. I was questioning the purpose of doing cinema, after the murder of Alejandro Treuquil ( A Mapuche leader murdered under mysterious circumstances). With he protests, the Mapuche flag being often raised above other Chilean Symbols, I was sure that the Chilean people were going to rise enraged due to a new death. Just [recently] it was full of black flags because of George Floyd. But none of the artistic communities took a stand for the death of Alejandro Treuquil.
I have to admit it hit me hard. Honestly, that's why I started taking part in all these actions.
I'm also on the first stages of a project to make a screening room for Mapuche children and women, that serves as a shelter for their culture. It's in my hometown, Mariquina, where we filmed Mala Junta. This also came out during researching, when I realized that the Mapuche history has not yet been told, especially that of Mapuche women, who have been made invisible.
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While Huaiquimilla may doubt the usefulness of cinema, her actions speak clearly otherwise. Cinema certainly doesn't doubt Huaiquimilla.
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