ARMED with just a handycam and lots of passion, Perth’s Antonio Traverso took to the streets of Santiago to document an art phenomenon born during the riots and civil unrest of the ‘estallido social’.
Chile has been a democracy since 1990, but the legacy of General Pinochet’s dictatorship looms large, and in 2019 many citizens were still living in poverty and suffering inequality.
Tensions reached fever pitch that year when people took to the streets of Santiago to protest against the neo-liberal government, sparking riots, marches and demonstrations across the nation.
Traverso arrived in Santiago shortly afterwards to complete a documentary on Chilean cinema, but it was quickly shelved when he explored the tense streets and discovered the fascinating protest art.
“In addition to the traditional marches with chants, placards and banners, as well as the graffiti with angry cries scribbled on walls, people began to appropriate the public space and turn it into a great, open art gallery, where anyone could display their thoughts, emotions and creativity as they pleased from pieces of paper with poetry stuck on walls to complex installation art and impressively large and detailed, and gorgeously coloured, mural paintings,” he says.
“People also played music, staged performances, danced and played sports and games on the streets, literally blocking the traffic and occupying roads and highways.”
Dubbed the ‘estallido social’ (social explosion), the protests sparked a social revolution in Chile that led to changes in the constitution and the formation of a constituent assembly.
During the making of the documentary The Best Battle, Traverso was inspired by the young Chilean artists he met.
“I was impressed by the young generations high level of critical and political thinking, their strength and courage, their energy and creativity,” he says.
“Older people, like myself, felt humbled and inspired by the energy, togetherness, and never-ending flow of ideas, emotions, and beautiful things, spaces and experiences they were constantly creating.
“I was impressed by their sense of empowerment, the way in which the occupation of the public space, even though I knew it would only be temporary, opened up truly democratic spaces of dialogue, acceptance, respect and mutual protection.”
The documentary is a personal affair for Traverso, who was born in Santiago in 1962 and still has family living there.
In 1987 he immigrated to Perth, where he started a family and studied at Murdoch University.
Since 2003 he has been lecturing in Screen Studies at Curtin University and has made experimental films and award-winning documentaries.
Although now and well truly settled in Perth, Traverso will never forget the people he met and the powerful art he saw during the ‘estallido social’.
“The final scene of my film depicts a massive gathering of people where a carnival of music, percussion, singing and dancing unfolded, where I was filming for hours non-stop, my feeling was of great happiness and I could see the way others around me smiled and laughed; it was like a ritual of coming together that I will never forget,” he says.
The Best Battle is showing as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival at Luna SX in Fremantle and Luna Leederville.
For screening details go to revelationfilmfest.org
by STEPHEN POLLOCK