AWFJ EDA Awards @ IDFA 2016 Filmmaker Interview: Elvira Diaz on EL PATIO

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Filmmaker Elvira Diaz

Filmmaker Elvira Diaz

In El Patio, two aging gravediggers who lovingly maintain the peaceful cemetery in the center of the Chilean capital of Santiago reveal their troubled memories of darker days when, after the 1973 coup, they were made to surreptitiously bury the bodies of political prisoners. Although Lelo and Perejil think of the cemetery as their home away from home, a place where they now have a garden and grow tomatoes, they are haunted by the dark doings they’ve kept secret until now. Filmmaker Elvira Diaz follows them on their everyday work rounds and as they dig and clear graves, repair headstones and mausoleums, and make coffins, they tell the story of their past to their colleague, a much younger Sergio – and to us. Sergio absorbs the mortifying details with a mixture of disgust, anger and disbelief. Diaz inserts several on camera interviews into the verite footage, which includes the return of the body of a ‘disappeared’ person to the family, and a demonstration by victims’ families, still calling for justice and demanding that the harsh truths of the past not be buried.

Filmmaker Elvira Diaz was born in 1975 in France. El Patio is her third documentary (as director and DOP) about the consequences of Pinochet’s dictatorship on witnesses and victims’ lives. She has a strong personal connection to that subject. Her Chilean father had left his country just after the coup, as a political refugee. Diaz’s other films, Y Volveré and Victor Jara N°2547, were both released in 2013.

AWFJ: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

Elvira Diaz: When I was filming my second documentary about the clandestine burial of the engaged singer Victor Jara, I tried to speak with the gravediggers of 1973 wh​o​ could still work ​in the cemetery. A Chilean journalist, a woman named Pascale ​B​onnefoy who​ has written for years on the theme of ​missing persons in Chile, told me that the gravediggers d​idn​’t speak to anyone about the ​horrible​ work they were obliged to do after the coup. But I really wanted to meet them and I managed to do it. It was very delicate but I really wanted to document and archive their ​testimonies​.

AWFJ: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

ED: I learned that in this cemetery there are still a lot of secrets that families and the investigators should search, searching in the memory of the survivors. And, ​most of all, I’ve learned that human beings are very strong and can give a positive sense to the worst things that happen in life. Resiliency is my obsession in my work as a documentary filmmaker.

AWFJ: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

ED: I’ve learned that even if​ sometimes​ there are a lot of ​obstacles​, ​you must ​follow your intimate feelings and intuitions and ​be sure of your point of view and ​your vision of ​humanity​ to propose your personal vision of the world. ​And work sincerely with the characters, not only about the characters.

AWFJ: What were your biggest challenges?

ED: To gain the trust of Lelo and the other characters because it’s the first time they’ve spoken, after 40 years of silence.

AWFJ: Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process?

ED: No. :) But maybe, I say maybe, being a wom​a​n helped me to approach the characters. In Chile, lots of journalists are men and they never sp​oke to one of them. Maybe, I have a particular sensibility and a natural human point of view which helped ​me ​to ​give confidence. A friend told me that the global point of view, the way that I’ve filmed the cemetery is very ​feminine​. Really, I don’t know. Maybe… :)​ The team is made with women at important tasks. It’s produced by Nathalie Combe, and the editing, the color grading are done by women. I’ve worked​ with two women asmy assistants, and I’m the director of photography. It’s possible that this way of working mostly with women is a feminine approach that gives the documentary a feminine quality.

AWFJ: What are your plans for the future?

ED: I’m writing a fourth documentary, one more time it’s a Chilean story, but for the first time, I will work with people of my age wh​o were born just after the coup and ​grew up in a clandestine environment. Now, they are involved very strongly in a movement ​that​ help to ​denounce the torturers and murder​er​s​ of the dictatorship​.

AWFJ: Who are the filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

ED: Pedro Gonzales Rubio for his sensibility of director of photography, Nino Kirtadze for the pleasure to film humanity, Rithy Panh, Bruno Muel, and of course Patricio Guzman​, Mariana Otero, Macarena Aguilo, and many others but this year, I discovered and really loved “The Documentari​an​” of Ivars Zviedris ​and​ Inese Kļava because of how the relation between the director and the main character was filmed.

AWFJ: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

ED: ​I only could suggest to ​follow your intuition, whether you’re a man or a woman. But a woman shouldn’t be afraid to express herself because of her ​gender. El Patio is a documentary exclusively done in the middle of a very masculine workers​’ ​world, and I’ve never lost my convictions. But it’s easy for me to say this here. I was born in France in a very open minded family, I’ve always done what I wanted, I’ve studied what I wanted to study, but this liberty is the precious heritage of my mother’s struggle t​o​o. She was an involved woman and she’s always ​fought for the women’s rights. ​In France, s​he created, for example, a foundation to protect and ​house women with t​heir children​ ​who were obliged ​to run away from their violent husband​.​

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