One of the first of many to release documentaries on the 2019 protest wave that changed Chile is Nick MacWilliam. Earlier this year he released his film, Santiago Rising, shot in the heart of the movement during three weeks in December 2019. MacWilliam sets the bar high for other estallido films to come.
In 20 to 30 years, how will we remember the events in Chile in late 2019? Will we point to police violence? Human rights violations? Or will we look to the positive: the cultural manifestations, the unbreakable power of the people, the massive marches?
Nick MacWilliam’s recently-released documentary, Santiago Rising, is one such reflection, and an honest documentation of what really happened. For those who reported or protested at the heart of the estallido (social outburst), Dignity Square or Plaza Dignidad, the documentary offers a feast of recognition: the ambiance, the people, and the chants, but also the oppression, the guanacos, and the tear gas.
MacWilliam, who lived in Chile several years before, had his tickets to visit the country before the social uprising began. “It was kind of luck,” MacWilliam told Chile Today. “Being back there was inspiring and beautiful, but it was tough, too.” As one of the few reporters actually mingling with protesters on the famous square, MacWilliam managed to capture all parts of the protest movement: from frontline fighters who met and fell in love on the square, to medical teams assisting those injured, to independent journalists, to fanfares and groups of dancers. For his efforts, MacWilliam was also targeted several times by Chilean police, with water cannons and, in one instance, by an officer on horseback.
“Chile and protests are a contrast, and I am trying to show that contrast in my film. Violence, detentions, killings, state of emergency, attacks on people’s eyes. The contrary to that is the art, the creativity, the expressions. I had a lot of admiration and respect for the size of protests,” MacWilliam said. He also underlined the importance of humor in the Chile protests. “It’s so much fun to be there. It’s like a carnival.”
The role of music and other cultural expressions is an important part of Santiago Rising. From a performance by feminist collective Las Thesis to knitted eyeballs, a live concert from Ana Tijoux in Villa Francia, and guitar music during gathering in Santiago´s popular neighborhoods, the film offers a unique insight into an essential part of the protests rarely shown by the major national news outlets.
Whereas the estallido is often portrayed as a wave of destruction and violence, much more than that it was an uprising of people expressing their demands for dignity in the most creative ways.
To show Chile as he knows it was one of MacWilliam’s primary goals. Instead of just sticking to Plaza Dignidad, he also went to the cabildos, neighborhood assemblies, and poorer parts far away from the city center. “For me it’s important to go to La Victoria, to Villa Francia, they have always resisted, ever since the dictatorship. They have had their estallido for years,” MacWilliam explained. The result is a 90-minute-rollercoaster that covers the estallido as it was, an equally vivid and faithful account for those who experienced it and those who didn’t.