Documentary as Family Album

A very well regarded documentarian and author of "The Battle of Chile" Patricio Guzman once commented that we Latin Americans are now creating a "family album" of our lives/cultures through our documentaries. Would you agree with this comment? Or is there also another movement that has inspired your approach.

I do think we are creating a 'family album' of sorts but I'm not sure if this is unique to Latin America. Perhaps it has come to us later than to other countries and perhaps what has changed is that we are making our own portraits of ourselves more and more. The third world or developing world is used to being the subject matter of the developed world's gaze and fascination. We are used to being 'looked at' in this way and described in foreign languages. As more films are made by Latin Americans, we begin to take back the right to look at ourselves and in this regard, yes, we are creating a family album.

I think that there is however a danger or a trap that we must be wary of: the expectation that the films we make are definitive - definitive of who we are and of our country and culture. I went to a fantastic lecture by Gayatri Spivak in April 2009.

In my notes there is a line that says, 'the greatest gift is doubt,' and then (underlined many times), "the right to doubt" followed by "not everything about you is evidence." I was very moved by Spivak's idea that ambiguity, doubt, uncertainty, mystery - these ideas which exist in a grey zone - are in fact privileges which we are often denied. And yet to me, it is precisely this grey area that matters.

You mentioned that your relationship to film grew out of your desire to fabricate memories, would you explain that? Were the memories inaccessible to you at a certain time? And film has enabled you to remember and therefore create anew?

The first film I made was about my sister who died when I was a baby. Everyone in my family had some concrete memory of her, but I didn't. So not only did I have this family with the wound of her loss, but I felt excluded from their collective suffering because I could not remember her - and therefore I could not mourn her, or miss her, as they did. So I created my own invented memory through film.

In the end this "invented memory" inevitably reflects the reality of being part of a bi-cultural, bi-lingual family. It also reflects the "lack of communication" that sometimes exists between cultures, particularly in the face of loss when pain is expressed perhaps more through gestures and traditions of mourning than through language. The film reflects the fragmented and incomplete nature of memory.

In Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, the narrator's says, "I do not know how those who do not film remember." Sometimes I think that those of us who have poor memories turn to photography and film as a way to make memory concrete and tangible.


Excerpt from "El General" (2009)
Ambiguity, doubt, uncertainty, mystery - these ideas exist in a grey zone...And to me, it is precisely this grey area that matters.'' Natalia Almada


Excerpt from "El Velador" (2011)
Excerpt from "All Water Has a Perfect Memory" (2001)
Excerpt from ""San Soleil"" (1983) by Chris Marker