Latin American Cinema: Beyond the Screen

MAY 7, 2021

This spring, Class XII Spanish language students had the option to enroll in the Advanced Spanish: Latin American Cinema course taught by Modern Language Faculty Chela Crinnion. This course is centered on the theme of el paisaje y la memoria (landscape and memory). Through Latin American films and complementary texts, students are able to expand on their already strong language skills by honing the ability to analyze and discuss the many facets of films and to write synopses, critiques, and essays.

Recently, after viewing a documentary series about the geography and cultures of the Andean region, the class began a study of the 1973 Chilean coup d'état and the subsequent Pinochet dictatorship. To frame this unit, docents from el Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) in Santiago, Chile, spoke to the class via Zoom, presenting a powerful survey of that tragic era, and of resistance in its midst.

After the virtual visit, Alessandra C. ‘21 reflected, “Escuchar a los docentes del museo fue realmente increíble...De ellos, aprendí lo extensa que era la censura; no tenía idea de que habían quemado libros en las calles. También aprendí cómo Chile continuó avanzando su cultura incluso durante esos tiempos difíciles usando teatros y galerías subterráneos.” (“Listening to the museum docents was really incredible...From them, I learned how extensive the censorship was; I wasn’t aware that they had burned books in the streets. I also learned how Chile continued advancing its culture, even in those difficult times, using underground theaters and galleries.”)

Julia H. ‘21 noted, “La gente chilena son las únicas personas que pueden contar la historia chilena de una manera verdaderamente auténtica. Leer sobre la historia en un libro de texto es muy diferente de vivirla….” (“The Chilean people are the only people that can tell Chile’s history in a truly authentic manner. Reading about history in a textbook is very different from living it.”)

Following the museum docents’ lecture, the class began a study of acclaimed director Patricio Guzmán’s Chile Trilogy: Nostalgia de la luz, El botón de nácar, and La cordillera de los sueños.

The first of these documentaries is set in the Atacama Desert, 10,000 feet above sea level, where astronomers study the galaxies, while archaeologists and those whose loved ones were taken by the Pinochet dictatorship search for remains. Guzmán’s film binds these quests for illumination and preservation of the past. In the director's words: “La memoria tiene fuerza de gravedad. Siempre nos atrae. Los que tienen memoria son capaces de vivir en el frágil tiempo presente. Los que no la tienen, no viven en ninguna parte.” (“Memory has a gravitational force. It always draws us to it. Those who have memory are capable of living in the fragile present time. Those who do not have it, do not live in any place.”)

After watching Nostalgia de la luz, the class was delighted to welcome Nightingale alumna Lucia Perez ‘10, who spoke in Spanish about her own work in the Atacama Desert observatories. Lucia is currently a PhD candidate in Astrophysics at Arizona State University, affiliated with the Flatiron Institute's Center for Computational Astrophysics and the NASA Goddard Space Center.

Ms. Perez even took the time to watch the films the class is studying, so her presentation interweaved her own unique and impressive experience with the geography and history the class had studied. Elizabeth L. ‘21 and Niyah W. ‘21 shared the following with Ms. Perez following her visit, “Thank you so much for coming to talk with our class, and for your enthusiasm in sharing how your work connected with Nostalgia de la luz. We found it especially interesting to hear how you are able to continue your work despite the pandemic, and it was inspiring to see a Nightingale alumna in a STEM field. We were fascinated by your stories of working in the Atacama desert, with its unique culture and environment, and it really helped us enrich our understanding of the film.”