LFF: 1976 director, Manuela Martelli, on finding period locations in Chile

KFTV speaks to director Manuela Martelli about the challenges of developing and shooting her award-winning Chilean-Argentinian production set during the Pinochet dictatorship

As drama 1976 screens at the London Film Festival, Chilean director Manuela Martelli talks to Chris Evans, editor of KFTV, about the near 10-year journey of developing, shooting and financing her feature directorial debut across both Chile and Argentina.

The film follows a well-to-do woman, Carmen (Aline Kuppenheim), living in Chile with her doctor husband who’s everyday life is transformed when she is asked by a priest to help an injured young man who is the victim of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1976.

Can you tell me where the idea came from?

Well, it all started because I was very curious about my grandmother's life. She had been a housewife and mother but wanted to go to art school back in the 1960s and 70s.

I spoke to my family and discovered she’d lost years of her life when she was really depressed. Usually the explanation was from a very individualistic point of view, but it was interesting to uncover how she died during one of the most cruel and crude years of a dictatorship.

So I felt it was important to look at this important period of Chilean history, but from an intimate and domestic perspective. How the outside world filters into the home, and the fact that this character, Carmen, could live her comfortable life, but see a crack, an opportunity to help, and take it. This is despite there being a lot of people who didn't want to see what was going on. There was a silence.

You co-wrote the script with Alexandra Moffat. So how did that process work?

I had the initial idea for the project about 10 years ago, and then started the process about two years later.

Then once I had the first script, I read a novel that Moffat wrote and really liked it, because it looked at how daily life was impacted by the outside world. So, I called her up and we wrote a second draft of the script together to establish the skeleton structure. It was really an important collaboration. And then at the end, I kept on writing myself because it was a very long process.

Where did you film in Chile?

We filmed on the central coast of Chile from Algarrobo to the port city of San Antonio in the Valparaiso region because there were places there that still looked like they did in the 1970s.

Our budget was very limited, so we couldn’t recreate anything. We had to find places that weren’t contaminated by modernity. This is difficult because we have a culture of destroying and rebuilding in Chile.

We spent a long period of time finding the right places and then had to do a little work focusing on specific streets and brought in a couple of 70s cars for each scene. We were moving about quickly with limited resources.

Did you have any logistical problems because of the subject matter?

We were really lucky because we found very open and accommodating people willing to offer their homes and shops to us for filming. In fact there’s a funny anecdote. When we were shooting in the priest’s house, which belonged to a very wealthy family, we met with the owner who was really kind, helpful and generous letting us use the house, knowing we were low budget. But then at the end of the meeting, he said, very calmly, why are you left wing? And it took me really by surprise. I felt I didn’t have a solid answer. It made me really think about it.

What's it like filming in Chile generally?

There are so many impressive open spaces, and everything's not as regulated as it would be in Europe. You can find your way creativity, often just by talking to people, and film in some really special, stunning places quite easily.

You’ve made shorts previously, how was it transitioning to directing a feature?

it obviously took me a long time and was hard to put everything together, but I really enjoyed the process and working out what to do. When you direct a short film, you don't have time to think or space for the film to breathe.

What about combining acting with directing?

I stopped acting for a while because of the pandemic, but I am about to shoot a Croatian film. I wouldn’t want to star in my own films because I need the space to focus on every detail.

So how did you get the cast onboard for this film, especially the lead, Carmen?

Aline started really young doing telenovelas in Chile in the 1980s and 90s. I used to watch these and thought she was great. Then years later I got to act with her in a couple of films (Machuca and The Good Life). When I wrote 1976, I was thinking of her for the lead.

The tense music is an important part of the film too isn’t it?

Yes. I always thought of the sound as a way to portray the horror of the period, creating the atmosphere of the dictatorship through an invisible element. Plus we had a great sound designer from Argentina, Jesica Suarez, who had the brilliant idea of making the sound subjective not objective, to portray the characters' feelings.

Can you tell me about the producers and production companies on this film? It’s a collaboration with Argentina isn’t it?

Yes, we have two production companies in Chile (Wood Producciones, Cinestacion) and one in Argentina (Magma Cine). I was involved with Cinestacion from the start. And they did all the development of the film. Then when we started production, I was already working on another project with Wood Producciones, so it made sense that they would get involved in this film as well. I think we did a great job together.

The producers are Alejandra Garcia, Juan Pablo Gugliotta, Dominga Sotomayor, Nathalia Videla, Andres Wood (director of Machuga) and Omar Zuniga. They were involved at various points throughout the movie. Andres is a maestro and mentor with lots of experience, so he was really helpful for me when writing the script and planning the film.

What was it like having the Argentinian input?

We actually filmed part of the movie in Buenos Aires, including the opening sequence, and scenes in a bar, call centre and shoe store, all of which were interiors. This was so that we could get funding from both Argentina and Chile.

Filming there was straightforward because we had local outfit Magma Cine onboard, so they knew exactly how to film and who to speak to. The local crew were great too, very professional. They have  a big film industry there.

How was the film funded?

We got funding from INCAA (National Institute of Cinema and Audio-visual Arts) in Argentina, the Chilean government and Visions Sud Est, with support from the Doha Film Institute for post-production in Argentina.

Is it hard to get financing and put projects together in Chile?

It is difficult because Chile is very competitive when it comes to accessing funding. When I first started applying for this film, there were only about three or four films in our category receiving funding. Now there are more, but it’s still only about 10 projects across all categories.

What about international projects shooting in Chile?

Chile is proving increasingly popular because of our stunning landscapes, but we don't have the tax incentives to compete with some of the other South American countries. Hopefully this will change, especially as the streamers look for more locations to shoot.

How and where will 1976 be distributed?

We’ve sold the film to a number of territories [through French sales agent Luxbox], including New Wave in the UK, France, Italy, Greece, Latin America and Turkey. Plus, we’re picking up awards (including at the Athens International Film Festival and the Audience Award at Biarritz festival).

LFF: 1976 director, Manuela Martelli, on finding period locations in Chile
Manuela Martelli. Credit: Luxbox Films
LFF: 1976 director, Manuela Martelli, on finding period locations in Chile
Manuela Martelli. Credit: Luxbox Films

As drama 1976 screens at the London Film Festival, Chilean director Manuela Martelli talks to Chris Evans, editor of KFTV, about the near 10-year journey of developing, shooting and financing her feature directorial debut across both Chile and Argentina.

The film follows a well-to-do woman, Carmen (Aline Kuppenheim), living in Chile with her doctor husband who’s everyday life is transformed when she is asked by a priest to help an injured young man who is the victim of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1976.

Can you tell me where the idea came from?

Well, it all started because I was very curious about my grandmother's life. She had been a housewife and mother but wanted to go to art school back in the 1960s and 70s.

I spoke to my family and discovered she’d lost years of her life when she was really depressed. Usually the explanation was from a very individualistic point of view, but it was interesting to uncover how she died during one of the most cruel and crude years of a dictatorship.

So I felt it was important to look at this important period of Chilean history, but from an intimate and domestic perspective. How the outside world filters into the home, and the fact that this character, Carmen, could live her comfortable life, but see a crack, an opportunity to help, and take it. This is despite there being a lot of people who didn't want to see what was going on. There was a silence.

You co-wrote the script with Alexandra Moffat. So how did that process work?

I had the initial idea for the project about 10 years ago, and then started the process about two years later.

Then once I had the first script, I read a novel that Moffat wrote and really liked it, because it looked at how daily life was impacted by the outside world. So, I called her up and we wrote a second draft of the script together to establish the skeleton structure. It was really an important collaboration. And then at the end, I kept on writing myself because it was a very long process.

Where did you film in Chile?

We filmed on the central coast of Chile from Algarrobo to the port city of San Antonio in the Valparaiso region because there were places there that still looked like they did in the 1970s.

Our budget was very limited, so we couldn’t recreate anything. We had to find places that weren’t contaminated by modernity. This is difficult because we have a culture of destroying and rebuilding in Chile.

We spent a long period of time finding the right places and then had to do a little work focusing on specific streets and brought in a couple of 70s cars for each scene. We were moving about quickly with limited resources.

Did you have any logistical problems because of the subject matter?

We were really lucky because we found very open and accommodating people willing to offer their homes and shops to us for filming. In fact there’s a funny anecdote. When we were shooting in the priest’s house, which belonged to a very wealthy family, we met with the owner who was really kind, helpful and generous letting us use the house, knowing we were low budget. But then at the end of the meeting, he said, very calmly, why are you left wing? And it took me really by surprise. I felt I didn’t have a solid answer. It made me really think about it.

What's it like filming in Chile generally?

There are so many impressive open spaces, and everything's not as regulated as it would be in Europe. You can find your way creativity, often just by talking to people, and film in some really special, stunning places quite easily.

You’ve made shorts previously, how was it transitioning to directing a feature?

it obviously took me a long time and was hard to put everything together, but I really enjoyed the process and working out what to do. When you direct a short film, you don't have time to think or space for the film to breathe.

What about combining acting with directing?

I stopped acting for a while because of the pandemic, but I am about to shoot a Croatian film. I wouldn’t want to star in my own films because I need the space to focus on every detail.

So how did you get the cast onboard for this film, especially the lead, Carmen?

Aline started really young doing telenovelas in Chile in the 1980s and 90s. I used to watch these and thought she was great. Then years later I got to act with her in a couple of films (Machuca and The Good Life). When I wrote 1976, I was thinking of her for the lead.

The tense music is an important part of the film too isn’t it?

Yes. I always thought of the sound as a way to portray the horror of the period, creating the atmosphere of the dictatorship through an invisible element. Plus we had a great sound designer from Argentina, Jesica Suarez, who had the brilliant idea of making the sound subjective not objective, to portray the characters' feelings.

Can you tell me about the producers and production companies on this film? It’s a collaboration with Argentina isn’t it?

Yes, we have two production companies in Chile (Wood Producciones, Cinestacion) and one in Argentina (Magma Cine). I was involved with Cinestacion from the start. And they did all the development of the film. Then when we started production, I was already working on another project with Wood Producciones, so it made sense that they would get involved in this film as well. I think we did a great job together.

The producers are Alejandra Garcia, Juan Pablo Gugliotta, Dominga Sotomayor, Nathalia Videla, Andres Wood (director of Machuga) and Omar Zuniga. They were involved at various points throughout the movie. Andres is a maestro and mentor with lots of experience, so he was really helpful for me when writing the script and planning the film.

What was it like having the Argentinian input?

We actually filmed part of the movie in Buenos Aires, including the opening sequence, and scenes in a bar, call centre and shoe store, all of which were interiors. This was so that we could get funding from both Argentina and Chile.

Filming there was straightforward because we had local outfit Magma Cine onboard, so they knew exactly how to film and who to speak to. The local crew were great too, very professional. They have  a big film industry there.

How was the film funded?

We got funding from INCAA (National Institute of Cinema and Audio-visual Arts) in Argentina, the Chilean government and Visions Sud Est, with support from the Doha Film Institute for post-production in Argentina.

Is it hard to get financing and put projects together in Chile?

It is difficult because Chile is very competitive when it comes to accessing funding. When I first started applying for this film, there were only about three or four films in our category receiving funding. Now there are more, but it’s still only about 10 projects across all categories.

What about international projects shooting in Chile?

Chile is proving increasingly popular because of our stunning landscapes, but we don't have the tax incentives to compete with some of the other South American countries. Hopefully this will change, especially as the streamers look for more locations to shoot.

How and where will 1976 be distributed?

We’ve sold the film to a number of territories [through French sales agent Luxbox], including New Wave in the UK, France, Italy, Greece, Latin America and Turkey. Plus, we’re picking up awards (including at the Athens International Film Festival and the Audience Award at Biarritz festival).

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