In September 2021, OVID.tv premiered 11 documentaries by Ignacio Agüero. The 69-year-old Chilean filmmaker currently teaches at the University of Chile, and has won the Grand Prix honor at FIDMarseille twice during the last five years. Four of Agüero’s most celebrated works provide reflections about the relationship between Chilean culture and mass media, and how cinema can be used to empower and/or enlighten the people.
One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train (1988)
One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train documents a cinema workshop for children at the Lo Hermida chapel. Each Saturday, teacher Alicia Vega aims to inspire young students who are familiar with the concept of movies but haven’t actually seen one in real life. Ignacio Agüero emphasizes the step-by-step learning process — which involves lessons about filmmaking structure and equipment — but the most impactful moments emerge when young subjects casually discuss their experiences with the secret police, or when their collective demeanors brighten up while viewing Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Ballon and films by Charlie Chaplin. One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train should be standard viewing in modern Film 101 courses, as Agüero reminds audiences that the best way to truly learn about cinema is by exploring everything that’s available.
Agustin’s Newspaper (2008)
With Augustin’s Newspaper, Agüero educates audiences about the legacy and reputation of El Mercurio — the oldest newspaper in Chile. Early scenes provide context about the Edwards family that has owned the publication since 1849, while the bulk of the documentary focuses on young journalists who expose how El Mercurio covered up human rights violations during the military’s September 11, 1973 coup that resulted in the death of President Salvador Allende (and the demises of so many more). Ignacio Agüero incorporates some comedic meta moments but steadily returns to interviewees who discuss the long-term effects of being wrongly implicated in 70s crimes. Agustin’s Newspaper delivers a straight-forward account of the newspaper’s willingness to misrepresent the truth about the government and disappearing competitors. It’s a hard-hitting doc that’s less about embarrassing the El Mercurio subjects and more about explaining how influential journalists operated under a dictatorship.
The Other Day (2013)
Ignacio Agüero acknowledges his cinematic influences in The Other Day, a documentary about life, death and Chilean culture. The director records people who knock at his door, and then requests to visit their homes at a scheduled date. Aesthetically, The Other Day includes all the typical elements of an art house festival documentary — static shots, philosophical commentaries about the past and present, reflections about childhood memories. By visually referencing the iconic French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, Agüero informs cinephiles about the inspiration behind his whispery voiceover narration, which may seem borderline pretentious to the casual viewer. The Other Day’s cultural musings are indeed intriguing, but it’s the subjects who give the film its depth, as many people begin conversations with a smile and then become visibly distressed while discussing their lives. One man (presumably a drug addict) lies about his physical address, while a radiant woman named Isabela (above) invites Agüero into her humble home and explains her daily grind. From interview to interview, The Other Day continuously highlights Agüero’s attempts to figuratively let the sunshine in, and to better understand the Chilean people.
I Never Climbed the Provincia (2019)
I Never Climbed the Provincia works as a companion piece to One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train. Both films includes scenes of joyous children at the local cinema, and both feature references to cinema legends such as Peter O’Toole and the aforementioned Chaplin. Ignacio Agüero discusses his childhood home, and how a new building blocks a view of the Andes Mountains. The filmmaker interviews various residents of the apartment in question, all the while writing letters to an unidentified person (later revealed to be himself). I Never Climbed the Provincia features the best cinematography of the four features, and Agüero’s surrealistic commentaries allow for a challenging viewing experience.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.