Diego Marin Verdugo – Change in Times of Calm and Conflict

Interviewer’s Note: I met Diego Marin Verdugo quite by chance one night in Santiago, Chile, in 2012. I was helping my friend and filmmaker, Ilan Ziv, shoot for a series on capitalism for ARTE. We were in Chile to interview, among others, one of the Chicago Boys. Ilan was looking for some archival footage. It was in this context that Diego Marin stepped out, as if from the pages of a history book, to help.

Rakishly handsome, congenitally curious, and in so many ways like what one might imagine a young Che might have looked like -except that he came with a 500 gigabyte hard drive in his pocket that contained archival video Ilan was looking for.

We sat at a café, as Diego smoked incessantly and exercised his curiousity as generously as he shared information about himself. He was leaving on a trans-Latin America voyage by road the next day with a couple of friends. They wold be driving a combi equipped with digital editing bays and a couple of small cameras documenting the lives and plights of Indegenous peoples. They were headed to the highlands of Bolivia hoping to arrive in time for the Pachakuti Mayan congregation dedicated to the
awakening of life on the banks of Lake Titicaca.

He vanished into the night as suddenly as he had appeared. I was, however, able to keep up with his 14,000 plus miles saga sporadically over email. This interview was conducted through email and was edited by Jayesh Ganesh.

– Sanjeev Chatterjee


I was born in 1976 in Chile, during the third year of the brutal Pinochet regime – a regime whose influence was so strong and deep that it continues to shape everyday life in my country through a well established economic and legal system. I was born to a family shocked and cracked by the power of repression. After my grandfather’s torturous assassination by the Chilean police, my family split into three loyalties. Firstly, there were those loyal to my grandfather’s memory. Then, there were those loyal to the new military regime. Finally, there were those who were too frightened to do anything. My mother, Patricia Verdugo, remained loyal to his memory and for 30 years she pursued those guilty of his death. She finally found them in Canada; a married couple who had fallen in love in the torture chambers of the Chilean police. She proved their guilt and restored peace to the memory of my grandfather.

As an investigative journalist and human rights fighter, my mother undertook several investigations against Pinochet’s bloody regime in Chile. I remember the menacing threats and phone calls warning her to stop writing; she never stopped. Ultimately, it was one of her most accurate and deeply insightful investigations into the Pinochet regime that finally led to his arrest and imprisonment. Balthazar Garson, the Spanish prosecutor who pursued Pinochet, based the greater part of his argument on her book – “Chile, Pinochet and the Caravan of Death.” A Chilean bestseller, the book had been censored and banned like most of her other books. I understood at a young age that we have to fight to build a new society which can manage social and environmental issues in a sustainable and healthy way. And to this end, my mother, her struggles, her strong spirit and her commitment to life and justice were my first and strongest inspirations to pursue my own battles.

An infant Diego Marin Verdugo, sitting upon his grandfather Sergio’s lap. This photograph was taken just before the grandfather’s abduction by the Chilean Police in 1973. Others in the picture are Diegos’s elder brother Felipe, cousin Cristina and grandmother Carmen.
PHOTO: Most probably by Patricia Verdugo. Provided by Diego Marin Verdugo.

First Encounters

I had always been in touch with the media through my parents, both of whom were journalists. I remember how even as a child in the third grade, I would make class presentations by clipping and joining videos from one video cassette to another and playing background music on a separate audio cassette player. I have always seen the media as an awesome way to deal with the big problems of today’s reality, and so I prefer to tell stories through cinema. I started my career in production at age 16 as a third assistant and eventually moved up in line to become the producer and then production manager in Mexico. I studied direction of photography in the International Film School in Cuba and this has been the biggest cinematographic influence in my life. For me, the school was a life changing experience, one that pushed us to search for a language we could call their own and encouraged us to look deep into the world around us with a critical view. Since that time, I have been making independent movies.

Diego filming the lives of indigenous people near Chakaltaya, Bolivia in 2012. The Combi the crew used to traverse Latin America can be seen in the background.
PHOTO: Rodrigo Contreras

Some friends from Cuba and I made several fiction and non-fiction movies in the Spanish Canary Islands. Back then, most of our work was focused on photography and was self produced. Even then, I was overcome with a strong sense of mission to return to South America and thus I began my foray into directing documentary films. My directorial debut was a long feature based on an investigation by my mother about how the United States Government financed and promoted the coup d’état in Chile on September 11, 1973. The fundamental guiding principle of my work has been audiovisual solidarity. The rest was destiny.

My primary aspiration as a filmmaker is to collaborate actively in the process of regional integration as a way to fight for our freedom and to help in the building of a new conscience that reflects the extraordinary times in which we live. It is my belief that a successful South American unity guided by social and spiritual technologies will motivate the world to accept a new human paradigm, to walk a new path.

Preferred Working Style

In the twenty two years that I have been engaged in filming documentaries, I have come to understand and acknowledge the role of various supporting activities. I work with a small crew in the field; myself, a sound man and recently, a second camera. We work with an art director whose abstract techniques of dealing with symbolism and reality lend our films a subtle poetic touch rather than a blunt literal expression. Every team I have worked with has had an investigator and a production coordinator. The sound mix for my films is often done by friends.

Ours is a small crew whose size depends entirely upon the project and the resources at our disposal. For some time now, I have directed, produced, photographed and edited the main structure of my films along with one partner; much like a one man orchestra. I also enjoy illustrating my own work. Working on my own has been a great source of learning but nothing compares with the joy of working with friends who share common concerns and with whom the growth is a communitarian experience.

I film using a small Canon 5D and a variety of lenses on a shoulder rig with follow focus for a smooth hand held effect in up to 85% of my footage. We use very light equipment for the sound recording. A zoom recorder and a set of microphones allow us to move freely in every situation and we are always prepared for a quick shoot. Using small and light equipment gives us the chance to delve deep into our characters’ spaces and emotions. In a few minutes, and depending on the situation, we become invisible or at least welcome.

Diego Marin with members of his crew who belong to the collective TrincherAudiovisual. Rodrigo Contreras from Chile (in Maria Sabina shirt) and Chucho Ramirez from Spain.

What Can Media Change?

There is no doubt that media can bring change to the world; they can change our ways of understanding reality and our interactions with each other and with the environment. Unfortunately, the mainstream media of today have been partly responsible in creating a culture of excessive consumption and complicit in the destruction of our natural and social environments. The mainstream media’s interest is vested in promoting government and corporate propaganda.

This has led to mass control and cultural homogenization, and has promoted unbridled profit as well as the predation upon wild nature. Humankind is at a crucial moment in history where our survival is in itself under threat by the transformation of conscientious citizens into unthinking and obedient consumers. Instead of being a platform for education, reflection, discussion and meeting to sort out our differences, mainstream media have for decades been an enemy hidden inside our homes. An incessant promotion of individualism and the consequent breakdown of social organization, articulated with the policies adopted by the need to generate overgrowth benefiting a small elite, has allowed the mainstream media to enter the homes of hundreds of millions of people disguised as entertainment and changed their way of seeing the world, their relation to the environment and created unrealistic consumer needs and expectations.

Today, we are entering a new era; the Internet seems to be, in part, an antidote to globalization. The global crises of economies, environments and societies have awoken millions of people to this nightmare, which has been largely caused by the greed of a few and then extended to the masses through the mainstream media. Despite attempts to restrict Internet freedoms, millions of people communicate and share content freely through the network. The mainstream media have been overwhelmed and are now being relegated to a diminished capacity as intermediaries. Similarly, political parties as intermediaries between people and political decisions have fallen into almost absolute illegitimacy. The ability of organized groups and citizens aware of real-time content sharing has allowed millions of people access to real, unfiltered and uncensored information.

Independent media are now an effective tool in building a new human paradigm, one that is both social and environmental. This new paradigm has arisen as an undisputed ally in articulating the liberating processes through which the world witnesses and promotes social movements. The revolutions of the twenty first century are linked and spread through the Internet and hundreds of thousands of independent documentaries, and have allowed us to see similarities between seemingly distant causes. New technologies have opened up possibilities never before seen in video production, content development and information dissemination. Today the possibilities are huge. A single independent project can be developed to encompass various issues in multiple formats. A traditional television series can find new life on web platforms that allow free access. For example, unedited interviews and situations or sequences of greater length cease to be merely passive as the viewers become active players involved in the dissemination and construction of an increasingly panoramic platform. An audiovisual initiative can generate links to activities, a platform can incorporate radio content or theatre text and the user can interlink platforms to create meeting points. In this way, the potential for interaction between content and new spectator-actors are limitless.

Those who create media to promote change are at a turning point. The continuity of these processes depends more than ever on our ability to create frameworks for unpublished production and dissemination, and to do so in an increasingly free and truly democratic manner.

Diego interviewing indigenous women from the highlands near Lake Titicaca about their lives in Bolivia under Evo Morales.
PHOTO: Rodrigo Contreras

The Future

Our plan is to travel by land in a bus from Patagonia to Mexico to create a multiplatform project focusing on Indigenous resistance and local knowledge, rising social movements and alternative community technologies throughout the continent. This is an effort to collaborate actively in an historic moment, as the region works to empower, revalidate and recreate paths that create bridges of communication between people, collectives and activists. This is all part of a larger effort to establish and supprt an integration process that is led by social and environmental concerns, rather than commercial and corporate agreements.

This project will culminate in a 13 chapter TV series on the new human paradigm and communities that have been working for decades to provide sustainable alternatives to deal with resources and social networks. The detailed contents will be published though a cross media platform in order to provide an interactive experience to the viewers, who will be able to access interviews and sequences even as they connect with the main characters or even the filmmakers through social networks. By promoting the use of free software and production tools, we can stay far away from the well-known control and information collection process that has come to be associated with popular social networks.

We plan to create a documentary film on the epic final trip of the Wiphala Caravan, a bus that for more than 20 years has been travelling throughout the continent, building bridges of communication and knowledge between native Indian communities, social movements and alternative communities. We will stop at several eco-farms and alternative communities to document all of the diverse sustainable technological developments such as organic growing processes, bio-construction, agro-foresting initiative, perma-culture, and most importantly, alternative social organization and educational programs, all of them linked by the idea of tribal organization for a sustainable and independent way of life.

We also plan to introduce “Nomadic Cinema,” bringing films that matter to isolated communities along the road in order to raise a discussion on today’s crises and possible solutions, encouraging communities to deal with realities in an independent and environmentally just way. We are working to collaborate with a new network of independent film makers who are want to share their footage in a show of solidarity.

In previous decades, many communities have sent forth some of their members to learn the arts of communication in order to build a narrative of their own stories, in their own way, with their own language, time, rhythms and forms. We intend to work along the way with filmmakers from these communities by going a little bit further than that. We will encourage the Indian filmmakers to produce documentary pieces in which they, from their very singular perspective, knowledge and sensibility will analyze our white, occidental way of living. We intend to bring a fresh vision to our chaotic world, one that will allow deeper reflection on the need for change.

Filming on the move.
PHOTO: Rodrigo Contreras

The road trip will also feature a children’s communication project with puppets that share oral stories from one indigenous community to another, in the process creating bridges of communication between indigenous and white children. These efforts will include a radio program broadcast streamed from road, talking about the change that is already underway and inviting on interesting characters we meet on the way.

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