We spoke to Chilean director Felipe Bustos Sierra about his documentary Nae Parasan, which tells the story of a group of Scottish factory workers who defied the Pinochet dictatorship by refusing to repair his air force’s engines. The film is in cinemas now and screens at ODEON Switch Island on 5 Nov.
Nae Pasaran tells the story of how a group of factory workers in Scotland grounded the Chilean military – for four years – by refusing to repair the engines of their Hunter Hawker jets. It also introduces its audience to a brutal period of Chilean history, 45 years on from the coup that led to 17 years of totalitarian rule. This was especially important for Bustos Sierra, who grew up in Belgium after his father was exiled from Chile.
‘Stories of solidarity are rarely told from both the perspective of those who carried it out and those who benefited from it. Nae Pasaran was an opportunity to follow the storylines of people with similar values and attitudes in different contexts. For the Scots, their solidarity with the Chileans meant risking their livelihoods; for the Chilean Air Force officers, their solidarity with the worse-off in Chile meant torture, death and disappearance. As someone who grew up in exile, it was important to show the Chileans’ struggle and resilience too.’
It was in Belgium that Sierra first heard of the boycott, at a fundraising event for the Chile solidarity movement. ‘It was already over by then but the “Scottish boycott of Chilean engines” was often told as an afterthought, even though it connected directly with the most iconic image of the Chilean coup: Hawker Hunters firing rockets into the presidential palace on the 11 September 1973, an irreversible moment in Chilean history.’
‘As I grew older and more cynical, I remembered the story with fondness but not much faith. It felt too good to be true. When I started researching I was interested in finding out if their solidarity had worked, beyond the moral boost it gave us.’
When watching the film, historians and experts who have studied this period of history are notably absent. Sierra explains that this was a conscious decision.
‘I wanted to treat the Scots and Chileans as they should be, the voices of authority of their own stories and for them to be responsible of their own accounts, beyond just bearing witness. They’ve carried their story for four decades.’
Does he feel like this impacted the film in any way? ‘It does change the tone of our film, as it becomes more emotive and personal, but we also didn’t expect initially that their action had been so positive, that took us all by surprise. This a film about history, if course, but focusing on the lives of individuals going through those historical moments and the choices they each made.’
Sierra first explored the story of the boycott in 2013, with a short version of what eventually became Nae Pasaran. Five years later, he’s been able to craft the story he wanted to tell.
‘I’ve always wanted to go further into the actual consequences of the boycott, but I made a short film first in 2013, which reunited three of the guys for the first time since their respective retirements from Rolls Royce. That film focused on the day of the boycott itself but ended on an ambiguous note. It was a learning experience, a way of getting to know the guys and an opportunity to see if they’d be keen to do more. The feature became a much different experience, both in scope and tone. The short is a more nostalgic affair, while with the feature we became active participants in exploring every thread of the history behind the boycott.’
The world premiere of Nae Pasaran closed the Glasgow Film Festival earlier this year, with the film so well-received that audiences began clapping even before the film had ended.
‘The previews were fantastic; most of them selling out and the Q&As with the workers won everyone over. It does get overwhelmingly emotional in the last 30 minutes of the film, once we understand what the Chileans went through to survive and how that connects with the Scots.’
Given the current political climate in many parts of the world, a film like Nae Pasaran – exploring actions of solidarity from both sides – feels especially pertinent.
‘I think, for many, the film works as an antidote to current political events. Its unfortunate how timely this story is. Nae Pasaran calls for kinder politics, something that many saw possible in Chile 45 years ago. We’ve come a long way since – in the opposite direction.’
The film is yet to be shown in Chile, and Bustos Sierra knows there’s a possibility the reaction will be somewhat different there. ‘We’ll be in Chile next year. I’m aware the current government in Chile will be less receptive to this story than previously, although there’s no reason for them to be. The film lets all its contributors speak candidly, within the boundaries set by what we could find in the documentation. There’s only one claim in the film that we can’t back up, but its contextualised by what evidence is available.’
So what does he hope Chileans will get from the film? ‘I hope those who may not welcome this film initially will give it a chance. Chile does need to reclaim its history and be able to tell it with confidence, beyond the political agendas. It’s the only way forward towards a fairer society for all.’