On November 23rd Francina Carbonell's long-awaited debut, The Sky is Red will have its premiere and begin its journey through the international circuit in one of the most important nonfiction festivals in the world, the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival ( IDFA).
Described in Carbonell’s own words as "a very carefully curated festival, where films are not presented as consumer products but as ways to make our perceptions and emotions more complex", IDFA selected -in an unprecedented way- her film in two competitions: the "First Appearance Competition” and“ Competition for Creative Use of Archive ”.
This documentary, which began as her college thesis film, leads audiences through one of the most terrible prison catastrophes in Chile: the 2010 fire in the San Miguel prison that left 81 inmates dead and a trial without a guilty verdict. Constructed by reusing audiovisual evidence used in the case, the documentary immerses us in the horror of that fateful morning and in the precariousness of the prison-industrial complex. We spoke with Carbonell who shared details of the film and her intentions behind her debut, produced by Gabriela Sandoval and Carlos Nuñez of Storyboard Media.
Where did the concern to make a documentary about the San Miguel prison fire come from?
It began to arise the same day the fire occurred and I saw the news, 10 years ago. That day the country was silent before the images that were appearing on television: they were unbearable, dark, infernal and they remained in the air; an episode that was inscribed as a wound without possible elaboration.
That feeling haunted me for many years, like those impressions that return after having seen something that is difficult to make a sense of. I wondered about the value of those images, who had filmed them, what they wanted to show, what other images were missing. As we began to work with this subject, we discovered all of these remnants that were left behind: the objects, the memories, the judicial files and especially the omissions that they carried. When we dug through those remains, what was still burning were the marks of a deeply uneven country.
-How do you think this tragedy dialogues with the demands made by social movements in Chile today?¡
One might think that the fire in the San Miguel jail was one of the many times that Chile went through social unrest. What happened is not strange when we think that the prison fires abound and the reasons for the fires are always the same: precarious conditions, overcrowding, cruel treatment.
It was a tragedy that revealed that in this country people do not have the same rights, nor the same treatment, nor does the same justice system apply to them. The current prison landscape is a space that contains poverty and violates human rights in a systematic way. It is precisely that point in which the October 2019 demands are placed, in condemning a country of a project that has been designed to maintain and deepen the differences between social classes; a project that penetrates our daily lives, our affections, our desires. When the pain is so sustained, it ends up exploding, it catches fire.
So it seems very necessary to me the exercise of recounting those pains, of looking for narrative forms that help us to tell our stories and open us up to the future.
- How did you find the point of view of the film and what discoveries did you have about the fire, the reality in prison or about cinema itself?
This film began as a thesis among many colleagues from the University of Chile and, at first, I felt so far from prison reality that I sensed that the only thing we could contribute was to expose the setbacks, the traps, the cracks they were part of the judicial process. However, in the past years we have gotten closer to the organization "81 reasons" and we have felt their support, we have been there during the candlelight vigils that families carry out every month outside the jail. There we could feel how pain can be a little bit easier to carry when there are others who legitimize that space, when there are people who can put shoulders, ears, time, energy to support and mourn together.
And then I began to think of the film less of something that need to work and more as a bridge, which exists neither here nor there, but in a space that allows us to walk and listen to the other with attention. I think that allowed me to make my point of view more complex, but above all to work the film from an affective position.
How was the editing process using such diverse materials, intertwining files of the PDI (the investigations police of Chile), judicial folders and recordings that your team recorded inside the jail?
It was a difficult process. I spent many days hovering over the timeline in real uncertainty as to whether it was possible to make sense of those painful images. The amount of material that existed was also overwhelming: audios of three years of trial, hours and hours of material from the PDI, endless documents. We dived into an infinite sea where everything was possible and therefore nothing was possible.
In that sense, I think that thanks to very committed collective work we were able not only to understand the event as a cause and effect scenario, but also what had happened, so the infinity of the material and the diversity of formats that existed ended up being allies that helped us to express ourselves with precision. We reached a certain point where the need to find the perfect structure and the ideal glue that was going to unite everything disappeared, and we began to connect more with the emotions, the censorship, the manipulation that was inside the details of every one of those images.
The archives of judicial nature were slowly moving to a more poetic dimension, constructing a plot that not only immersed us in this particular tragedy, but also in the fragility of our country's prison system.
-What does it mean for you to premiere in a competition as important as IDFA and how do you think audiences around the world will respond to the documentary?
We are extremely happy to be able to debut at IDFA. It is a sensitive film that demands a space where it is treated with delicacy and respect. In that sense, I believe that IDFA is a very carefully curated festival, where films are not presented as consumer products but rather as ways to make our perceptions and emotions more complex, and I think that is what we expect from this documentary, that it allows us to continue talking.
Despite being a film built on a very local reality, I think that nobody needs worlds different from theirs to be explained to them, but rather that they open the doors to immerse ourselves in them. The distances that we have with international audiences are great, but the systems of segregation, discrimination, of second categories, more or less disguised, more or less grotesque, but they exist everywhere.
The Sky is Red will premiere November 23rd in IDFA, which will be held in theatres in Amsterdam as well as virtually. The film was directed by Francina Carbonell, produced by Storyboard Media and edited by Francina Carbonell, Andrea Chignoli and Christophe Murray. The cinematography was done by Ignacia Muñoz, sound by Vicente del Pedregal, and the sound design by Carlo Sánchez and Claudio Vargas. It was written by Francina Carbonell, Ignacia Muñoz, Constanza Lobos, Vicente del Pedregal and Arimsay Fuentes.