Chile’s BTF Media has unveiled its next project, “El Estallido,” a six-part docu-series telling the story of young psychology student Gustavo Villaroel, who lost both of his eyes after being shot twice with rubber bullets by the Chilean police while participating in the social uprising in Santiago in October 2019. In anticipation of pitching the series at this year’s MipTV, BTF has released a first international teaser featuring Gustavo and his brother Enrique.
Hernán Caffiero, director and producer of 2018’s International Emmy-winning “The Suspended Mourning,” will head the series with executive producers Ricardo Coeto and Francisco Cordero. “El Estallido” will enlist academics, analysts and experts in social behavior to examine the circumstances which lead to the massive demonstrations that overtook the entire country in 2019.
Key to the series’ narrative is the relationship between Gustavo and Enrique, with Enrique narrating the series, as he does in the teaser. The history of the brother’s family will be juxtaposed with the recent history of Chile as a whole, unveiling decades of social discord reaching back to the era of Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship and how it affected ordinary people, and leads to the 2019 uprising. Variety talked to Gustavo Villaroel.
Your story is one of the most emblematic of the Chilean social outbreak, reaching international visibility and support. Why did you decide to tell your story and be part of this series? How did you meet Hernán?
I think it is necessary to make cases like mine visible, especially in a country like Chile. I think justice doesn’t work otherwise, and that is why the international attention, especially from a series like this, is crucial to let us know everything that happened in Chile, and what continues to happen in the wake of the October 18 protest.
In the last few months, I have spoken with several Chilean filmmakers about productions that were made in the hope of inspiring social change. What kind of impact do you think this series can have and what are your hopes for possible changes it can inspire?
That’s my hope too. My simplest expectation is to let people know what happened here, and then hopefully pressure for justice will follow, not only for me but for everyone involved. I insist, it is necessary for the Chilean people to be certain that justice will be done. Unfortunately almost half of the causes of human rights violations were closed and archived because of lack of progress, and I feel that international pressure is needed to move things forward.
We know that the series will examine Chilean history to better understand the events that occurred in 2019. What kind of repercussions do you think the Pinochet dictatorship has to this day?
It’s like a still-open wound precisely because there was never justice for the violations committed, which meant that wound could never close. That’s why projects like this are necessary. They seek to give visibility to what happened so as not to make that same mistakes again. That’s also why we are doing this project with Hernán so soon after the events it discusses.
This series is proposed as a critique against the actions of the Chilean police, with experts arguing that the organization acts under the same logic of the dictatorship. Do you think this series can contribute to the debate and reflection regarding the need to reform the police?
I think it’s important that the actions of the Chilean police be addressed in depth, with advice from experts. I also think it is clear that important protocols have not been complied with within law enforcement, because we have a militarized police force which continues to act as it did in that era. So yes, I do think we need to reform or completely rebuild a new law enforcement system.
Some months ago, Chile held a historic vote in which it was decided to update the country’s Constitution. What do you think will happen? What would you like to see change in your country?
There are great expectations about what may come from the process of establishing a new constitution, and I believe foremost among them must be basic human rights such as the right to water – it should belong to the public not to private companies – education and health. These are basic issues that are not guaranteed right now in Chile. And of course, what we are talking about with this series, that a new police force with more democratic values must be created separate from the legacy of the dictatorship. There are so many things that must be addressed, but for me these are paramount.