EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with Nae Pasaran director Felipe Bustos Sierra

12 mins read

Nae Pasaran is a Scottish BAFTA-winning documentary that focuses on four unionised workers incredible acts of solidarity against a ferocious military coup in Chile, and its impact four decades later.

In 1974, a team of Scottish factory workers in East Kilbride protested against repairing a Chilean Air Force jet: the very kind that dictator Augusto Pinochet using to rain down bombs on hordes of people. Four decades later, the now-pensioners discover the magnitude of their bravery.

The film gives the audience a fascinating insight into Chile’s history, as Felipe Bustos Sierra, the part-Chilean director guides you through the film as both interviewer and investigator. Brig spoke to Felipe ahead of Nae Pasaran’s TV premiere on BBC Scotland’s launch night at 10.30pm.

Can you share some of the history behind the project?

The film is the result of a five-year filming-and-research project about the impact of a long-forgotten solidarity boycott in the small town of East Kilbride, south of Glasgow.  For four years in the 1970s, factory workers refused to repair and return jet engines from the Air Force of Chile, in protest against General Pinochet’s violent military coup in Chile in 1973.  Unbeknown to the workers, their actions became the longest single act of solidarity and had incredible consequences.

One night, the engines mysteriously vanished from the factory, putting an end to the boycott.  The workers were told their action had been meaningless and, until the film, had never found out the scale of their impact. Apart from the day of the boycott, this had not been researched before and while documents were slowly getting declassified, they’d never been gathered in one place to understand what had truly happened.  To do so, we went through national archives in Scotland, England, Chile and the US.  We filmed Nae Pasaran over five years, with two long trips to Chile and a few short ones to England.

How did you build a relationship with the your interviewees?

I made a short film about the day of the boycott in 2013 and had known the guys for a few months at that point.  We didn’t know how much there was to be found, but thanks to the experience making the short film together, there was a new trust and friendship going into the feature film, which helped greatly.  They were open to do longer interviews and not just talk about the boycott but their lives in general.  It helped bring more emotion and more depth to them on screen, which led to the final interviews you see in the film.

Memories are fickle, so bringing items, photos, documents to these interviews would help unlock new details.  That in turn would lead to finding more people to interview, more dates, more stories, etc.  It was a slow process as we had to rebuild the history first, which is something ideally you’d like to know before you start making your film, but that wasn’t possible.  It was a trial and error process, chasing many leads that went nowhere, but luckily a few came through.

Behind the scenes. Credit: naepasaran.com

What was the hardest part of the film to direct? 

I’d noticed early on that in the individual interviews the guys were relying on me to provide information, jog their memory, so they could reminisce or react to it.  However, when they were together, they didn’t need me, they had each other to bounce off and that was much more interesting to tell the story.  It showed you their dynamic, a glimpse into what it must have been when they were all working together and supporting each other through the boycott.  That was exciting, but much trickier to shoot.

We did a few multi-camera shoots with many contributors where we often didn’t know where the conversation was going to head or how they would react, like the medal ceremony.  It took a lot of planning and working with great camera folk who could find the right shot at the right moment.  It was a learning curve, nerve-wracking but very exciting to do.

What is your most positive memory from filming? 

During one of the trips to Chile, we were invited to the Moneda Presidential Palace, the one that had been bombed on the day of the coup.  The short film had just premiered in Chile and the story was coming out through word-of-mouth.  The then-Government felt it was part of their national heritage and wanted to support the new project.

That’s when the possibility of a medal ceremony came up.  We planned it in secret from the guys for six months, and invited their families, former colleagues, campaigners and former refugees who’d settled in the UK.  It was held at the Glasgow City Chambers, where Nelson Mandela had received the Freedom of the City award after his liberation.  That connected massively with the East Kilbride workers.  They thought they were going to a ‘retirement’ screening for the short film, but because of the location, we all “had to wear suits”, they didn’t seem to mind.

There were surprised at first by who turned up, some faces they hadn’t seen since the days of the boycott.  We showed them some footage from the new film and messages of thanks from Chileans who were either involved or always felt the boycott had been just a rumour.  That was very emotional already, but then the ambassador introduced himself and they realised what was truly happening.  All their reactions in the film follow from there.  It’s one of my favourite days.

The medal ceremony at Glasgow City Chambers. Credit: naepasarn.com

How do you feel about the reception the documentary has received?

I didn’t think the film would get such a reception.  First, so little of the story had been researched before, it was hard to believe we’d find so many positive outcomes.  Funding was really hard to come by for the first three years, so I naturally assumed there was little interest. When you work on something for so long, you lose any distance and by the end I couldn’t tell if anyone would care, outside of the circle of people involved in making it.

What was the experience of closing last year’s Glasgow Film Festival?

It was perfect, most of the guys were born in Glasgow.  It felt like a homecoming.  They all remembered the GFT as the “Cosmo”, what it was called when it first opened.  We finished the film just days before it premiered.  It was intense, in a few days, we went from a handful of people having seen it to every cinema in the GFT sold out.  I was sitting next to Bob Fulton in the cinema and when the lights went out just before the film started, I heard him mutter: “And here we go.”  They got to experience the audience reactions first-hand too, for the first time.

How did you first get into film-making?

My father was an exiled Chilean journalist and he wasn’t allowed to go back to Chile for 15 years.  A few years before the dictatorship ended, my mum and I went to Chile to visit the family.  My father bought a camcorder for the occasion so we could film people and places in Chile he hadn’t seen since he left.  My mum didn’t care much for technology so I ended up doing most of the filming, working out the camera and interviewing relatives.  I was 9.

Felipe Bustos Sierra
Felipe (right). Credit: naepasaran.com

What is your all-time favourite film?

I’ve always loved films but I watched Stand By Me when I was 12 and it was the first time I understood what great storytelling could do.  I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker ever since.

Are you working on any new projects now? 

Yes, but it’s too soon to talk about it.

What advice can you give to students wishing to pursue a career in film-making? 

Try every role, help out on your friends’ films.  See what fits you best.  What stories have you got to tell that you’d be willing to spend ten years working on it?  I’ve been making films for twenty years and have only been making a living out of it for the last few.  Things are getting better in Scotland for filmmakers but very slowly.  You’ll need patience, a lot of curiosity and a good group of friends and family to support you.

Nae Pasaran airs tonight (Sunday 24 February) as part of the launch of BBC Scotland at 10.30pm, and will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer. 

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Film Media and Journalism student at the University of Stirling. Editor in Chief at Brig Newspaper. Edinburgh / Stirling

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