Globe, Latin America, Multiculture, Our People

The architect of new cinema is in Chile

This accolade has been bestowed upon the Cuban maestro of scriptwriting, Eliseo Altunaga, who has been an icon in the Chilean film industry for the last decade.


Eliseo Altunaga. Photo Prensa Latina

Nubia Piqueras Grosso


Professor at the International School of Cinema, Radio and TV in San Antonio de los Baños, Eliseo Altunaga is the screenwriter of Machuca, Tony Manero, Violeta Went to Heaven, Post Mortem, NO and A Fantastic Woman.

For this work, he is known as one of the most important figures of contemporary Ibero-American cinema.

At present he is involved in various projects, including a film on which he is currently working with Chilean director Andrés Wood called Spider, and another project with Argentine filmmakers Valeria Pivato and Cecilia Atán, who were the scriptwriters and directors of Desert Bride (2017).

Eliseo Altunaga spoke to Prensa Latina about his work.

What elements must a scriptwriter take into account when creating a good character?

The script is the backbone that sustains the truthfulness of the characters whose biography facilitates its construction, which will have different functions in the narrative structures.

At some point, the biography allows you to justify a strange dramatic event, such as when Amadeus wants God to satisfy his wishes and then wants to get revenge on him. In other cases, the biography of the character becomes part of the tale itself, as in the case of Hiroshima, my love, where the childlike and youthful elements of her love story with a German are part of the film’s narrative story. Within the internal dynamics of the story there is a sort of symphonic orchestra, with many elements that come together in unison, but each one has its own singularity and thus sounds different.

What can the success of A Fantastic Woman, winner of Best Foreign Film at the 2018 Oscars, be attributed to?

Every film addresses different universes. In the case of Tony Manero, we can say that it is a very solid film, built in a singular way by a director named Pablo Larraín, who is a true genius.

In Violeta Went to Heaven, for which I wrote the script, there is the diversity of people that knew her, as well as the presence of her music and ideas in Latin America.

In the case of A Fantastic Woman, the sagacity and intelligence of its director Sebastian Lelio stands out, who made the film at a time when there is a more tolerant attitude towards certain manifestations of individual human behaviour.

Do you have a special relationship with Chilean cinema?

They call me the architect of new Chilean cinema, but I have also made films in Brazil and Cuba, where the subject matter of A Fantastic Woman was addressed in Vestido de novia (Wedding Dress) (2014), a feature film directed by Marilyn Solaya on which I worked as a script consultant. However, in Chile I have worked on around 20 films, of which almost 90% have appeared in festivals and international awards, hence the name I have been given there.

What type of script do you prefer to write?

When it comes to writing, I focus more on novels. In fact, I won the Critics Award in Cuba with Black Tears (2016), a story based on the first years of the Republic that combines fiction and real events.

I feel much safer writing novels, like a fish in water, as it allows me to penetrate the inner world of the characters more deeply than film scripts do. That said, the most difficult genre is comedy.

Where do you get inspiration for your stories?

In the world of literature, I have three historical novels based around the origins of Cuba, in the Afro-Cuban context, its nature and the Cuban identity.

When I work on films in other countries, I have to become familiar with the national culture in order to identify with it.

The last film for which I worked on a screenplay is called Beyond Man, a Brazilian film directed by Willy Biondani.

As a scriptwriting professor at the San Antonio de los Baños International School of Film and Television, what future do you see for scriptwriters in Latin America?

The scriptwriting profession is not as accepted as cameraman, sound engineer or editor, which are more recognised jobs. In any case, with the development of new technologies and the more widespread use of audio-visual resources, scriptwriters are more important.

In addition, the present-day scriptwriter doesn’t just have to be an intuitive person, but also educated, cultured, and above all a person that understands the multicultural aspects of the medium.

The scriptwriter is the backbone of the story; they are not the music, but the score.

What is the most difficult when it comes to building a script?

The most difficult thing is choosing the most important part of the story to turn it into a narrative, which is why we look all over the world for which area and details to focus on.

Another important aspect is the sequence in which we are going to put the elements of the structure. It is not just a simple process of ordering these elements, but about constructing meanings.

How do you view the current development of Latin American cinema based on the success it has had in the Academy?

In general, there is a problem related to hegemonic thoughts. However, I think that cinema is one of the most powerful media, because to a certain extent it is capable of achieving what people want, while making it seem voluntary.

I feel there is a disadvantage in how big industry sees cinema as an instrument and also in terms of how many resources it is given, how underdevelopment and our cultures see cinema as a form of entertainment, as art that is separate from the function of regulating reality, or at least from promoting certain regions.

I think that sometimes there is a certain narrative naivety. Sometimes cinema is understood not as a powerful instrument for building meaning and ideas, but as an element of escape or adornment.

I do not believe in poor or different cinema, rather I believe in the existence of a good or bad cinema, and in order to do it well, we have to study, observe and work hard. (PL)

(Translated by Lucy Daghorn) –  Photos: Pixabay

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