TIFF® and Human Rights Watch co-present the 13th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Toronto, running from March 30 to April 7, 2016 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
THE PEARL BUTTON - Screens Thursday, March 31 at 6:30 p.m.____________________________________________________________________________
A block of ice 3000 years old with a drop of water is the opening image of Patricio Guzman's The Pearl Button. Water is the vehicle that drivers the film. Guzman points to his country of Chile's 2600 mile coastline and wonders why his people did not take better advantage of its maritime opportunities. The director focuses on the Patagonia region and two significant events in the country's history that are linked by an unassuming object.
The opening discussion is on the native peoples of Chile whom paddled along the countries waterways freely until the settlers arrived in 1883. The settlers were accompanied by gold hunters and missionaries who in trying to help the natives by moving them to Dawson Island and dressed them in western clothing exposed them to foreign diseases wiping out a good portion of the indigenous peoples. Guzman highlights the Selk'nam peoples who believed that their forefathers spirits ascended to the stars. The tribe painted their bodies as starry skies in a tribute to their ancestors.
In the 19th century British Captain Fitzroy came to Chile to map the coastline. He considered himself a humanist and took 4 natives home with him to civilize them. Among the four was Jemmy Button who agreed to go in exchange for a mother of pearl button giving inspiration to the films title. Fitzroy brought Button back to his country years later but Yagan teen spent the rest of his life living between two cultures.
The other topic is the fate of the followers of Allende under the 16 year Pinochet dictatorship. Guzman investigates the fate of those imprisoned and Pinochet torture practices. One seen has a group of former Dawson Island detainees putting up their hands and shouting out their interment times. One voices yells 3 years 3 months, another 444 days a third 4 years 4 months. However the chilling part of this section is a detailed enactment of the regime practice of dumping bodies into the ocean. The sequence goes over the method of wrapping the body, the drugs used to terminate a life and the practice of placing a railway tie on the chest of the victim to weigh the body down. The government decided to retrieve these rail ties in 2004 and discovered one with a pearl button as the only remnant of the executed detainee.
The Pear Button is a selected history lesson of Chile. It points out the importance of water as the films opening quote stats that we are all streams from one water. It speaks to the time of the natives when the paddled freely amongst the waterways of the region. Native languages that are just about lost but telling have no word for god or police. The link to the treatment of Pinochet dissidents is flimsy at best however the studio of the native peoples and the visual displays of the Patagonia region make the film with the watch.
*** Out of 4.
The Pearl Button | Patricio Guzman | Chile / Spain / Switzerland / France | 2015 | 82 Minutes.
Tags: Water, Paddling, Yagan, Selk'nam , Kawesqar, Dawson Island, Pinochet, Dissidents, Railway Ties, Captain Fitzroy.