Helping Build Chilean Subculture’s Memory & History: An Interview With Susana Díaz Berríos

DIY and resistance movements through the lense of a Chilean filmmaker.

Susana Díaz Berríos is a Chilean director, producer, filmmaker and writer with a degree in film, aesthetics and a master in artistic production and socio-culture.

She’s the director and producer of the feature films Supersordo. Historia y Geografía de un Ruido (2009), about the cult punk band Supersordo, Hardcore. La Revolución Inconclusa (2011), about the hardcore scene in Chile through the voices of some of the people that helped built it, including bands like Disturbio Menor, Silencio Absoluto, or Donfango, and Ellas No (2014), a documentary on the feminist post-punk band of the same name, their hardships and the ways their creative forces manifest in their lives.

Restless, perceptive, with a profound and avid need to showcase her particular vision and interests, as well as her politics and general worldview, always in dialogue with her surroundings, she also shares and helps spread the work of women and the underground scene through series like Sonidos en Mí, Mujeres en la Música (2018) and Bestiario del Ruido (2022).

Her career is wide, rich and persistent. She also has been a film teacher in different places and has written in various imprints, her interests are centered around the margins of popular subcultures, the DIY ethos, and the struggles of everyday Latin American life, with her work showing it all with a keen eye view, containing microworlds inside of it that we can visit and travel through as we watch, not passively, but as active, curious wanderers.

We got in contact with Susana wanting to know more about what’s inside those worlds and how did she came in contact with them, about what drives her and feeds her mind. Here’s a bit of what we’ve got.

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How did you first approach punk and what’s your relation to the Chilean scene?

To be honest, I didn’t like punk music much at first. What I liked was the noise, energy and the alternative modes of production that I learned about through shows. I was interested in what I saw in the hardcore scene: autonomy, DIY, friendship and an anti-system attitude. I had a lot of skater, hardcore and anarchopunk friends. I moved through different scenes, I didn’t belong anywhere. I liked seeing and listening to live music in stages close to the public, meeting different people, exchanging music. I highly value the experience of having attended those concerts.

I keep great friends from those times. Some of them still go at it. It’s hard to keep playing amidst COVID-19 and fascism, ‘cause people just don’t like noise. They call the police, who fine [those who make the shows]. I think you have to be rough to be a musician outside of the traditional logics of production in Chile.

These days I go to concerts in parks and houses or to shows in bigger theaters. I like seeing punk bands/artists and listening to music. I feel like those are spaces of freedom. If I can contribute to document the underground’s collective memory, minorities [which in this context refers to LGBTQIA+ people] or whatever catches my attention, I’m going to do it as long as I have the energy and the desire to do so.

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When did you first gain an interest in film production and direction?

When I finished film school I worked on the shooting of a script for a feature film that I wrote. I thought I wanted to be a screenwriter, I didn’t know yet that direction was my thing. Ego related problems ended up killing any desire I had to make fiction and I didn’t want to know a thing about that kind of cinema. I got so depressed I started studying something else: I took an aesthetics degree, which is kinda similar to art theory. In between all the workshops that were happening there, there was one about documentaries and right there I fell in love again with the idea of making films collectively and with friends.

I was influenced by political issues of self-determination and collective work. That was very far from my film classmates’ [interests] and even further from the audiovisual mainstream. I was attracted to the music of labels like Dischord, to independent cinema and experimental cinema. I watched a lot of films by authors that were radical in their style: Cassavetes, Bergman and all of Godard. At the same time, I was also discovering Mekas, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger and Marker and Farocki’s documentary films. Instrument, Jem Cohen’s documentary, was my main influence to make Supersordo. Historia y Geografía de un Ruido. I watched a lot of films in that time, more than I listened to music. I was very obsessed.

How was the idea for the documentary on Supersordo born?

When I was doing my aesthetics degree I took a class on documentary filmmaking and right there the idea for it was born. I didn’t think much of it. The truth is, I just wanted to do it, it was very intuitive and had the image of it being dirty and in black and white in my mind. That was the only thing I was certain of. Then came out the idea of creating a “sonic nightmare” and of letting the band play to showcase the energy of the members in concert. In the process of it some friends tagged along and we had a great time. When we had a cut, I invited everyone to see it and each viewing of it turned into a party.

At first I didn’t think much of the bands’ transcendence. I realized how relevant they were the day it premiered: the cinema was full, there was no room for more people and everyone sang along. It was a big group of friends that enjoyed making projects and realizing them. A gang led by my obsession for making this film. I think I’m very persistent, but I know that without them I couldn’t have done a thing. I’m very thankful for having such great friends that, since those years, have been by my side.

I remember how thrilling it was to see the room full of people singing along. Not even Supersordo cared about Supersordo. I think that was the main thing: making it happen without wanting anything in return, just by pure will and enjoyment.

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And then you made Hardcore. La Revolución Inconclusa (2011).

The first documentary I wanted to make was Hardcore, but along the path Supersordo appeared and I left it on hold. When the Supersordo film premiered, I started with it again immediately. I had a lot of interviews and material compiled. The process was super interesting: first, along with the investigator in charge, Bosco, we developed a hypothesis about an internal class struggle that fragmented the movement.

That idea turned into another that had more to do with ideological differences in a place where a lot of styles and people passed through. I wanted to make an historical revaluation of a movement that taught me all about DIY and the meaning of mutual support between friends.

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You also worked with Efraín Robles, Evelyn Cornejo and Ellas No, following a thread that ties music and politics together. How did all of this happen and how does it connect with what you do?

A la Siga del Sol is a documentary directed by Efraín Robles about singer-songwriter Evelyn Cornejo. I worked in the production area. Since I was working on it and was close with the artist, I made a chapter for the documentary series Sonidos en Mí, Mujeres en la Música (first season), which I directed, with her.

Evelyn Cornejo is a great artist that has an important relationship with punk. She listened to La Polla Records in her school years and that was a major influence on her. She learned to play instruments with evangelical people and couraged up to play while riding buses in the city of Talca. She has a great life history and, above all, she’s very class conscious.

Ellas No was a whole different story. It was difficult to make. I didn’t take the easy route, the one I’ve already taken before: the one of the cult band or the musical movement/scene. In this documentary I didn’t work with archive files, a method I had already assimilated in a formal and narrative sense. This was a very direct kind of cinema, just filming an unknown band made up by women. One of them had a legal problem in court and everything got complicated. I like the film, but I feel it lacks something due to that issue. [But] I never abandoned the project, I kept going against all odds and it was great, it was nice to get to know Diana No, Carola, Gaby and Ale.

I think the path I took was focused on micropolitics of resistance and, sure, all the feature films I’ve made belong to a political path of self-production and are born as an answer to a divergent mode of production that gives you much more freedom. With [TV] series the thing is different, producers and legal managers of the projects make things complicated. 

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What are the political possibilities of documentaries? How do you see it in light of Chile’s social outburst?

In 2020, I was one of the two curators of the Portales en Llamas showcase from the Festival Internacional de Video Experimental Proceso de Error. Various artists and audiovisual creators sent one-minute short films. In their works you can see diverse points of view and narrative structures related to the “estallido social” (social outburst) in Chile. This collective film was generated in the middle of the pandemic and evolved into an exquisite corpse. The shapes it contains inside are infinite. It’s great that a political cinema that questions things can emerge, like that of Farocki and Marker. Interesting and relevant stuff appears in the archive that was built there. Now is time to reflect upon it. There were also lots of recordings that were more physical in nature coming from bodies themselves that were very intense to ponder.

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How did Sonidos en Mí, Mujeres y Disidencias en la Música start and why do you think making things like this is important?

A TV producer invited me to develop and direct the project and I accepted. When it took shape, I invited Rosa Angelini (Chilean musician, filmmaker and performance artist) as a producer. There were complications and disagreements in the [production of the] first season, so the producer who invited me ended up leaving. From that moment on, we took care of the project. I was in charge of the audiovisual direction, the investigation and the content edit. Rosa was in charge of general and executive production. We both selected the musicians that participated.

Sonidos en Mí  is a project focused on making visible, supporting and spreading the work of women and minorities. They are a series of expositive short documentaries for television that are made to showcase local bands and solo artists. The first season was released in 2018 and it had 15 musicians, like Denise from the band Aguaturbia, Camila Moreno, Arlette Jequier, Evelyn Cornejo, Mariel Mariel, Cinthia Santibañez (Crisalida), Vaso de Leche and Ellas No.

After it premiered, we realized there wasn’t much interest in promoting female musicians and it was very frustrating. It’s really hard to introduce content about bands, singers, composers and minorities on today’s television. For the same reasons, its existence is very important so we can build memory and history.

We’re currently working on the second season, to be premiered in 2022, four years after the first one. In this season we have eleven artists: the crossdresser band Las Indetectables, very powerful and polemic, Rizoma Alzada, a performance centered band that was born during Chile’s social outburst, Daniela Millaleo, a Mapuche feminist singer. There’s also the prominent ’90s icons Denise Malebrán and Colombina Parra, both with outstanding stories. In the electronic side there’s Alisú, Kinética and Fran Straube with her project Rubio. Finally, we have Francisca Valenzuela, Paz Quintana and Dania Neko. Recently we found out that we won a public funding program so that we could make the third season, which is great to keep the project going.

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You’re currently working on a project called Bestiario del Ruido. What can you tell us about it?

Bestiario del Ruido is a project that documents bands and solo artists with an extensive career. The original idea was mine. I assembled a team and made a pilot episode with [the punk group] Marcel Duchamp. Then I recruited Hernán Angulo, from Celadores, to help with production. It seemed like we would make a good pair, we shared the same spirit about production. We both came from the same ‘school’ of hardcore punk and DIY. Hernán took the decision of taking his own life on September 11th. I was devastated and abandoned the project. In 2020, the producer Cristóbal Sobera told me that it was time to present a project to a public funding program and we went with Bestiario.

The team was mainly made up of friends. Efraín Robles, with whom I’ve worked with in all of my films, was in charge of montage. Nicolás Sagredo was in the graphic area. I love the way he designs. Paulina Lobos was in sound and post-production. Pedro Olivari, who’s very supportive and generous, was in charge of cameras. Leyla Manzur, with whom I’ve written essays together, was in charge of the investigation. It is the first time I’ve worked with Cristóbal, the executive producer, and it is going well.

About the artists that were chosen for this season, every single one of them has contempt for the [music] market and I like that. They’re very simple people and make their music because they like it. Dadalú and Colombina Parra are both highly creative and prolific artists, they’ve never stopped creating. There are bands from the ’90s that have been coming back and releasing new tracks, such as Tercer Subterráneo and Malcorazón. There’s Familea Miranda. Their chapter came out beautifully and was the first one we finished. The other bands of the series are Asamblea Internacional del Fuego, Marcel Duchamp, LEM and Gangrena Surf.

This series is more like a documentary. Musicians talk about everyday things, about the act of creation, about what touring means, and open up about their feelings and about friendship. In a sense, I came back to a narrative structure that relies more on a free format. I think it is coming out great and hope you’ll like it.

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What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career?

You must be persistent and not waver. It is important to work with people akin to your creative and ethical ways or you’re gonna have a bad time. Companionship and respect for everyone’s collective work is fundamental. It is good to ruminate ideas before going all out. The joy of seeing your projects finished is invaluable. Film is not for lazy people, quite the contrary, it’s a very demanding job and one that requires a lot of time, dedication and commitment. To love your team is key and if you manage to gather a creative and committed gang it will be great.

What keeps you going with all of this? Are you hoping for something concrete and specific or are you completely open to things to come?

I’m a very restless person. Life has taken me to weird paths, very different to the ones I thought I would cross. In a way, everything starts to intertwine. I have hope in collective work, I have hope in the search for alternative modes of production. I don’t think that I could do anything else, I get bored easily if I do not think of creative ideas and I think I’m getting into a new stage and I trust that I can work up new things to come. I do not yet have a clear idea about the narrative, but I know it has to do with performance, hybrid characters crossed between fiction and documentary, soundscapes and analog formats.

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