I Wonder What You Will Remember of September (Thur. Nov. 14)

Chile, 1978, documentary Cecilia Cornejo

By Alice Giovanna Terriquez, History and African American Studies

     Last Thursday, November 12th, I attended a film screening of Cecilia Cornejo’s I Wonder What You Will Remember of September, a film made from a place of discomfort for the filmmaker. Cornejo ‘s film was not focused on September 11, 2001 but rather on September 11, 1978 in Chile. Her film was about the CIA sponsored coup d’ etat to overthrow the democratic government in Chile. The film made me step out of American culture and explore Chile’s often times forgotten history. There is a certain discomfort created when Cornejo’s film addressed that American lives are thought to be more worthy than the rest of the world’s. Cecilia Cornejo invocated this feeling by playing with various angles throughout the film. For instance, while interviewing her mother, she was looking away from the camera while her father looked at Cornejo. Cornejo made the film to explore this feeling of fracture she felt inside. She also captured her daughters’ reactions because she was five at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks and compared it with hers because Cornejo was seven years old in 1978.

     Revisiting the past was helpful for Cornejo because September 11, 1978 was not spoken about within her family, it was not a dinner conversation. This silence created an unresolved trauma inside Cornejo which she translated into the film by placing sounds in the film instead of music to carry and recreate the atmosphere of that day. She uses very little music in her film because she does not want her film to carry the baggage that music often carries. She opts for sounds to make the atmosphere because she believes it invokes more feelings.  Also in 1978, music was not allowed to be played in Chile so it was a thing done in secrecy and the only song the film includes is a song by Victor Jara, which was the only record her father kept when music was banned.

     Cecilia Cornejo’s film was not created to be problematic but in an effort to be therapeutic, especially for her and the non-Chilean audience. It allowed her to figure out her unspoken history and reach a new audience. She told us she had her daughter in mind when making this film, “How do I make something that my daughter can see and understand instead of not talking about it for a long time like my family did and create a fracture in her?”. Her film is domestic in its aims; it is meant to be a reclaiming of history. This is also the reason why she chose her father and her mother to interview, people who had survived September 11 instead of a widow. She decided to tell her story through the eyes of a child because children tend to retreat to a safe place in their mind meaning they look at strange events and describe them differently. For example, in the film, Cecilia does not say that her father became an alcoholic after the September 11 events but that he was quite and a distant man after the events of September 11, 1978

     Cecilia Cornejo’s film was like watching a poem unfold right before my eyes. Cecilia Cornejo does not want a violent event like the overthrow of democracy and the CIA involvement in the coup in Chile to be erased, she wants all lives lost to matter. She purposefully excludes detailed information regarding September 11, 2001 because she wants the film to be less of a documentary and more an invocation of emotional stamina. Cornejo wants to prevent forgetting, she wants no dead memory and she achieves this in her film, I Wonder What You Will Remember of September.  Cornejo’s film is beautifully crafted with images that are open to interpretation and sounds that are invocative and create an emotional exploration of the past.