84. Tierra Prometida
Written & performed by Ángel Parra, 1974
From the LP Tierra Prometida [The Inter-Church Committee for Chile, Canada 1975]


Tierra prometida
Tan muerta y lejana
Esperanza trunca
Seis de la mañana

Tierra prometida
Hermosa muchacha
Tanto te buscamos
Hoy yaces helada

A la ronda, ronda
Rondaban las balas
¡qué ronda siniestra!
Once en la mañana

Tierra prometida
Se me quebró el alma
En vez de promesa
Debió ser jurada

Con cuánta inocencia
Cayó esa mañana
Paloma sangrando
Nuestra patria amada

One: On Ángel Parra

The following text is sourced from ‘Ángel Parra: experiencing exile is painful – they push you towards an abyss’, written by Ruth León Pinilla and translated by Kate Stansfield via cafebabel.com – the European magazine in 2007:

‘Based in Paris for the past 35 years, Angel Parra the 64 year old musician son of folklore icon Violeta Parra, on Chilean Septembers, exiles and his dead mother’s legacy.

Angel Parra is perhaps one of the most outstanding figures in the cultural, artistic and political life of Chile. His songs – which have achieved international recognition and elevated him to ‘cult status’, have also had an impact on many generations of South American youth. Unable to remain in Chile after the right-wing coup that toppled President Salvador Allende in 1973, Angel left his homeland and settled in France. He carried with him the diverse musical traditions of his native region to a dedicated global audience. Son of the legendary Violeta Parra, close friend of the late Victor Jarra, he started his career with a revolutionary repertoire filled with socio-political lyrics that addressed human rights with an undying optimism.

We are in the Lumen theatre, after a concert in Brussels as a prelude to an upcoming Ángel Parra tour. At the end of two intimate hours spent transported by the songs of Violeta Parra – founder of Chilean folklore – the audience bids farewell to her son, whose voice and guitar have once again managed to pull his spectators out of the present and push them towards a catharsis bursting with nostalgia and celebrations. It is September, ‘the most powerful month for Chileans,’ Parra emphasises. The month in which, in 1810, Chile declared its independence from Spain; the month in which Salvador Allende rose to power in 1970 and when other powers evicted him in 1973.

Parra is also currently launching his third novel, Hands Behind The Head – in which he narrates, always with great humour, his dramatic experience during the first days following Pinochet’s coup d’état in 1973. At the same time, he is already editing his fourth novel, which comes out in November. ‘It is my way of recounting history: and what history can I tell if it isn’t the history of my people?’

It was Parra’s political connection with the left-wingers of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity that led to his imprisonment in 1973 in the National Stadium and Chacabuco concentration camp, following Pinochet’s coup d’état. Later, in 1974, he found himself in exile in Mexico before ending up in Paris in 1976. ‘To be able to live the present we must know where we come from. History weighs down on us considerably. When we escape all those experiences alive, we can consider ourselves privileged and reborn,’ he explains when talking about his artistic relationship with the past.

Like so many others, Parra found himself in exile. ‘The experience of exile is painful because it is an obligation, because they push you towards an abyss and you don’t know what’s going to happen to you. That’s what happened to thousands of people. It is unknown territory, a precipice, and you have to grab hold of whatever you can. For us, the welcome of the European natives, as I call them, has been fundamental. They are always very open to Latin Americans.’

‘My case is exceptional because I fit in easily anywhere, but I try to speak not in my name but in that of the 1, 200,000 Chileans who had to leave the country,’ he says, reflecting on the incomplete integration of Chileans abroad. ‘Many people settled in with their packed suitcase under the bed, thinking of returning to Chile within a matter of days. However, 35 years have passed and there are people who have never returned and never will.’ This anxiety about returning to Chile complicated the life of the exiles: ‘They didn’t learn the local language, they didn’t become integrated, they worked purely to survive.’

Parra now has a new Chilean tour planned. ‘My life is that of a circus performer. Like the gypsies, I travel with my tent on my back.’ In this coming and going, he lives up to his name: Ángel, the messenger. ‘The work I do is like that of a postman: I carry news back and forth. When I go to Chile I meet people who were exiled in Berlin, in Brussels or in Paris and they ask after the people who still live in Europe. And vice versa – when I return to Europe, they ask after the people in Chile. My work is beautiful, full of personal relationships.’

When I ask him about the current political situation in Chile, he stresses the complex situation his country is experiencing. ‘Even though democracy arrived seventeen years ago, Chile’s wealth is concentrated in 10% of the population – two million people live in extreme poverty.’ Parra isn’t just standing back and doing nothing about this situation. ‘In my modest role of communist militant, I do what I can by being there, I open my mouth when I can, because however much the socialist and demoChristian companions are in power, they have got used to that power. They’re used to the big cars with tinted windows, the secretaries, an entire system of privileges, and they have forgotten why they are there, what role they must fulfil,’ laments a Parra who, however, considers it very positive that the current president of Chile is a woman (Michelle Bachelet). He hopes that she can bring about many changes in her remaining two years of office.

Along with his sister Isabel and the Violeta Parra Foundation, Parra has arranged to celebrate his mother’s 90th year between 4 October 2007 and the same day in 2008. It will be a whole year of festivities in different parts of the world. I ask Parra if he considers himself heir to his mother’s varied artistic legacy: ‘Not only my sister and I but also the people of my generation; not only Chileans but also Argentineans, Peruvians or Bolivians are heirs to Violeta’s work, all Latin Americans,’ he insists. In the light of his mother’s vast accomplishments, Parra has come to ask if it is worth continuing to write songs. ‘The repertoire we’ve inherited from Violeta Parra is so vast and so strong and of such quality. More than 300 songs, not to mention her unpublished works.’’

Two: On Miguel Littin [part one]>

Parra’s Tierra Prometida was used by another Chilean exile, the filmmaker Miguel Littin, in his 1973 film of the same name. Here is a synopsis of Littin’s film by Clarke Fountain from www.allmovie.com:

‘North Americans often think of South America in relation to two products: revolutions and coffee. This Chilean film is about revolutions. Tierra Prometida, edited while in exile in Cuba tells the story of a peasants revolt at the beginning of the 1900s.It was made by Miguel Littin, who was the head of the national film studio, Chile Films, under Salvadore Allende. Shortly after Allende’s fall from power, Littin was encouraged to leave Chile. Before he did, he made this film about a period of peasant uprisings and social unrest in the 1930s. The story concerns the efforts of Jose Duran (Nelson Villagra) to improve conditions for his fellow peasants. When he begins to be involved in issues of surrounding regions, he calls attention to himself and his group, and their small successes are imperilled.’’

Three: On Chilean cinema

…and here is an overview on Chilean cinema, and exile, and Littin’s role therein, from www.ejumpcut.org, via an excerpt from ‘Chilean cinema: ten years of exile (1973-83)’, by Zuzana M. Pick, Jump Cut, no. 32, April 1987, pp. 66-70. Copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1987, 2006:

‘1967 marks an important date in the development of a ‘new cinema’ in Latin America. It was the year of the Viña del Mar Film Festival in Chile. However, the repercussions of this event inside the country would only be felt in 1969. LA MARCHA DEL CARBON (The March of the Coal Workers) and LAS BANDERAS DEL PUEBLO (The People’s Flags), directed by Sergio Bravo in 1963 and 1964 respectively, had marked the beginning of a militant documentary practice in Chile. But the presentation of four feature films at the second Vina del Mar Film Festival in 1969 marked the beginning of the ‘new cinema’ in Chile. VALPARAISO MI AMOR (Valparaiso, My Love, 1969) by Aldo Francia, EL CHACAL DE NAHUELTORO (The Jackal of Nahueltoro, 1969) by Miguel Littin, CALICHE SANGRIENTO (Bloody Salpetre, 1968) by Helvio Soto, and TRES TRISTES TIGRES (Three Sad Tigers, 1968) by Raúl Ruiz stood as the paradigm of a new kind of feature-film production from a country on the brink of an unique political process.

During the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende, the Cineteca Universitaria (University Cinematheque) was formed and later young students were incorporated in Talleres (Workshops) set up by Miguel Littin at Chile Films. The first seeds for a promising national cinema had been sown. The political will and creative enthusiasm that prompted an increased cultural activity in the three years of the Popular Unity government did not diminish after the military intervention in 1973.’

…and here is an indication of the thinking behind this new revolutionary cinema, excerpted from Jorge Sanjinés and Tomás Gutierrez Alea – ‘Class, film language and popular cinema’, by William Alexander, from Jump Cut, no. 30, March 1985:

‘[…] the filmmaker’s purpose is not to create ‘understanding spectators,’ in Miguel Littin’s phrase, [8] liberals who despite themselves are collaborators with the enemy, but to transform spectators into actors, or participants in the revolution. In order to bring about this transformation, filmmakers seek an original and an empowering use of language.

First they must analyze the two predominant forms of film language, which Solanas and Getino called First and Second Cinema [9]. First Cinema, which dominates Latin American screens through corporate control of distribution and theatres, is Hollywood and Hollywood-derived film. It has high, often slick production values. It presents a completed world where no serious change is necessary. It celebrates individualism, the consumer ethic, and superficial beauty and behaviour. And it denigrates minority, third world, and working class people. Second Cinema is New Wave and related film. It has a subjective, individualistic, ‘auteur’ perspective. It often is less linear than First Cinema, more fragmented, disruptive, and thought-producing. It is more likely to expose social problems. It attracts liberal and progressive intellectuals. But it seldom addresses the politics of change.

The language of both First and Second Cinema undermines any attempt at revolutionary content. A purpose of First Cinema is to pacify thought and subdue the will, while revolutionary art must lead to praxis, to action based upon reflection. And, in Solanas words, ‘Auteur cinema is perfectly capable of satisfying the needs and wishes of the consumer-society. Therefore, the author, even if subjectively he is a revolutionary, continues to create works which are objectively bourgeois … If a left-wing ‘author’ criticizes the bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie still is able to recognize itself in the author, and it exclaims, ‘Oh it’s so beautiful! This Italian film is so beautiful!’ …

While [the filmmaker] turns the ideas around, [he] doesn’t change his means of expression, nor his subjectivity, nor his irrationality. He continues to express himself in a style and a worldview that belong to the bourgeois consumer-society. He can easily be co-opted.” [10]

Having rejected the language of First and Second Cinema, Latin American filmmakers find numerous resources for a new language, that of Third Cinema. The speech, environment, experience, culture and behavior of workers and peasants themselves become one resource; filmmakers like Sanjinés, Solanas and Getino, Littin in Chile, Marta Rodriguez and Jorge Silva in Colombia, and Federico García in Peru have worked in solidarity with peasant and worker communities to shape films that represent their struggles. A second resource lies in the hidden history of a country — in struggles, massacres, and victories of the past either not recorded or distorted in the schools and in history books. Littin’s PROMISED LAND, Sanjinés’ COURAGE OF THE PEOPLE, and Sergio Giral’s THE OTHER FRANCISCO are but a few of the films that defy traditional history and historical language. And a third resource lies in the aesthetic of imperfection, that is, in the idea of film still in process, reflecting a society still in formation, opposed to the complete, complacent, perfected society and form of dominant cinema. Solanas and Getino’s THE HOUR OF THE FURNACES ends with an appeal to the audience to add further stories, letters, and ideas to the unfinished film, which is an instrument of the unfinished struggle.

[8] Miguel Littin, ‘Film in Chile: an interview with Miguel Littin,’ Cineaste, 4, No. 4 (Spring 1971), p. 5.
[9/10] Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, ‘Toward a Third Cinema,’ Cineaste, 4, No. 3 (Winter 1970-71)’



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