The Pearl Button

Poster for The Pearl Button

The great Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán (Nostalgia for the Light) chronicles the history of the indigenous peoples of Chilean Patagonia, whose decimation by colonial conquest prefigured the brutality of the Pinochet regime.

Ever since he captured the last days of Salvador Allende’s democratically elected socialist government in his groundbreaking documentary The Battle of Chile, Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán has established himself as the voice of those silenced and “disappeared” by the two-decade dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. With his new film, The Pearl Button, Guzmán turns to another people who have been muted by history: the indigenous peoples of Chilean Patagonia, whose decimation by colonial conquest prefigured the brutality of the Pinochet regime.

In his previous film Nostalgia for the Light, Guzmán overlaid the ongoing search for the regime’s victims with a contemplation of the unfathomable mysteries of the cosmos; here, he finds an equally poetic metaphor in another vast universe considerably closer to home. Early in the film, Guzmán notes that, despite the fact that Chile has nearly 4,000 kilometres of coastline, Chileans have very little relationship with the Pacific Ocean. Yet at one time, the nomadic Kaweskar (or “Water People”) paddled up and down the length of the immense Chilean coast, living in harmony with the ocean that was their life and their livelihood. Now, in the aftermath of the colonial era, there are very few survivors left to tell the story of this once-thriving people.

Through interviews with some of the last remaining Kaweskar, Guzmán chronicles the terrible devastation wrought by this almost complete genocide.

Not only denouncing his country’s colonial past, Guzmán underlines how brutality is a recurring theme in human history, and wonders if there could ever be a reality where the Water People could exist without interference. Combining profound metaphysical speculation with an affecting, intimate approach, The Pearl Button asserts the importance of memory in a world very quick to forget.

“The Pearl Button is a vivid, essential portal to understanding not only the heritage of a nation, but also the art of nonfiction cinema.” (Kevin B. Lee, indieWIRE)

“It is the director’s extraordinary intuition about the synchronicity of history, geography and the physical universe—a mysterious relationship that has nothing to do with cause and effect—that gives the film and its predecessor their undeniable power.” (Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter)