Nae Pasaran (2018) written, produced and directed by Felipe Bustos Sierra
Reviewed by Jackie Bergson
Nae Pasaran is the extraordinary result of Felipe Bustos Sierra’s quest to find congruence in a story which stirred his curiosity and passion about Scottish workers who refused to carry out maintenance on aeroplane engines used by the Chilean air force to bomb its own people in the early 1970s. The impact of this action of solidarity by Scottish engineers had never been fully documented and the meaning of the story behind and following that action had, therefore, been all but lost. Uncovering and putting all of the pieces of this true story together with exceptional talent and commitment, the film’s young director brings this rousing and compassionate account of events which took place in the 1970s to a wider audience.
Nae Pasaran’s cinematic arc began in earnest this decade, when Edinburgh-based Felipe, whose heritage is Chilean, contacted the engineers who had led a four-year boycott from their workplace in East Kilbride’s Rolls Royce factory in 1973. ‘Tank commander’ Bob Fulton and his ‘super-shop-steward’ colleagues, Robert Somerville, Stuart Barrie and John Keenan were, thus, given an exceptional opportunity to breathe true life into this remarkable story.
Telling how these men’s ‘moral compass’ was their true guide throughout, in making the film, Felipe has since stated that these same men represented ‘a true barometer’ for him. Thus, an investigative impetus which leads to the discovery of an abandoned, rusting Rolls Royce Avon engine – which was returned from Chile to Scotland early in 2018 – also leads to the reporting of the grave circumstances which existed in Chile during General Pinochet’s command. Evoking Pinochet’s four-decades-old military coup against the first left-wing presidency of Chile grounds the storyline of Nae Pasaran – as does the responsive action of the film’s shop-steward heroes, who acted to stop further delivery of engines for Hawker Hunter planes which bombed La Moneda Palace and President Allende with it on 11 September 1973.
Covering important details through archive footage such as the bombing of La Moneda, the film also chronicles the significance of Judith Hart, a Labour MP who was captured and tortured by Chilean secret police at the time; events such as public gatherings of peaceful protest in Chile by the revolutionary left wing movement MIR – which, amongst other atrocities, suffered the assassination of its general secretary in 1974 by Chilean secret police; some of the horrific actions of the Chilean military and its secret police agency in torturing and killing suspected dissidents of Pinochet’s regime; and newsreel commentary about USA-Andes copper mines investors, whom in 1973 were believed to have supported Pinochet’s coup against President Allende.
Connecting meaning and significance between 1973 to present day through recent interviews with a prominent Chilean journalist, British officials who represented the Chile Solidarity campaign at the time and a high-ranking Chilean air force general, the fine intelligence, open curiosity and unobtrusive style of the film truly shines. Light is consequently thrown upon certain Chilean viewpoints such as ‘[the Rolls Royce workers] did not see themselves as criminals … nobody knows the truth’, aired by one commentator; the Scottish boycotters being thought of as similar to radicalised Islamists expressed by another. In answering questions after a screening, Felipe stated that in his own view the General who made the latter comment missed an opportunity for humanitarian reflection – instead he ‘made a shovel and buried himself’.
As if by poetically dramatic juxtaposition, the heroic, magical image of Bob Fulton in ghostly form appears as the story unfolds, standing in the way of trucks destined for Chile to deliver war plane engines. This transcendental touch resonates with meaning beyond the facts and conversations distilled within the film. This ordinary hero and his former Rolls Royce colleagues alike are telling how they felt at the time and how they still feel today, despite circumstances being very different. Seeing the image of trucks simply driving through Bob in ghostly form resonates with the men’s point that circumstances today are very different. The open question which the film points to here is clearly whether or how a similar action of solidarity between workers in Britain and abroad would be able to have the same direct impact today. With resounding and resonating proclamation, Nae Pasaran is the best documentary to come out of Scotland in recent years. Not to be missed on its release this September.
Jackie Bergson has worked in the voluntary sector and commercial business development in technology and creative sectors. Educated in and living in Glasgow, her political and social views chime left-of-centre.