The sound of Chilean protest music is changing. In the 1960s and '70s, artists such as Violeta Parra and Victor Jara set their messages of political and social change to the sounds of Andean folk songs and ballads. But Alex Anwandter expresses his demands for change with electro-pop music.
Anwandter’s latest album, “Amiga,” has made him a spokesperson in Chile for LGBT and women’s rights. And now the 33-year-old artist is getting attention as a filmmaker. His debut as a director is called “Nunca Vas a Estar Solo” (“You’ll Never Be Alone”). It won a special jury prize for LGBT cinema earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival. The film chronicles a brutal homophobic hate crime that was inspired by the real life slaying of a gay teenager in Chile.
When he stopped by The Frame, Anwandter spoke with senior producer Oscar Garza about the revolutionary spirit of his art, and he recounted the traumatizing event that shocked Chile’s youth culture and inspired his film.
I want to ask you about the origins of your film. "Nunca Vas a Estar Solo" is about a gay teenager in Chile who's killed because of his sexuality. Tell me a little more about that real life event.
A gay boy was incredibly, violently killed in a homophobic attack that actually lasted for hours. He was tortured, they broke his legs and carved swastikas on his stomach — really horrific stuff. The thing is, I happened to know that boy. He was a fan of my music. When I heard his name on the news I immediately identified him. I had been thinking about getting into film for a bit and when that happened, for me it was very clear. At the moment it was, This is it. This is the type of story I want to get into and the type of violence that I want to analyze. But at the same time I was very adamant on fictionalizing the story. It's actually rather loosely based on the case. It's a way that I get to say it's not about this one boy five years ago. It's something that happened this morning to another degree, this type of violence.
On an earlier album of yours called "Rebeldes," there's a song called "Como Puedes Vivir Contigo Mismo" ("How Can You Live With Yourself?"). That song was a favorite of the young victim, Daniel Zamudio. Had you written that before the incident?
Yeah. It's actually an album that came out a few months before the attack. The whole "Rebeldes" experience was very intertwined with Daniel Zamudio's murder. I actually met his family. His siblings encouraged me to keep on speaking on behalf of kids like their brother. It was a very strong experience and it became the motivating force behind "You'll Never Be Alone."
What legal protections exist for LGBT people in Chile?
That's a great question because, before Daniel's murder, we had no anti-discrimination law, and the law is now called the Zamudio law. So we were that far behind.
Why do you think it took an incident like this to galvanize the country and the government to put protections in place?
It usually works that way. You'll get some sort of martyr or horrific event and that will spark public opinion and collective thought on the issue for the first time. For instance, we are just beginning to discuss equal marriage. At the same time, [until recently], a woman that had been raped and had a dead baby inside of her could not get an abortion, even if she was going to die. It's absurd. It's like 18th Century stuff.
With your previous album and your newest one, "Amiga," you have become more outspoken and direct about your stance. Would you say that's true? And do artists in Chile generally feel free to get involved in political issues and make statements?
I think they do have the freedom, but they don't use that freedom. It's something that my generation of musicians have been rather criticized about. And criticized because Chile, as people may or may not know, has had a big student movement and a lot of social issues are rising. It's more like the generation that was born after the dictatorship — they started regaining a collective way of thinking that was forcefully eradicated during the dictatorship. I was personally inspired by this younger generation to reconnect with social issues.
This "younger" generation? You're not so old!
[Laughs] Well, but they are super young! They are much younger, like 15 or 16. They're in high school and they're out in the street facing police. It's quite impressive.
Your new album is titled "Amiga" — not amigo, but amiga. Was there some significance to using the feminine form of the word?
Well, yeah. It's a little open to interpretation. But it's a word play on the whole issue of gender that the album touches and the questions that it tries to ask, like, What does being a woman mean in a place like Chile? Or being a man. How are you supposed to behave?
And of course, those roles get mixed up with people who are trans. The profile of trans people has been raised tremendously in the last couple of years, but is that the case in Chile?
No, not at all.
But there is a song on your new album where you address this issue.
Yeah, the song you're referring to is called "Manifiesto," which obviously means manifesto. It's a very sincerely felt, queer anthem in which I put myself — we say in Chile, Ponerle el pecho a las balas, which means, Put your chest out for the bullets. It's me being very upfront about my sexuality and shouting it at the top of my lungs and being willing to suffer the consequences, which is still a rather risky act in Chile.
It's interesting that your music, which has very direct and personal messages, is certainly not in the tradition of folk music. It's dance music. When you started writing songs that had a social or political message, did you feel like you could do so in that style of music?
I felt an urge to find a new aesthetic of protest, if you will. A folk song like a seven-minute, only verses, no-chorus song is something that is very old now. I don't think it has an impact on people as it once had. I think pop culture has this one unifying criteria, which is being entertaining and that I thought was a very powerful tool — or even weapon — to discuss very serious issues. We've mentioned broken legs and horrific stuff. So boring people [by] discussing these issues, I see it as a luxury I can't afford.
How did you approach making your first feature film, which you also wrote?
My approach was kamikaze, really. That's the word to describe it. I don't think you can actually learn how to make a movie before you make a movie. As a writer/director, you have to supervise the most incredible amount of details and manage also the big vision. But it was a challenge that I welcomed at that stage in my life and it's been extremely gratifying.
You were at the Berlin Film Festival for the premiere. What was that like?
It was amazing. It's a massive festival and, well, I'm new to film, so I realized the weight it carried and the prestige. They sent a limo for me and that was all very impressive. [Laughs]