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Chile: student uprising against market forces which marked a generation



This review of the documentary film Chiles Student Uprising was written by Chris Proctor, a former, Chair of the Chile Solidarity Campaign UK, a regular columnist for Tribune and The Journalist and a freelance writer.

Prior to the government of Tony Blair, education of its youth was seen as one of the basic duties of the British state. Blair and his cohorts, obsessed with free-market beliefs, transformed it from an essential service into a commercial business. University funding was cut, student fees were introduced and the degree market was expanded. Education became another product to be bought and sold, like beans, mortgages and underwear.

British students, parents and more progressive folk were so annoyed that they organised a demonstration or two, wrote several letters to the Times and sulked over tea.

Roberto Navarrete’s half-hour documentary film portrays a different reaction to essentially the same situation. His Chile’s Student Uprising describes the events of 2011, when not only the cost, but the intent, scope and accessibly of education were challenged by hundreds of thousands on the streets and the campuses. In the process they forced Chilean society as a whole to examine some of its most basic principles.

Students over the world are accused of seeing everything in black and white: older and wiser heads point out that there are always several shades of grey between. They are wrong: there is no fence here to sit upon. There are those who demand free, high-quality state-funded education and those who see learning as an opportunity to turn in a profit. There are those who find it immoral to inflict huge corrupting debt on graduates and those who believe it helps to integrate them into the banking system. There is the free market or civilisation.

Roberto’s film is all the more powerful for being carefully objective. It shows the discussions, the planning, the debates; it involves us in the demonstrations, the confrontations and the occupations; it shows the pride in a unified uprising and the arguments as the protests lose momentum: it shows student leaders elected to Chile’s lower House of Deputies.

The film doesn’t conclude with slick conclusions, because the rising didn’t. Neither did it end in failure, because it has only just begun. Every single student, parent and worker who took any part in those 2011 events will carry the memory with them all their lives and will be affected by them every day. It will be their Vietnam, Anti-Apartheid or Iraq: demonstrations that inculcate lessons and values that stay forever.

This is a fascinating film, about Chilean students but relevant to everyone who cares about education anywhere. It inspires and encourages. Let us hope it rouses us all from the depths of our armchairs to reclaim what is ours: that it reminds us that it is possible and necessary for us to resist, protest and organise; that it makes us look again at what is happening to education in our country and to challenge its abasement.

Roberto captures the essence of a movement in this mixture of interviews, news footage and new filming: the optimism that comes from being on the side of equality and improvement; the realisation of power when the streets are full of the noise and banners of protestors; the arguments about conflicting tactics; the humour and enthusiasm that abounds.

But most importantly, this short film asks questions: which is, and must continue to be, the very core of what education, and fruitful film-making, means.

In Chile, students asked why the country retains the structures of Chicago-boy Pinochet, with its oldest university receiving only 14% of its budget from the state and higher education as a whole only 16%. In the UK, we might consider if it is healthy for McDonalds to sponsor our local school or for UK students to face leaving university with average debts of £53,000.

For more information about the documentary film Chiles Student Uprising visit:   

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