Nae Pasaran: The story of East Kilbride, Chile and international solidarity

Nae Pasaran is a five-year documentary project, which has received development funding from Creative Scotland.

It tells the story of a group of East Kilbride Rolls-Royce factory workers, who refused to work on engines from Pinochet’s Air Force in protest against his dictatorship in Chile. For four years, they left the engines to rust in the yard of their factory, until one night, the engines vanished.

We spoke to filmmaker Felipe Bustos Sierra about the history of the protest, what it meant to the world, and why he is telling this story.

Where did the inspiration to make this documentary come from?

I’m a Chilean filmmaker, living in Scotland for 14 years now.  I grew up in Belgium, where my father had received a visa as a Chilean refugee.  He was a student journalist then who had tried to report that a coup was coming.

In Belgium, we would go to solidarity events where they’d roll off a list of actions taken throughout the world in protest against the torture and censorship by the Pinochet regime.  The Scottish boycott was always mentioned, even well after the engines had disappeared.  It gave us all a lot of hope because it dealt directly with the most iconic image of the Chilean coup - the planes flying low over Santiago and firing rockets into city centre.

Over time, the story became a bit of a myth, with lots of embellishments and exaggerations. Initially, I was hoping to find the workers involved and set the record straight, but never imagined I’d find so much about how much of an impact they’d had. Our discoveries surprised not just the workers, but the Chilean Air Force itself. The story had been buried so deep back then, they allowed us some access, convinced we wouldn’t find anything tangible. And then we did.

In 2015, as a result of our research, three of the Scottish workers received the highest honour given to foreigners by the Government of Chile for their efforts to preserve human rights. They are now Commanders of the Republic of Chile.

Finding how much of an impact the Scots had, with their limited resources, was very inspiring- Felipe Bustos Sierra, Director of Nae Pasaran

This has been described as a tale of ‘international solidarity’. When you were making the film, how did you go about telling the story that was happening in Chile, as well as Scotland?

The Chile solidarity movement was worldwide, with mass protests, call for boycotts and help for refugees in major cities in Europe, North America, India, Japan and Australia. The coup and the violent repression was generally seen as an historical misstep. It politicised a lot of people - particularly young people - who then looked for ways to put a dent in the dictatorship and getting Chileans who needed help to safety.  

It’s been a long process of research between the UK and Chile, almost like a call-and-response situation, where a clue was found in Scotland, which would provide more context in Chile, and that would offer new leads to look for in the UK and so on. We weren’t able to rely on previous research, as only the initial story of the boycott was known.   

In what ways does the film engage with memory?

We wanted to reflect how the Chile Solidarity movement grew back then, which was mostly through oral history. The stories with the most impact were often the ones that could be told in the shortest way possible.  While this was efficient to move people back then, the repetition over time caused for important details to be lost and for fictional embellishment to dilute it even further.

Years later, we’re no longer fighting for Chilean democracy, but having a well-documented record is as valuable, particularly when journalism and opinions are often merged as we’re seeing now. Nae Pasaran is told through the experiences of people who lived it firsthand, whether its the Scottish workers, Chilean Air Force officers and refugees and the Chile Solidarity campaigners. But we’ve done our homework with extensive archive records research at our end to keep them right. There’s a real emotional charge from their memories and a momentum to the film, as everyone discovers the documented revelations together.

Is this a positive tale?

It’s a very positive tale, although the memories of the Chilean officers who refused to take part in the coup are still very painful to hear, particularly as we know this still goes on today elsewhere in world. While the film never leaves Scotland or Chile, it’s easy to see the relevance with current events. Despite this, finding how much of an impact the Scots had, with their limited resources, was very inspiring and the last 20 minutes of the film, when the old workers finally realise the extent of their reach, could melt Scottish steel.

What did you learn whilst working on this project?

I’ve learned so much as a filmmaker, having interviewed close to 100 people over the last five years, often sharing very personal life-or-death moments and having to distill that into a 90-minute documentary respectful of their own experiences. I’ve become close to many people involved and over such a long period of time, you’re no longer making just a film, you’re part of someone’s life. You have to be persistent while remaining curious and open-minded. Your initial goal may not exist, and it can be difficult to stop and pick up a new thread so keeping both your objectivity and passion balanced is very important.

Regarding the themes of Nae Pasaran, this was not something new to me but the last five years have reinforced my belief that fascism is alive and well and, just like the East Kilbride workers, we’re going to need all our efforts, creativity and determination to keep fighting it.

Nae Pasaran will be released in 2018.  The team are currently fundraising to complete the film on Kickstarter.

This article was published on 13 Dec 2017