On a high mountain in the midst of the Atacama Desert, astronomers search the sky for the answers of the universe. Meanwhile, the relatives of missing political prisoners search the desert wastes to discover the fate of their loved ones…

Directed By: Patricio Guzmán

It’s dark when the car pulls into the driveway. I can hear the steady chorus of crickets and the vibrant hum of electric current as I climb out of the vehicle. At that moment, I pause and crane my neck towards the night sky. A scattering of stars twinkles silently in response to my searching gaze. Whatever answer they hold lies far beyond my reach. 

The light I am seeing was not created in the present moment. I am deluding myself thinking that the stars are communicating with me. From a distant time and galaxy that light sprung, just now arriving to tease my mind and soul. I must acknowledge that I am just a passive observer of the past. 

Yet, humans live in the past. We believe that we exist in the present, but the present time is a very fine point. From when the light bounced off an object to when it reached the eye, the present time has already flown by. A point in time like a point in space is an imperceptible creation of the mind. As humans we can only determine the present by measuring the past. Through memory, we establish our place in the present universe.

 The film, Nostalgia for the Light, examines the individuals who devote their lives to understanding the past. In the Atacama Desert of Chile, time seems suspended. The land is dry and the sky is clear. Here, astronomers, archeologists and geologists scan the skies and the surface of the Earth for messages that have survived through the ages.

However, there is another group engaged in this search: the women searching for the remains of the Desaparecidos. During the reign of Pinochet thousands of people were abducted, imprisoned, and killed, never to be heard from again. It is as if they are lost to time and memory. Their relatives sift through the soil of the Atacama piecing together the fragments of bone and clothing that litter the land.

Ironically, the distant past seems clearer than the recent past. Stunning photography captures the stars and planets engaged in the timeless dance of birth, death and rebirth. However, the fate of the innumerable missing prisoners is unknown, their graves remain unmarked even though the perpetrators of this tragedy still walk this Earth. Their memory lives on solely in the hearts of their relatives and descendants.

 Astronomy though offers some freedom from this dreadful reality. Although the telescopes cannot reveal what lies beneath the desert surface, they do provide perspective. We were born from the remains of the stars; the calcium in our bones, in the skeletal fragments scattered through the desert, formed from cosmic explosions. Out of death came life. Though the past and their memory must always be kept close to the heart. 

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