Pebbles in Her Shoe: Introducing Filmmaker Cecilia Cornejo


On Thursday, November 1, members of the Northfield community will have an opportunity to view two non-fiction films by local filmmaker Cecilia Cornejo at the Weitz Center for Creativity Cinema. The films will be preceeded by an introduction by noted filmmaker and scholar Daniel Eisenberg (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), and each will be followed by a question and answer session with the filmmaker. The program runs from 6 to 8 p.m.

Cecilia Cornejo was born in Chile. In her early youth, she saw her homeland descend into the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew the democratically-elected President Salvador Allende in the coup d’étât of September 1973. That coup, and the tragic events of another September twenty-eight years later, form the historical background of her film I wonder what you will remember of September (2004).

The film is about...

In our conversation, Cornejo was uncomfortable with discussing what the film is “about.” For Cornejo, filmmaking begins with “a pebble in her shoe”—a persistent yet amorphous discomfort, a set of ideas that she feels compelled to explore—and the film documents the process of formulating questions and, less often, finding answers to her questions. She wants her audiences to experience that process and see where it leads them. What interests Cornejo as a filmmaker is process—the often disjointed, often incomplete, ultimately illuminating process of working through ideas—rather than product.

“We live in a culture obsessed with product,” Cornejo says.

These ideas about work and productivity inform her most recent film, The song of the apprentice(2012), which she just finished editing in early October.

Cornejo’s education in film began after she arrived in the United States in 1994 as a student at the University of Iowa, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Communications Studies. Most of the Latin American film that she knew from the 1960s and 1970s was “very urgent, very political,” shaped by the turbulent political situations that prevailed throughout Latin America during those decades.

In the U.S., she was exposed for the first time to avant-garde American filmmakers like Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage, whose work struck her as “playing.” The films lacked any overt political agenda, and played with notions of narrative, structure, time, and with the conventions and possibilities of the medium. But as she became more familiar with American culture, and some of the excesses of American capitalism, Cornejo realized the countercultural significance of avant-garde cinema’s sense of “playfulness.”

In our productivity-driven culture, she says, “playing is one of the highest forms of rebellion.”

Cornejo situates her own work between the urgent political cinema of her Latin American childhood and the playful avant-garde of her American film education. Her films often draw on her own journal entries, poetry, interviews, and news reports, bringing together both the personal and the political. The narration often shifts between English and Spanish, emphasizing the filmmaker’s position in between two cultures and two ways of looking at the world.

Cornejo received a Masters of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she taught and served as an academic advisor. In Chicago, she co-founded The Nineteenth Step, which she describes as “a collective of artists, teachers and curators who used cinema as a tool to foster a deeper understanding of Latin American culture.” Her work has been screened in Europe and the Americas, and was included in Documentary Fortnight at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York. In Northfield, she continues her work as a filmmaker while expanding her creative life with dance and art classes.  She recently published a translation of a seminal essay by Bolivian filmmaker Jorge Sanjinés in Jump Cut, and in the spring will be teaching a film course at St. Olaf College. Her current film project is a documentary developed in collaboration with the Northfield Skateboard Coalition.

You can find out more about Cecilia Cornejo on her website, and you can read an extended interview with her here.