• First Film Competition



Celeste Rojas Mugica

A darkroom. Celeste Rojas Mugica and her father Lucho lock themselves in to develop images from the past. This past is that of Chile under Pinochet. Lucho Rojas was a photographer then, but also an opponent to the regime, and therefore underground. His life wavered between taking pictures of the present and making himself invisible – between light and shadow. “The exercise was, and still is, to close our eyes and imagine a place”: the method and discipline of the clandestine photographer. This sentence, the first in the dialogue between father and daughter that forms the framework of Una sombra oscilante, also formulates the film’s theoretical hypothesis: to consider the image not from the point of view of the visible object, but of the faculty of imagination. In this singular dark room, development is no longer a solitary technical operation of revelation, but a poetic and political process of imagination for two. To develop an image is to describe it, not to exhaust its meaning, but to reveal its dark side, its uncertainties, and therefore its power. It is about prolonging it through words to imagine the narrative of the past, or to create the image in one’s mind, eyes closed, to project a future. The game is serious, but also very joyful: plastic inventions and ideas come one after another at astonishing speed, all punctuated by an editing that combines freedom and rigor as rarely. Brilliant and appealing, Una sombra oscilante profoundly renews the filmic approach to the photographic archive, by inventing a cinematic form that seems to emerge from the very process of making the images – shooting, developing. A dark chamber music, a four-hand, two-voice piece, that draws the spectator into a captivating oscillation between the possible and the real, between what was and what could have been, what is and what could be. In these dark times, this film casts a light that is all the more pleasing as it is intermittent – it never forgets the shadows it proceeds from.

Cyril Neyrat

Una sombra oscilante draws on your father’s photographs to engage with him in a playful yet profound dialogue about images, their limits and their power. How did this project come about? What was your first impulse, from which necessity was the film born?

The project, before becoming a film, was an installation and a book. The bringing together of all these elements has a common origin, born from the desire to connect and dialogue with the images of an archive that forms a foundational part of my life (because they are images my father created, which surrounded my childhood and my life over the years), but they transcend that particular affiliation and capture my interest because I see them as open and vibrant structures capable of connecting with my present. I started working with all this after leaving Chile, that is, at a certain inevitable and probably necessary distance to re-establish contact, to return to them.

The decisive idea, which determines both the form and content of the film, is to situate you and your father throughout in a darkroom, the place where images are developed. Where did this intuition come from? Can you comment on this decision?

This space emerged very naturally in my mind because it is a common territory between my father and me since I was small. In every house we moved to during my childhood, we tried to create a small darkroom where we could develop photos together, no matter how rudimentary it was. Thinking of a conversation with him there was, therefore, something inevitable because it is a possible zone where our encounter can happen. But this intuition also defends darkness as an open and expansive territory, and this “elastic” possibility allowed me to work with surfaces and materials in an amplified and speculative way. Somehow, the darkness of that space allows me to imagine that its edges and limits are indeterminate, diffuse, and unstable, perhaps enabling other conditions of appearance.

This decision has an important consequence: it induces another way of looking at the images made by your father, who was both a photographer and an opponent of the Pinochet regime. Another way of looking back on this political past from the present. What were your intentions in this respect? And how did they influence the making of the film, particularly the way you presented your father’s photos?

For me, images are open surfaces. Although these, in particular, refer to a very decisive specific moment in my country’s history, I believe they can always offer other openings, and in that sort of performativity, be available for encounter with the present. My desire to be among them, to observe them again, to describe, analyse, and summon them is not in the search to illustrate a past event but to imagine their —still— vibrant materiality, perhaps introducing other structures, other scaffolding around them that summon them anew, inscribing in them new possibilities that once again make them available to the daily flow of our realities as part of a present choreography in which images and the present are mutually touched and altered. In the film, then, while there are moments when the archival images are spoken of in the past tense, they are generally introduced in the present tense, as part of an ongoing dialogue that does not want solely to show and talk about what has been or certain production conditions (which are, of course, relevant), but also about what is in the condition of being.

Shadow and light: your beautiful title expresses their relationship, but by inverting the usual expression, considering that the shadow comes first, that it’s the shadow that oscillates, and not the light. This idea governs the whole film, particularly the way your father is portrayed. Can you comment on this aspect?

Throughout the dialogues with my father and the relationship with his images, the idea of movement was always present, and the intention of the title seeks, through words, to embrace that vibration: something that moves, shifts, that intermittently appears on the surface, that traces a trajectory and in that transit (which also inaugurates a rhythm) transforms. There is also a desire to defend opacity and darkness, against the totalising tyranny of transparency that captures and shows everything, and rather to give space to something that is on the verge of emerging, like something on the tip of the tongue, something in unstable, undefined formation. Like shadows that create diverse shapes for the seemingly stable outline of things. It is also a very material title, that wants to embrace the concrete over which the film is made, and firmly believe in it, to trust in the material. And the ways of portraying my father seek all that too, to speak of the love for what cannot be entirely described, for what disperses and refracts, what is not entirely revealed or identified.

In contrast to a casual conversation, the dialogue, although seemingly spontaneous, is extremely constructed, precise and articulate. This is obviously the result of editing, but not only. How did you work with your father to develop this dialogue, this two-way thinking?

My father and I had been establishing recorded dialogues for several years. Every so often, I would propose some improvised conversations that served a lot so that later I could imagine new ways of approaching them and enable some spaces of indeterminacy. I proposed that during the filming, we have sessions where we only recorded our conversations in sound. This was subject to specific production conditions (we had very little film material to shoot) but also to certain conditions of intimacy and trust. My father wanted our conversations to be alone, so we devised a system where both of us would lock ourselves in his room for a few hours, while Roberto, the sound engineer, monitored from outside.
We always started with games, our learned ways of interacting playfully, in a mutual relationship that has always been rhythmic, even, back and forth. Through games, counting numbers, or indicating the steps for the developing process, for example, I tried to open a gap to introduce other questions, other lists, other games. From those constant exercises, he somehow appropriated them as well along the way. Thus, imagination games with closed eyes, songs, and a love for the flow of our words emerged but also for what did not emerge there: this way of talking, of enabling our encounter, was also a way to take care of him, since in this context, without a camera in front, he could, for example, decide to end a conversation, terminate a dialogue without the pressure of a complete crew watching him. The film often adhered to what he defined as a limit, tracing his possible universe.

Can you talk about the sound composition, which is very rich and inventive? How and in what directions was the soundtrack composed?

This process, carried out together with Julián Galay, was wonderful and full of discoveries in small things, of attention to the diminutive. My intention was not to “sound” the archival images or to feed the darkness with the sounds of what should be there but cannot be seen, but to take advantage of that space as an expansive and free territory where we could build, at times, another world summoned, indeed, by the materials, things, surfaces as forgers of realities. For this, we worked on a series of sounds recorded during the shooting with Roberto Collío, and later with Julián, where we recorded the sound of the lab machines, the cameras, dripping water, light switches, small things inside a room, matches lighting and going out, things we clumsily drop when we are in the dark, the rubbing of trays and bottles of chemicals, contact with paper and light. In the process, we established dialogues about how light sounds, how a blinding sound might be, which sounds oscillate, and which remain. In a way, I feel we did with sound something similar to the way we worked with light.

One can imagine a very long and difficult editing process. Can you talk about it?

The editing process was long and winding because we initially set out to disregard the treatment that had been written as a guide for the filming and to trust, in this stage, what could appear through the contact between the filmed images and the recorded sounds.
Mayra Morán, the co-editor, entered at this first stage to work with the materials, and my proposal was that she do so freely, allowing herself to find connections and resonances that were, until then, unsuspected by me. After that process, I edited for about a year, and perhaps because I come from the visual arts and my relationship with editing is much more dispersed and unstructured, I edited the film without too much clarity about where it was heading along the way. In this sense, during that long process, I went back and forth many times. There were many versions, and I allowed myself to develop various paths until I understood which ones were part of the film’s universe and which should be left out. Thus, in that creative editing exercise, what I define as “small fictions” emerged, where the character of my father detaches from his own biographical conditions and can pulse even in another genre that forges other realities.

Interviewed by Cyril Neyrat

  • First Film Competition
21:0026 June 2024La Baleine
11:4527 June 2024Cinéma Artplexe 3
16:1529 June 2024Cinéma Artplexe 3

Technical sheet

Chile, Argentina, France / 2024 / Colour / 77'

Original version: Spanish
Subtitles: English, French
Script: Celeste Rojas Mugica
Photography: Natalia Medina Leiva
Editing: Celeste Rojas Mugica, Mayra Moran
Music: Julián Galay, Violeta García
Sound: Julián Galay, Roberto Collío

Production: Florencia de Mugica (Bomba Cine)
Co-Production: Xénia Maingot (Eaux Vives Productions)
Associate Production: Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola
Contact: Maria Vera Kino Rebelde


77min / Documentary, Experimental / 16mm, Super 8
World Premiere: FIDMarseille (France)

ESTRELLADISTANTE – Short film – 2023
14min / Experimental / 16mm
National Premiere: FICValdivia (Chile).
International Premiere DocLisboa (Portugal)

EJERCICIOS DE ARIDEZ – Video installation – 2021
Ars Electronica (Austria); MIDBO (Colombia); BIENALSUR (Chile/Argentina); Contemporary Art Museum (Chile).

UNA SOMBRA OSCILANTE – Short film – 2023
11 min / Documentary / Digital
National Premiere BIM- Bienal de Imagen en Movimiento (BIM).
International Premiere: San Sebastian International Film Festival (Spain)