Lorena Manriquez, a Chilean-American civil engineer, decided to change her life path at 40 to discover the truth behind the lifelong dispute between her father and uncle.
Manriquez, one of the first female graduates of Washington and Lee University in ‘88, was working as a geotechnical engineer in Mississippi when she jumped on a plane and returned to where it all began: Santiago, Chile.
Manriquez began filming a documentary, Ulises' Odyssey, in 2003 to uncover the story behind her Uncle Ulises' exile during the Pinochet regime in Chile. Manriquez's interest in filmmaking began with her involvement in film society during college and led her to become the president of a film society board in Mississippi.
Jeff Barnett, the head of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program at W&L, reached out to Manriquez to see if she would like to show a fine-cut version of the unreleased film at her alma mater. Manriquez happily agreed.
Throughout the 83-minute documentary, Manriquez struggles to reconcile her own childhood memories with the history of Chile she never knew.
"I started to worry about what I might find out, but I had passed the point of no return," said Manriquez about returning to Chile.
Manriquez's father, a former army officer, has supported Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet his entire life. Manriquez spent her childhood believing that Pinochet was the savior who rebuilt her country by supplying food, building roads, and making the economy soar.
Manriquez said as a child she believed everything her father said.
"As a kid you don't question your family, you just don't," Manriquez said. "Looking back there were things that everyone knew about, but that no one talked about."
The ghost nobody talked about was Ulises.
Ulises was a labor union leader in the 1970's who supported Pinochet's rival and predecessor, Salvador Allende. Allende was the first democratically elected Marxist president in Latin America. On Sept. 11, 1973, Pinochet overthrew Allende through a coup and put out search warrants for Allende's supporters, including Ulises. Ulises was smuggled out of the country and went into exile in Switzerland.
When Manriquez came to the United States for college, she began hearing horrible stories about the violence used by Pinochet to maintain power in Chile. Pinochet led the torture and killing of thousands through techniques like electrocution, waterboarding, and asphyxiation.
"It was difficult to believe that Pinochet had been doing those things, and I had been too consumed with my studies and work to question it," said Manriquez.
Manriquez said she finally realized she was ready to discover the truth when she had a revelation on her daughter's eighth birthday.
"I really wanted to get to the bottom and of the truth and figure out how much of what I'd been taught had been true," said Manriquez. "I felt a responsibility for the next generations to come."
Pinochet's 17-year dictatorship ended in 1990 as the government moved towards democracy.
Travelling back to Chile, Manriquez realized how close her father's connection with the Pinochet regime had been. She discovered one of her father's closest friends was even put in jail for his involvement in the torture and murder of innocent Chileans, yet Manriquez's father denied knowing anything about it.
Manriquez visited the jails that had once held and tortured rebels during the Pinochet regime.
Manriquez said one of the most personally moving moments in the film was when she peels away layers of the paint off the walls outside of the jail, symbolizing the truth behind the government's attempt to cover up the atrocities.
"Suddenly I'm looking at this big wall of paint," Manriquez said. "I think that's a symbol of the will to try to understand and get into this deep, deep understanding."
When Manriquez questioned her father about the regime, he continued to emphasize the greatness of the regime.
"The misery our country suffered then, before the military, it was horrible, my dear," Manriquez's father said to her during the film. "It was a time of war. You must kill them before the enemy kills you."
Manriquez said she believes her father gave her his approval to make the documentary after she asked him about his involvement.
"The truth, even if severe, is a good friend," Manriquez's father said during the film.
Manriquez questioned whether her father was protecting himself or her from the truth by denying the reality of the violent Pinochet regime.
"It's been a journey and it's been years of trying to figure it out, I think I am still trying to reconcile. I have my own point of view from what I thought of as a girl," Manriquez said. "I have great respect for my father's opinion. I don't agree [with him], but I love him."
When Manriquez began her filming, Ulises had just returned to Chile the first time in 30 years. Manriquez said tensions heightened between her uncle and father during her filming when Pinochet died of a heart attack in 2006. Pinochet died without ever going to trial for the murder and torture of over 3,000 people, causing old wounds to resurface between her relatives and the country.
"Unfortunately, not enough time has gone by and the wound is still infected, very infected," Manriquez said.
By the end of the film, Manriquez's uncle and her father are able to reconcile their differences as she enlightens her family about the truth of the Chilean history, including the involvement of the United States in the rise and instillation of Pinochet.
Manriquez said she was shocked to find out about the role the United States in the coup and that everyone has become a victim in one way or another.
"I think the shadow of the dictatorship is still on Chile," Manriquez said. "He's dead, but he's still around."
Manriquez said she would have never been able to tell this story if she had not left the country.
"When you live abroad and far away, you see things differently," Manriquez said.
"Having become a U.S. citizen, I felt free enough that I could do this and talk about this situation."
While Pinochet's supporters still try to cover the violence of the regime, Manriquez hopes this story will help Chileans acknowledge the truth.
Manriquez was able to cut hundreds of minutes of film down to just 83-minutes with the help of her Emmy award-winning producer and co-director, Miguel Picker.
Manriquez is currently negotiating with a Chilean television station that would premier the film next year during the 40th anniversary of Pinochet's coup. Manriquez plans to narrate the movie in Spanish for Chilean audiences.
Barnett said he, as well as many of his students, were moved by the film's honesty and sincerity.
"As [Manriquez] continues in her investigation she understands the greater picture--that the divide in familial views equates with that of the two views that divide the country," Barnett wrote in an email. "Ultimately, while one may wish to be objective, one must find the moral and ethical courage to confront even our most intimate connections with the world, even if it means losing them."