Maria Teresa Larraín
Chile / Toronto
In 2019, Cecilia Araneda spoke with Maria Teresa Larraín as part of a multi-year curatorial research project on Latin Canadian cinema. This is a brief extract of her research.
Maria Teresa Larraín was born in Chile in 1951. She was studying law in Santiago when the coup d’état changed her circumstances and required that she flee with her family. She arrived in Canada in 1976 and settled in Regina. Later, she would move to Toronto and go on to graduate in Radio and Television Arts at Ryerson University. Larraín has worked as an independent filmmaker for over 25 years. Her character-driven films deal with issues of social justice (diversity, inclusion, “otherness”). She has directed El Juicio de Pascual Pichun, Dolores, Looking for Findley, Amor Amargo and Shadow Girl. | Learn more
The expansive Larraín family forms a central part of Chile’s oligarchy. Their influential support of Pinochet was among the many conditions that enabled the coup d’état to occur and for the dictatorship to last as long as it did. The family privilege has produced not only wealthy business people and politicians, but also influential artists and filmmakers, among them Pablo Larraín (No, Jackie). When I met with Maria Teresa Larraín in her Toronto apartment, one of the first things she told me was that she was part of the Larraín family – even though she had needed to flee Chile in the mid 1970s because of the military dictatorship, her situation was complex.
This was not the most present thing on my mind when I met Larraín, however, for it is common for those who had to flee Chile to have family members who were strong Pinochet supporters; this dichotomy is a bridge that still cannot be crossed. What was most present for me was that Larraín is blind, having become blind only recently, due to a genetic condition.
Larraín studied law and theatre at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago, and was in her final year when the coup d’état took place. As universities would become important sites of right wing propaganda during the ensuing dictatorship, she was expelled for her opposition to the dictatorship. She arrived in Canada in Regina in 1976, with her then-husband and two-year-old son. She worked as an assistant in legal aid services when she first arrived in Canada, and it was through that work that she began to learn about Canada.
Later, following her separation from her husband, she would move to Toronto with her son. She enrolled in media studies at Ryerson University while supporting herself financially by working as a model. After she finished her studies at Ryerson, she knew she wanted to pursue filmmaking and went on to study at the Canadian Film Centre, as well as participate in Labs with notable filmmakers – including the legendary Allan King, whom she credits with a significant influence on her career.
Feminism and social justice are subjects of interest to Larraín. While Chile’s social movement of the late 60s and 70s sought to bring forward the conditions of a more equitable society, the truth was that the lucha at the time was largely focused on benefit to men, with feminism and decolonization future evolutions of the movement that did not yet exist. It is within this context that Larraín found herself in the late 70s as she tried to start re-start her life within the Chilean exile diaspora in Canada.
Among the films that Larraín has completed include the shorts Amor Amargo (1999), about violence against women in the Toronto Chilean diaspora, Looking for Findley (2000), about the Canadian writer Timothy Findley, and Dolores (2003), about three women in modeling. It was during editing El Juicio de Pascual Pichun (Besieged Land) (2007), on the plight of an Indigenous Mapuche leader in Chile, that it was confirmed that she was growing blind. Her next film, the feature documentary Shadow Girl (2017), would document her process of growing blind and the new life that she was stepping into.
Among her works in development include a documentary on Chile’s infamous Colonia Dignidad, a closed German community that became a torture facility during the dictatorship. Although she is now blind, Larraín has tried not let this interrupt her filmmaking work.
- Amor Amargo (Bitter Love) (1999)
- Looking for Findley (2000)
- Dolores (2003)
- Pascual Pichun (Besieged Land) (2007)
- Shadow Girl (2017)