NYT: Surveyor of a Desert Where the Past and Present Coexist

The Atacama Desert of northern Chile is the driest place in the world and surely one of the most desolate. But it has always proved fertile ground for the Chilean documentary filmmaker Patricio Guzmán, who first filmed there 40 years ago and has now returned to make “Nostalgia for the Light,” a meditation on astronomy, archeology, geology and human rights.

“The Atacama is where many elements of our past are concentrated and conserved,” Mr. Guzmán, 69, said in an interview last month in Manhattan. “Not just the past of Chile, but of the Earth and even the galaxy. I’d been wanting for the longest time to make a film that brought all of this together, but the hardest part was that those four worlds are parallel lines.”

What finally enabled Mr. Guzmán to make “Nostalgia for the Light,” which opens on Friday at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village, was his realization that the subjects he wanted to address did have a point in common: the preservation of memory. The women who comb the desert looking for the remains of loved ones who disappeared under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet share that trait with the archaeologists and geologists who work in the shadow of the astronomical observatories that dot the Atacama, drawn by its clear skies.

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