In February 2011, one year after an 8.8 magnitude earthquake affected Chile, I was invited to Talca to film a reconstruction workshop for local residents working with a group of international architects. In the wake of the 2010 Haiti disasters, the Chilean experience felt mostly forgotten in the media. As an architecture graduate and documentarian, it felt imperative to be there.
Wandering the streets, I was struck by the countless abandoned buildings, with rubble piled up at every doorstep and on every corner. Historic neighbourhoods, with predominantly adobe construction, were now lined with makeshift corrugated iron fences with spray-painted house numbers. Talca had become a small city in ruins with the majority of its 200,000 residents in the midst of a housing crisis.
One morning, I noticed a man standing at the edge of a destroyed home. He stared longingly at the debris, at the remaining coloured walls and window frames. He picked up an object and held it close to him. A house had died and he was mourning.
I started to ask myself, what would it be like to lose your home in a matter of seconds? What happens to one’s sense of identity and belonging? What is the meaning of ‘home’ when it's gone?
I was lucky enough to meet local architect José Luis during the workshop. He took me to his childhood home, Casa Antúnez when its beautiful façade was still standing. We entered, stepping over piles of adobe bricks and timber from the destroyed ceilings and walls that were built in 1927. As the oldest house in the ‘Seminario’ neighbourhood, it was impossible not to fall in love with it. José was pensive and anxious in the space but when he recalled memories from his childhood, his eyes lit up with immense love and joy. Then came the sobering fact that it would be near impossible to rescue the remains.
Casa Antúnez had been part of his family for 4 generations, where over 30 family members had spent significant parts of their lives. As José Luis introduced me to his mother, brothers and cousins, it fascinated me the way each of them related to the same house in different ways, the intricacies of their memories and their conflicting visions for it’s future. Having moved around most of my life, I was drawn to their deep attachment to one house, a container for their memories, an eternal reference point.
When José Luis told me of his plans to demolish the house, I knew I had to tell this story. Over the course of 3 years, I set out to capture the psychological process of one family losing their home and picking up the pieces. In the wake of its death, trauma and resentment came to the surface, along with the difficult question of ‘what now?’
Whilst Casa Antúnez was just one of 370,000 homes damaged in Chile, I saw it as a metaphor for the post-earthquake experience, a universal story of a family divided by their loss, searching for the meaning of ‘home.