Christopher Murray sits down with The Mancunion to unpack his second feature length film, El Cristo Ciego (The Blind Christ)
With ginger curls and a name like Christopher Murray, appearances deceive when it comes to meeting this University of Manchester Masters student-cum-director. Of Scottish ancestry but very much Chilean with a distinguishable accent as evidence, his newest film, El Cristo Ciego (The Blind Christ), will premiere in the UK at ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American festival at HOME.
A beautiful expression of dusty desert life set and filmed in Pampa del Tamarugal in the Chilean Atacama desert, El Cristo Ciego follows the story of Michael played by Michael Silva, the only professional actor. Michael believes he is Christ, and embarks on a pilgrimage to find and perform a miracle on his lost long childhood friend, Mauricio, in order to heal him from injuries sustained in a mining accident. Along the way, we listen to the stories of the people that Michael encounters and discover their versions of ‘faith’, as well as Michael’s.
“I understand faith as a way of giving meaning to emptiness,” Christopher explains, “emptiness which is exacerbated when you live in precarious conditions.” Such is the case in northern Chile, a forgotten corner, “badly treated” by the government.
Although it’s a film of fiction, is it packed with real stories from the people that live in Pampa del Tamarugal. “Instead of imposing a story upon the people and the land, we listened to them and used their stories.” Originally, they were armed with just a fledgling script that entailed the basic idea of a pilgrim off to perform a miracle and they developed it with the unique and unrepeatable stories of the residents. “I don’t think I’m able to produce stories so compelling as the ones you are told, that people actually live,” Christopher says. “It was simply a question of understanding the place and knowing how to listen.”
In addition to the narrative element, factual or not, the location in itself is loaded with biblical and mythical significance. In Christianity, it’s a place largely associated with magical events, “and therefore a contemporary desert made the perfect setting, especially seeing as the region is brimming with folktales.” In a quintessentially Latin American way, the production is not concerned with discerning truth; rather it is an exploration into what people believe, why, where the stories come from, and how they are transmitted.
El Cristo Ciego is in some ways an anthropological insight into the reality of the people of Pampa del Tamarugal, protagonising a community that is otherwise unrepresented. In other ways it’s a creative platform for them to express themselves and take the limelight. A film of many messages and complexities, it’s packed with significance and symbolism, with plenty to leave you to mull over afterwards.
For Christopher, cinema has been a tool to create bridges between peoples and he hopes his Masters course at Manchester will broaden his horizons even more. Fittingly, he studies visual anthropology and somehow manages to slot in being a world-touring director at the same time. But, he insists, “I’ve had to accompany my film as part of my professional career which requires some express travelling at weekends, but it’s complemented my studies well and has been enriching, but yeah it’s also been challenging.”
A worthwhile watch, be sure not to miss the UK premiere of El Cristo Ciego on Monday 3rd of April at HOME, as part of ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival, one of many fruits the festival has to offer.
Buy tickets online at HOME’s website, where you can find more information.