SANTIAGO – Spectators shudder at the violence and cruelty they’re seeing during a showing of “Joker” in a central Santiago cinema while meters away volunteers tend to a group of injured protesters.
The boundary between reality and fiction gets blurry at the Cine Arte Alameda near Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the social unrest that has gripped the Latin American country for 51 days, as moviegoers dodge the barricades and tear gas to be able to watch the latest premieres.
“Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) in the movie, a question that somehow takes on new meaning for the Chilean general public.
Not far from the dark projection room, first aid is being given in the cinema’s lobby, which is packed with volunteer paramedics and people who have been injured during the ongoing protest movement.
Andrea Curapil is keeping a record of who has been treated, writing down brief descriptions of the injured: “Male, 30 years, eye impact by tear gas canister”; “Male, 23 years old, cut on scalp by impact of tear gas.”
“Protesters injured by 10 or more pellets and many eye injuries have come here,” said the 24-year-old.
According to Curapil, 471 people were attended at the cinema between Nov. 12-29.
Volunteers prepare their first aid stations as soon as they spot the water cannon of the Carabineros (Chilean police) arriving onto the Alameda, the main avenue where the protesters usually meet.
Minutes later, dozens flock into the cinema, some suffering from the suffocating effects of the tear gas or worse.
Under a poster for “Spider” by Chilean director Andres Wood, a young man has a bandage applied to a big bruise he sustained after being hit by a tear gas canister.
“They shot me in the front because I saw how the trajectory of the can was heading towards me,” Vicente Tiznado, 21, told EFE.
The volunteers are doctors and professional nurses from the Metropolitan Emergency Health Care Service (SAMU) who dedicate their free time to caring for those injured in the violent clashes with the police.
“The first few days we were totally overwhelmed, we tended to about 80 people a day,” the SAMU representative at the cinema, Pablo Rojas, told EFE.
According to Rojas, the first aid station is “the safest in the entire city” as it consists of a closed space with a roof, bathrooms and “is safe from police repression.”
The protests have filled the streets of Chile for seven weeks as part of an unprecedented social crisis since its return to democracy in 1990.
The unrest has left visible damage to buildings – some have been set on fire, looted or defaced.
But in spite of the violent scenes going on outside since Oct. 18, the glass front of the Alameda cinema remains intact.
The director and founder of the space, Roser Fort, said protesters had been “careful” and see it as “an active and modern place.”
After closing for the few days of the protests, which physically prevented access to the cinema, Fort and his team decided to continue with their programming schedule.
“It ended up becoming a bet because we want viewers to reflect and open debates in society via cinema.
“Culture helps you understand the situation we are experiencing, it offers you memory and personal enrichment,” he said.
The space has seen significant economic losses and its audience reduced to a third, despite ticket prices being halved.
The few spectators who do manage to get into showings on time find themselves immersed in fictitious tales that are removed from the reality of the Chilean capital.
“The situation has been surreal. We are living a movie that we hope will have a pleasant ending for everyone,” said Fort.