Natalia Garayalde’s intimate documentary Splinters is as much a love letter to family members as it is a document of the strain and tragedy that befell her community of Río Tercero in 1995. While deftly crafted with the simplest of techniques, we are left with a truly enthralling film when done as painstakingly well as they are here.
On November 3rd, 1995, the Río Tercero Military Factory in Argentina exploded. This caused thousands of projectiles to go off and disperse over the surrounding towns, a tragedy that would leave seven casualties and hundreds of wounded. At that time, Natalia Garayalde was a 12-year-old girl living with her family near the factory. Playing with the video camera her father had bought for her, she recorded the moments after the blast. At the same time, her family escaped before recording the everyday activities in the days and weeks that followed.
As the fire lantern drifts into the sky, the screen goes black, and suddenly we are presented with that fatal day. As the family find a lone woman carrying her baby, the terrifying sounds of the “splinters” going off overhead as people and dogs run in a panic over the city. When films try to portray chaos during such an emergency, they will do well to come back to this film to see what it is really like. The horrifying moment stays with you as you watch the Garayalde family go through the rumble in their homes and nearby areas. Haunting near misses for the family and others as the community is changed forever.
The simple use of home footage and archival news footage works wonderfully well here in Splinters. By keeping it to footage of the time and only using narration to help fill the gaps, we can live in Natalia’s world and feel everything that is shown. When it isn’t shown, her forlorn, almost melancholy narration gravitates us to her film. With seemingly hours of footage, her painstaking editing results in a marvellous piece of filmmaking that leaves so much room for thought. The feeling that this film is as much for Garayalde as it is for us bleeds through, a piece for her family, present or gone. She is simply showing that her love remains and will continue to do so. That is what makes Splinters not just important but at times almost intrusive, as if we shouldn’t be seeing what was presented before us.
As Natalia goes around the town and school pretending to be a news reporter, full of smiles and innocence, we see how the truth and horror of what has happened have not yet sunk into the young teenager. The magnitude of what she is seeing and the fact that she is still alive even though people were gravely injured or deceased. Once time settles, this innocence seems to get lost as she witnesses the stress of the events of that day hit not only her family but also her community. Those in power have let them down, and it must be mentioned here due to its importance.
As Splinters continue, the thought that it would stay with the effect just the family fades away for a moment when the link to a family members health is directly correlated with that day in 1995. The military was producing white phosphorous, released into the population. With one of Natalia’s siblings returning home from University to find her family, she was left longer amid the chemicals. A harrowing thought that the government and military tried to cover up for their citizens. Thanks to the home footage, Garayalde can
Small moments brought up in the documentary, such as fireworks going off. Natalia informs us that it took several years for fireworks to go off in the city due to the post-traumatic stress that it might entail surviving. Garayalde flits back and forth with her footage, loosely connecting the dots in a straightforward narrative. Without a doubt, there could have been a long documentary hidden in here, but this personable touch evokes just as much emotion and anger. Sadness that people’s lives were changed forever and anger at how an attempt was allowed to happen for so long with almost zero consequences.
The investigation side, I am sure, has been made into documentaries by now that are vast and in-depth as to what happened that day in Río Tercero. Yet by keeping her film centred more on her family Garayalde keeps her documentary flowing far better. There would surely have been a temptation to broaden the piece. But by being selective, even with her footage, for example, her “idol” sister Carolina was only filmed for 8 minutes across all of the tapes. Yet, she gets even less than that here. She can tell a more straightforward narrative that is just as compelling a story to her audience.
Splinters leave us, not with a film investigating the events and eventual fall out (or lack thereof) of the tragedy. Instead, we have a movie about the effects and changes made to surviving something like this and the lasting circumstances of experiencing it. An intimate film that shows the loss of innocence long before those recording knew it was fading away.
To catch more of our reviews throughout Sheff Doc Fest 2021, Have a look below:
Summer of Soul (…Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
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