Bala Loca Makes U.S. Premier at College

Bala Loca, created by a Middlebury professor, centers on Chilean society and politics.

Bala Loca, created by a Middlebury professor, centers on Chilean society and politics.

By YVETTE YINUO SHI, Arts & Sciences Editor

On Thursday, Oct. 20, the Chilean television show Bala Loca (Stray Bullet), created by Assistant Professor of Film and Media Culture David Miranda Hardy premiered in Dana Auditorium. More than 60 students, faculty and community members gathered for the series’ pilot, which the host Professor Jason Mittell called its “U.S. premier.”

The series centers on a 50-year-old journalist who is a former investigative reporter under Chilean dictatorship. The 10-episode series explores issues in contemporary Chilean society, particularly the relationship between money and politics as well as the distrust of businesses and institutions. The show debuted in June on CHV, a Turner-owned Chilean network, and attracted both local and international audiences.

In the discussion following the screening,  Hardy explained certain elements in the series and how they came to be. The decision to have a main character in a wheelchair, namely journalist Mauro Murillo, was the one thing that Hardy refused to negotiate. In a follow-up interview with Hardy, the intriguing process of making Bala Loca was further elaborated.

Yvette Shi (YS): How did you decide to make a TV show in Chile?

David Hardy (DH): I just came here a couple years ago, and that’s where I have my identity still. That’s where most of my creative ideas still are happening. That’s where I have my network, so I know how to go around producing. I hope in the mid-term to long-term, I will start producing stuff here. I would love to do something in Middlebury actually, I’m working on something so we can produce something super local.

YS: Do you see your experiences here at Middlebury influencing your decisions when making the show?

DH: Not really. That show is something I started while I was there, and my mind is thoroughly thinking of the audience there. But, one of my concerns or curiosities last night was to watch a group of American people, to see how it was received. And in the comments I’m receiving, and also because the show was seen by many other Latin American people from different countries before, I think it does have an international appeal. I follow closely with politics here too, and I think there are a lot of crossovers. It’s talking about issues like health insurance. Probably all Western countries are having that discussion. And then as you move into the show, you have the relationship between money and politics. It’s absolutely at the essence of the current political campaign here. So there are things that are very specific, and there are things that are idiosyncratic.

I wanted to make a show that has a strong local flavor and identity. You can say it’s absolutely Chilean, and that’s one of the reasons that it’s a success in Chile. People are really happy to see themselves reflected on the screen. And it can be appealing to other audiences. There is kind of a global audience for series; basically in the world of cable they are really on demand. Of course Chile has its own niche there, and they were very happy to receive the series.

YS: How do you see the Chilean dictatorship play into the show?

DH: It’s so recent in Chile, it’s really hard not to talk about it. It’s impregnated everything in Chilean society. We played around it, it’s not the main theme at all in the show, but we do play around it. We do acknowledge how essential is the power structure in Chile today.

The one thing that might be different is that we are not talking about dictatorship in a traditional Leftist way, which is a place of victim of human right. We are talking, hopefully in both ways. We talk about human rights, but we also talk about the economic and systemic influences in current Chilean society.

I think there are issues in the show that are at the very edge worldwide. I haven’t seen many series treating disabilities the way we do. And it’s fascinating, because it is very front and center. Nobody describes a character as the guy in a wheelchair. I think we managed to put a very charismatic, compelling character in a wheelchair, without being the center of the narrative. And I think there’s not a lot of that. I’ve been watching a lot, you go from PD-centering, rehabilitation, medicalization of the problem, asexual troubled characters … But he goes in and out of cars, you see stairs in his house; he’s not problematic.

YS: What do you do to keep the series smart but at the same time entertaining? Is there a conflict?

DH: There are all these horror stories about television executives pushing changes in your content; we didn’t have much of that. That could be a challenge, when somebody is demanding changes in the narrative that are meant just to satisfy the audience, or increase the ratings.

I want people to be engaged. “Entertainment” is a dirty word sometimes, because  people rate it as if it’s entertaining, then it’s shallow. And I don’t see it as incompatible at all. I think being entertained is to be engaged, and to have emotions with the characters, and to be challenged to make reflections on current political issues. And of course we didn’t want to give a lecture to anybody, we wouldn’t be didactical, telling people how to feel or how to think.

YS: How did you familiarize with the process of investigative journalism?

DH: Reading a lot. In Chile we have the more traditional journalism, that is politically biased to the right. Recently there has been no print press opposing these, but there’s a lot of movement online. And we have a Center for Investigative Journalism, which is a digital news media outlet, that goes on really long investigative projects. Then they release a really long article. We had extensive interviews with them, both to understand the mechanics of their work, how they go around to research and investigate, and also in terms of what they thought is going to be the hottest topics.

Those are really amazing journalists in Chile, coming back from the dictatorship, doing undercover work. We didn’t want to model our character on one of them, they are too nice. I want a character that is more flawed, more of an under-hero, while these guys are real heroes.