@ Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 16 Nov 2018

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The engineers featured in Nae Pasaran from East Kilbride’s Rolls Royce factory might have not have made sweeping changes to the planet, but they certainly improved its complexion for many Chileans during the 1970s. Felipe Bustos Sierra’s directorial debut delves into how this extraordinary turn of events came about.

In 1974, the democratically-elected President of Chile Salvador Allende was toppled by a junta composed of the country’s own military. La Moneda, Santiago’s presidential palace, was targeted by missiles fired from Hawker Hunter fighter planes, the engines of which were serviced by the Rolls Royce factory on the outskirts of Glasgow. When one principled shop steward noticed the presence of the engines on his floor, he immediately “blacked” (stopped all work on) them, a decision that was several steps above his pay grade.

Notwithstanding pressure from above to repair the engines, the workers of the factory stood firm, demonstrating the 1970s power of the trade unions, and half of the engines remained on the premises until they were not fit for service four years later (the other half were spirited away under cover of darkness by persons unknown). Their small, humble gesture had huge consequences on the other side of the globe, of which none of its participants were aware until recently.

Bustos Sierra does a magnificent job of weaving the two sides of the tale together; both the Chilean with the Scottish and the contemporary with the modern. He also makes an attempt to portray the other viewpoint; i.e. the military one. An interview with a retired general from Pinochet’s administration gives curt responses and little insight into the man’s own motivations; it’s a point which perhaps could have been pushed further but which is, of course, undoubtedly a sensitive one.

As much about the touching spontaneity and down-to-earth integrity of the Scottish workers as about the life-changing consequences of their actions, this is a human story about standing up to be counted. Bob Fulton, Robert Somerville, Stuart Barrie and John Keenan demonstrate the truth of Margaret Mead’s words, but more than that, they demonstrate the innate decency of most human beings. Bustos Sierra’s engaging documentary is a timely reminder of such sentiments at a moment when the world seems to need them the most.