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The Serious History Behind Oscar-Winning Animated Short Bear Story

2 minute read

The Oscar-winner for Best Animated Short looks, at first, like a cute and cuddly tale of a father bear struggling to get back to his family. But Bear Story is an allegory for something far more serious.

As director Gabriel Osorio alluded to in his acceptance speech Sunday, the film’s story was inspired by true events: the 1973 arrest of his grandfather, who was held for two years, then sent out of the country and forced to live apart from the rest of the family in Chile.

It was in 1973 that Chile’s Marxist president Salvador Allende—whose rule had been opposed by the U.S.—died during a coup by a military junta, which over the course of a couple of violent days brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power and established tightly controlled military rule in the nation.

Dozens of leftist political figures were ordered to surrender themselves and, according to reports from the time, a total of about 3,000 people were imprisoned. After about half a year under Pinochet, Chile had become a place where “people who talk too much or ask too many questions simply disappear.”

As TIME reported in late 1974, on the one-year anniversary of Pinochet’s coming to power, the option of exile was actually seen at the time as a loosening of the reins:

Army General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, Chile’s stern-visaged chief of state, told a crowded assembly of coup supporters that political prisoners—”with the exception of a few particularly serious cases”—would be allowed “to leave forever the national territory.” Already Orlando Letelier, former Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the U.S., had left his Chilean prison for exile in Venezuela. But Pinochet also put an end to any hopes that a genuine loosening of the junta’s grip was in the making. He blandly told a crowded press conference that the military might well remain in power for “10, 15, 20 or even 25 years.”

Pinochet, who held power for 17 years and was arrested for war crimes in 1998, died in 2006.

Read TIME’s full 1973 cover story about Pinochet’s coup, here in the TIME Vault: The Bloody End of a Marxist Dream

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com