Illicit Trade Illicit Trade Illicit Trade Illicit Trade Illicit Trade Illicit Trade
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Spanish, English, German, French, with English subtitles

With David Guzmán Storey

There are no millenary mummies in Switzerland, the vicuñas do not live in New Zealand, and the Alerce does not grow in the United States. How did Chile’s most valuable cultural goods get there? Illicit Trade investigates the incredible theft of fossils, mummies, shipwrecks, meteorites, exotic animals, and endangered trees that have crossed continents to end up in the hands of wealthy collectors, scientific laboratories, and prestigious museums.


1/6 Chinchorro Mummies

When a city is built on top of a pre-Columbian cemetery, the children play with skulls, and their parents become tomb robbers. For decades, Arica has been the center of self-taught archaeologists and foreign buyers, even those interested in human bodies. In Switzerland, two of the oldest mummies in the world were found in a collector’s basement. They were about to be burned, but their rescue allowed them to return to the place where they belong.

2/6 Fossils

In Germany, the most complete fossil bird in the world was found. It’s six meters wide and was trafficked from Caldera, a town in northern Chile that survived the fishing crisis by selling fossils. Until then, no one knew about this place, where the sea and desert meet; it turned out to be one of the most important paleontological sites in the world.

3/6 Meteorites

In Chile, meteorites do not have a law that protects them, and both their search and sale are allowed. When the first specimen from Mars is discovered, it is taken to France in search of the highest bidder. For years, science has defended the value of studying these extraterrestrial rocks, but a silent market has brought hundreds of hunters to the best place in the world to find meteorites: the Atacama Desert.

4/6 Vicuña

Vicuña wool is the most expensive animal fiber in the world. In the past, it dressed the Inca royalty and today it dresses the millionaires of the world. At 5 thousand meters high, the Aymara community considers it a sacred animal and tries to manage them in a sustainable way, but at night the Queen of the Andes is shot and skinned by poachers.

5/6 Alerce

A container filled with reddish wood was found in the port of San Francisco, California. Just by chance, a worker recognized the type of lumber: Alerce, one of the most precious protected species on the planet. This wood could only come from one place: the south of Chile, where illegal logging has brought this millenary native tree to the verge of extinction.

6/6 Oriflama

It is estimated that there are about two thousand shipwrecks on the coasts of Chile. Among them, historical records talk about a Spanish ship with cargo for the aristocracy in Peru that sank more than two centuries ago on the Maule coast. A group of treasure hunters claims to have found it, but the government wants to be the rightful owner of the 680 tons of valuable crystals, jewelry, and gold that remain sunk beneath the sea.

About the Director
Diego Breit Lira is a documentary filmmaker based in Chile. He studied film at the Vienna Film Academy, where he produced the award-winning short films Vienna waits for you and Catafalque. In 2015, he founded Glaciar Films where he developed several projects such as the Video-Installation Andes Shadow (2016) for the Venice Biennale of Architecture, and the documentary series Chiloé (2018) and Illicit Trade (2019). In 2022, he directed the documentary series Building Visions for ARTE. In 2023 he produced his first feature documentary for the cinema, Alien Island.