The now constant chatter regarding how extraordinary current Latin American cinema is often centers on the successes of Mexican filmmakers abroad and more recently on the exposure earned by Colombia films given their presence at renowned events; however, another South American country is also making waves internationally in a variety of genres and filmmaking techniques.
Since Pablo Larraín’s Oscar-nominated NO back in 2012, Chilean cinema has circled the festival circuit and won countless awards, which has propelled Chilean stories and their creators to unseen recognition and exposure. This period of creative abundance in recent years has given us fantastic works of fiction like Sebastian Leilo’s Gloria, a look at a middle-aged woman trying to rekindle her life, and Alejandro Fernández Almendras‘ Sundance-winning To Kill a Man, a politically laced thriller about a father seeking revenge. Both features represented their homeland in the Best Foreign Language Film race, but ultimately were not nominated.
“Latin American cinema is delivering a particular vision that other cinemas around the world are not.”
Last year, Larraín completed The Club, a hard-hitting chronicle of the lives of priests accused of pedophilia and other crimes, which won a Silver Bear at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and was nominated for a 2016 Golden Globe. But just as Larraín continued with his Chile-set dramas, the new-generation, unconventional filmmaker Sebastian Silva, finally made a film about his adopted home, New York City. Following his acclaimed debut La nana (The Maid), Silva has become a prolific artist and a regular at the Sundance Festival. His last feature Nasty Baby, starring himself and Kristen Wiig premiered in Park City in 2015.
While those past achievements are definitely a sign of the great moment this national cinema is experiencing, Chilean directors are not stopping and their aims to conquer this year’s festivals and award shows is even more vibrant. Early in January 2016, another Chilean film received an Oscar nomination. Gabriel Osorio Vargas’ CG-animated short Historia de un oso (Bear Story) was listed among the five works to compete for the coveted trophy, giving the country its second nomination. The film uses the story of a bear being kidnapped and forced to work in the circus to confront Chile’s dark past during the dictatorship years.
Sundance welcomed Fernandez Almendras back with his latest class-based drama Much Ado About Nothing (Aqui no ha pasado nada), which stars Agustin Silva, brother of the Crystal Fairy director, in his first leading role. It’s all very meta when it comes to this tight-knit group of creative people. Chilean movie star Paulina Garcia (Gloria), plays the younger Silva’s mother in Fernandez Almendras’ film, and also stars as a Brooklyn-based Chilena in Ira Sachs moving drama Little Man, which also premiered at Sundance and is Garcia’s first-ever English-language role. Adding to Chilean invasion of the Sundance program was Sebastian Silva himself, who can’t seem to stay away from the snowy fest. He debuted a short film entitled Dolfun, in which he plays a filmmaker who dreams of swimming with dolphins.
This week, the Berlinale will screen four Chilean productions including Fernandez Almendras’ Sundance hit Much Ado About Nothing, which will play in the Panorama section. Alexander Anwandter’s You’ll Never Be Alone also in Panorama, Roberto Doveris’ Plants in Generation 14plus, and Pepa San Martin’s Rara in Generation Kplus, complete the Chilean slate. It’s truly a testament to the place within the global cinema stage that Chile, as well as Latin America in general, has attained.
“We’ve become a country of people making things in spite of adversity. This year four Chilean films are going to Berlin and only one of them was supported by the government.”
But according to the To Kill a Man and Much Ado About Nothing director Alejandro Fernández Almendras the explanation behind the sudden notoriety of the region’s storytellers is rather simple, “Latin American cinema is delivering a particular vision that other cinemas around the world are not,” he explained in a recent interview with Remezcla. For Fernandez Almendras the quality of the stories speaks for itself, in particular when thinking about his country’s output, “There is a very high narrative standard in Chilean cinema,” he continued but made sure to note that this exemplary catalogue of films appearing in the last few years has not been accomplished through their government’s support, “We’ve become a country of people making things in spite of adversity. This year four Chilean films are going to Berlin and only one of them was supported by the government.”
His latest project, as he makes sure to point out, did not receive any government funding, “We did Much Ado About Nothing with a crowdfunding campaign, with money that we had for another project that later we had to find again, some money from the sales agent, a bit of money from France, and just like that piece by piece. Like if we were picking coins here and there.” Not even his clear status as a festival favorite encouraged the authorities to come on board, “Even though the film was at Sundance and is in Berlin, when we asked for money for post-production they didn’t give us anything.” There is not a film industry in Chile he claims, but only filmmakers passionate enough to push through, “There is no investment from private companies like it happens in Mexico, Brazil or Colombia.” Films earn all their money from international sources but get very little if any financial support at home.
Fernandez Almendras is currently working on several projects including a TV series and an English-language feature in the hopes to be able to work with a larger budget and more time, “I’ve made four films, I have somewhat of a career, but at some point I want to stop making films that cost $100,000, which will probably be the final cost of this film. It was filmed with $40,000 in 10 days.” The fact that the government-awarded grants are allocated based on a contest, which seems to favor first-time directors, makes it difficult for more seasoned talents to get a new project off the ground.
Although the mechanisms in place to facilitate production in Chile appear to be failing at their designated purpose, the desire to keep the momentum going is strong and promises to make Chilenos and their varied narratives and documentaries a fixture on festival programs worldwide. If they gotten this far and garnered so much acclaim working on their own, as their government refuses to acknowledge the importance of filmmaking as an art form that brings positive attention to Chile, then imagine what could be if the opposite was the case.