In 1893 Chicago was host to the Worlds Fair in celebration of Columbus’ discovery of America, earning it the moniker, “The White City.” Blacks and Latinos, upset at their lack of representation in the fair dubbed it the “great American white elephant,” or “white America’s World Fair.” Over 100 years later, Chicago is host to the largest and oldest Latino Film Festival in the States, giving its reputation as a white city a run for its money, and, perhaps more importantly, showing some awesome films.
The Chicago Latino Film Festival runs more than 130 films from all over Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain during the 2 week festival from April 13 – April 26. Not to compare elotes con jitomates but that’s 80 more than New York City’s Havana Film Festival!
So it’s a huge event. As part of our coverage of the festival, we’ve got a Q&A with Paula Markovitch, the director of the film El Premio (The Prize) which actually won the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award among other awards. The film depicts a young girl’s experience of the Argentine genocide—what I and many others have mistakenly been calling “the dirty war.” See why below.
Tell me, is El Premio more about the Argentine dictatorship or about the impressions of childhood?
I don’t know, we’ll let the audience and critics decide…to me, my work is an investigation: “How much does the world we live in… the “context,” intervene and form some of our most intimate feelings?”
Why represent the dirty war on film?
There’s a lot to that question. You are asking me about the “dirty war,” but in Argentina there was no “dirty war”…no not even a “war.” This is the name that the assassins gave it: war, in order to justify the massacre. The military assassins gave persecution, assassination and torture of the citizens of their own country….the name “war.” The word “war” is taken directly from the military conception of Argentina… In Argentina there was no “dirty war”…nor “war.” There was only a genocide of the state, made towards the civil population, extended and widespread.
Why is the Chicago Latino Film Festival important for your film?
All festivals are very important to me because they allow for a dialogue to take place between directors and also between the works. I believe the films also find one another and have their own chats together…
Is the family represented in El Premio Jewish?
I have Jewish origins, but this work is not specifically about Judaism, but rather about all the genocides towards the innocents of the world. Many, many exist and of course the United States is not, in any way, exempt of responsibility…
MY WORK IS AN INVESTIGATION
There is a great intimacy with your characters–how autobiographical is the film?
There is intimacy with the characters because it is my intention as a writer and playwright: always to create intimacy with the characters–my story is based a lot in memories, that’s true…but it is a fictional story.
Your film won the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award. Do you consider the film to be political, or yourself a social activist?
I wish I were a social activist, and I wish that my film was political… I believe that I’m only an artist who intends to reflect about what has touched my life. Activists are much more effective and valiant than I am. I admire them a lot!
Define Latin American cinema in three words.
I couldn’t do that.
Why do you believe that in the last 20 years Latin American cinema has captivated audiences more than ever before?
I’m not sure this is true; I believe that there is a kind of expiation of guilt from Europe, because of the subjugation and slavery of America and Africa that the Europeans exercised in recent centuries… and it’s fine that they feel a little guilty, because they are guilty.
It’s important that Latin works and Latin artists know that they have their own artistic health and own discourse of great beauty and profundity, which does not always coincide with what is tagged as “Latino” in other latitudes.
Still, we don’t see Latin American films widely distributed in the U.S. Why do you think that is?
The terms of distribution escape me, I only know that they probably don’t like Latin movies so much. They are overly defeatist for the American spirit which trusts blindly in itself…
What is the future of Latin American cinema?
I wish I were able to predict the future…
“Under the cloud of a military dictatorship, a young mother and her daughter flee Buenos Aires for the seclusion of a ramshackle cottage along the windy dunes of an Argentine beach. As her mother listens for news from the radio with sad stoicism, restlessly curious seven-year-old Cecilia joins a nearby school overseen by a kindly teacher. A childhood idyll, however, soon becomes contaminated by the general political crisis, as the teacher recruits the class for a patriotic essay contest sponsored by the army—the very people that may have already disappeared Cecilia’s father—in this superbly acted and engrossingly atmospheric drama about innocence in illicit times.” – Global Film Initiative