Cinema is one of today’s most powerful storytelling tools, and for filmmakers in Honduras, it’s also a vital medium for preserving national heritage. Take Sami Kafati’s 1962 film Mi Amigo Ángel, hailed as the genesis of Honduran cinema. Clocking in at 32 minutes, Mi Amigo Ángel was not only the first nationally-produced fictional feature, but also provided a vivid snapshot of bustling 1960s Tegucigalpa, both its verdant surroundings and its poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
“The movie was panned at the time,” says René Pauck, director of the Cinemateca Universitaria Enrique Ponce Garay, an institution dedicated to the restoration and conservation of Honduran audiovisual media, named after the country’s first film critic. “Everyone was upset Kafati filmed those ugly realities when there were so many other beautiful ones he could have shown instead,” he adds with a chuckle.
Originally hailing from France, Pauck arrived in Honduras in 1973 and has become an influential proponent of the national film industry as a producer, director and acclaimed documentarian. Pauck describes the 1970s as the era of the documentary where, alongside Honduran filmmakers Mario López and Vilma Ramírez, he helmed the Ministry of Culture’s Cinema Department aiming to support and preserve a national media archive. Emblematic documentaries of the time include Mundo Garífuna, which depicted Garífuna Carnival preparations in the country’s Northern territory, Maíz, Copal y Candela, which delved into the religious and agrarian customs of the indigenous Lenca people and Ritos y Magia, which further explored the spiritual traditions of both communities.
While the 1970s gave Honduran filmmakers room to experiment and depict homegrown stories, the military conflicts that swept across Central America throughout the next decade brought the fledgling movement to a screeching halt. “Many filmmakers recorded the conflicts of the era and we are still recovering much of that material,” says Pauck. “Practically no films other than documentaries were produced in the 1980s, many of them institutional features on health and water access. However, a large group of film students received scholarships to study abroad in Cuba and Argentina, which paved the way for a more focused film industry in the 1990s and 2000s.”
From this new generation of filmmakers emerged screenwriter and director Elizabeth Figueroa (Los Fantasmas del Huracán, Al Compás del Campanario), documentarian Katia Lara (Corazón Abierto, Quién Dijo Miedo) and Hispano Durón, who adapted Roberto Castillos’ short story Anita, La Cazadora de Insectos into one of the modern classics of Honduran cinema.
The new millennium also saw the rise of the blockbuster, the first of which was Juan Carlos Fanconi’s 2002 horror smash Almas de la Media Noche, followed in later years by comedies like Carlos Membreño’s Una Loca Navidad Catracha and Michael Bendeck’s violent revenge tale El Paletero. Honduras has also found its footing with international critics thanks to buzzy dramatic offerings like Durón’s Morazán and Aeden O’Connor Agurcia’s 90 Minutos, as well as consistent showings at the Icaro Film Festival, the premier cinematic institution in Central America.
Women’s organizations have also been an instrumental force of artistic equity in Honduras. “The Colectiva de Mujeres Cineastas Hondureñas aims to train new filmmakers, promote cinema by women and build networks that empower each of us to create on our own,” says Julia Herrera, a screenwriter, director and journalist documenting the work of women in the national film industry. “The collective is comprised of about 15 women of all ages and ethnicities, and we focus on two major projects: The Una Mirada Propia film school, at which most of us study and our annual film showcase, El Sueño de Alicia.”
Herrera goes on to highlight the work of colleagues Dayanna Salazar, Nadia Orellana and Karla Diaz in fiction, and Laura Bermúdez, Jess Guifarro and Andrea Arauz in documentaries, as well as the gender-inclusive ethos of the Linterna Mágica film association.
As it stands, the future of Honduran film is rife with promise and challenges. In 2014, the government of Juan Orlando Hernández dissolved and restructured the Ministry of Culture, putting an end to its Department of Cinema. However, in December 2019, Honduras passed legislation that solidified infrastructure for national audiovisual media projects.
Pauck has also carried on with his work, founding the Cinemateca in 2017 and implementing numerous restoration and digitizing initiatives. Archives from across the spectrum of Honduran film can be found on YouTube, mainly on channels like Gestores Culturales Nacionales and Terco Producciones, which house a wealth of documentaries and short features by several of the aforementioned filmmakers. Pauck also spearheaded the creation of a regional body called Red Centroamericana y Caribe del Patrimonio Fílmico y Audiovisual, an initiative to foment artistic cooperation extending beyond Honduran borders and throughout neighboring countries.
“Situations vary from country to country, but we’re ultimately all the same,” reflects Pauck. “We speak the same language, have suffered the same wars and share the same hopes. Honduras has the talent and the ideas, we just need to keep polishing our stories. It’s chaotic, but that is the story of Honduran cinema.”