A Glance at Latin American Cinema Today

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With the start of the new year, NYRemezcla’s página de cine provides a look at the current condition of Latin American film through the testimonials of several directors and industry professionals, excerpted from interviews conducted in last half of 2004 by Jeremy Goren.

Armando Guareño, Executive Director, La Cinema Fe Film Festival

RE: Do you feel like there’s a surge in interest in Latin-American film? Are we seeing some kind of boom?

AG:  I don’t like the term “boom”. A boom is something that doesn’t last long. In Latin America they make as much film as in Hollywood. We are 21 Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries. Argentina makes like 50 films a year; Mexico makes like 30-something; Brazil makes 50-something. When you put it all together you get over 300 films a year. So there is film for every single festival. It’s not a boom. It’s the reality. It’s there. The Latin-American film industry has always been good, but now the media is putting more attention to it because the Latinos — or Latin-American people living in the U.S.A. — have spending power. Here it’s not about culture; it’s not about emotion. It’s about money. It’s about power.

One of the things I’m really happy about and respect a lot about Latin-American filmmakers is that they are truly filmmakers; they are truly artists. They create; they do as they want to do. Yes, you have some Latin American companies that produce films to make money, but that’s only a few of them. I don’t think it’s about production quality. I think it’s about film quality and how creative the director can be.

Jorge Echeverri, Dir. of Malamor, at La Cinema Fe Film Festival

RE:  Over the years you’ve been making films, have you seen a change in the popularity of Latin American films in the U.S.A. and Europe? How do you see the state of Latin-American cinema today?

JE:  What can I say? We are dwarves. We have always been dwarves against the mainstream cinema, and we are a sort of curiosity for the main audiences [in the] first world. But that happens in Europe as well. You know, the kind of spectator that I hope to have  [for] my films is a certain kind of person that has those eyes and those ears that are in sync with the stories I try to tell, which are not very commercial. Yes, those people are the only audience I can hope for, not big audiences. And I’m talking about my country as well. But I’m happy making [my films] — not happy: It’s more like I’ve got make them, I mean to sleep peacefully with myself because I really don’t like, well, the mainstream cinema. That’s pretty obvious, I believe, watching my film.

RE:  What kind of role does a festival like this play? Are these films being distributed better now than in the past?

JE:  Yes, I might say that, in general, films are being seen by more people every day. But at the same time you find more films that are being made. I don’t know much about the whole spectrum of films being made in Latin America. I tend to work [alone]; that’s the way I am with myself. I know that it’s very important to [attend] the film festivals and so on, but I am a sort of introverted person. It’s unfortunate in that I am the producer as well, and‚ a producer, per se, means that you’ve got to have the magic touch to be social and get money. But‚ in the sense of distribution, it is very difficult. Colombian films[, for example,] are not being distributed. You can see Colombian films in film festivals but not in the commercial theaters. For instance, in Spain, only one out of 200 films has been shown. Here in the States, I don’t know which films have been shown commercially. Maria, llena eres de gracia is not really Colombian [because the writer/director is based in the United States].

Marcela Goglio, Curator of the LatinBeat series at Lincoln Center

RE:   You mentioned that there is a “brouhaha” over Latin-American cinema now. Do you think it will manifest itself in commercial distribution?

MG:  Well, for quite a few years now, there’s been an attempt for that [distribution] to happen. Actually, the renaissance of Latin-American cinema — or whatever you want to call it — has been happening for several years. We started with this festival in 1997, and already there were a lot of films to show from Latin America when no one was talking about Latin American cinema. Since then I think the industries in the most important Latin-American countries, like Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba, which are the countries which have had — I hesitate to say industry because they’ve never really had it, but they have, like, a past — these countries have started again to make films. And since the early 1990s, there’s a rise in production and a rise in quality. Another new thing these past 10 years is [the appearance of] films from countries that have never had any films. And they’re all trying to see if they can attract American distributors. It’s still a huge risk for American distributors to show a Latin-American movie. Even the highest-grossing Latin-American films in the past years — Y tu mamá también, Amores perros — I think [were] losses for the American distribution companies. There are many more people out here who are interested in seeing Latin-American films, [but] I don’t think there will ever be such a thing like the boom as we see it now in the festival circuit reflected completely in the commercial circuit. But some of it will leak in. Hopefully.

RE: It’s interesting that you use the term “boom” because others I’ve talked to and used the word “boom” said, “No, that’s not what it is. We’ve always been making this film. It’s always been there. It’s just now that some people are starting to pay more attention.” Would you agree with that? Some of what you’re saying seems to be that you do see a surge in production.

MG: It definitely is — at least in the last 10 years. It’s not something as recent as most people think. [For example,] there certainly has been a remarkable renovation of the cinematic language amongst young directors in the past 10 years in Argentina. There’s a new generation of filmmakers doing very interesting, cutting-edge things.This didn’t exist before the 90s. In the 80s we had different kinds of films, much more traditional films‚ against which these young filmmakers are trying to react or do something different. And the same thing with places like Mexico and Brazil. The amount, the variety, the search for new languages is all something that started in the mid-90s. Maybe the boom is happening on this side, on the side of the audience. In New York, for example, [with] Spanish-speaking people here whose parents emigrated perhaps from Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic, we have the first generation of people who are educated and are now interested in culture and want to go see movies, whereas their parents came here and had to work and were into other things. We have the first generation of Latinos who are really coming to see movies and are looking for information about their histories and all that.

RE: Do you see a rise in co-production among different countries? Is that a good thing?

MG: Definitely [it’s a good thing]. There was a time six or seven years ago when we thought that was going to be huge because, left and right, you saw co-productions starting in Mexico especially and in Argentina — with Spain mostly, because Spain had been wanting to invest a lot of money. Cubans, certainly most of the movies out of Cuba lately are co-productions with Spain.

RE: That’s more out of necessity, isn’t it?

MG: Yeah. But Mexico as well. But then for some reason it stopped. It’s not that there aren’t any more co-productions, but you don’t see as many. I did think it was going to be the answer for all these films and these ideas that don’t have any money.

Jorge Dyszel, Dir. of En fin, el mar, at La Cinema Fe Film Festival

RE: Do you see an opening up of the rest of the world toward the film being produced in Latin America?

JD: I think it’s a process which is [very involved] because, you know, there are so many Latins in the United States. The situation is pushing. They are demanding more products. First, it’s the society, what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in here. If you compared how we are now to how we were 10 years ago, the communications flow is so fast. The DVD and the possibility of sending information in two or three days, this is new. [And] basically, we are all human beings, [so everyone can be touched by the same film].

RE: Do you think that the category walls among countries are going to be breaking away now, especially because there’s more co-production?

JD: In the future it’s going to be such integration that movies are going to be qualified as “star system” or “outside the star system”. That’s it. You know how the star system works. We invest millions and millions and millions and millions for [certain] faces that  people pay to see become lovers, killers, become whatever. It’s so clear that there are movies that if you change the faces, even having the best of the performers‚ no one will go to the theater to see them. And I respect that because also people like to see George Clooney laugh, or Julia Roberts fall in love, or Penélope Cruz be almost naked, you know? But there are so many women or men like them that can perform at least as [well] as they do. So basically what we are buying here is the star system.