Melanie Lindgren: Latin American Cinema and Social Movements

Helsingin elokuva-akatemian Elävän kuvan seura, 5.10.2015

Latin American film is generally quite unknown in Finland. Once in a long while an Argentinean movie reaches the Finnkino screens, but that’s basically it. Anyway, more of Latin American movies can be seen in various festivals, especially in Cinemaissi, the Latin American Film Festival in Helsinki.

Today we had an opportunity to listen to Cinemaissi’s director Melanie Lindgren discussing about her perspective on Latin American film. She has been working in the film festival’s selection for six years. Each year the festival screens about 150 films which they select from hundreds of films (this year 600 films applied).

Taking a look into film history the first years of Latin American cinema in 1930-1950 were considered as “Neo Exotism”. It was generally felt that Latin American film had only exotic charm (with beautiful women), music and dance. As Hollywood musicals started to show the way, Latin America started to produce musicals with “rumberas” (Cine de rumberas / Reinas del tropico), sensual Latin American women. Cocaleca con Ninón Sevilla en Víctimas del Pecado, 1950. This became the mainstream and most productions came from Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Cuba.

Carmen Miranda of Portuguese Brazilian origin was probably the most well-known and loved star of this period. She was a stereotypical emblem of Latin American beauty. “The Gang’s All Here”, 1943. She did 14 films before dying quite young from a heart attack. Very much color, movement and rhythm was the typical cocktail of Latin American movies of this period. This was considered the “Golden Era” of Latin American cinema. Things looked hopeful and the expectations were high.

In the 1950’s everything changed. Having an effect in the Latin American cinema as well, the political horizon was changing in several countries. Revolutions took place in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Cuba and Bolivia. Brazil was in a military dictatorship, and Peru was about to turn into an internal armed conflict. Latin American cinema took distance from the US movies. Hollywood wasn’t the aim anymore, but the influences came from Italian neorealism, French New Wave and Soviet film.

The “New Latin American Cinema”, as it is widely known, was born in Cuba in the 1950. The new cinema was national, realist, critical and popular that communicated with the people – “active cinema for an active spectator”. Cuban filmmaker Santiago Alvarez suggested that “our cinema is not preconceived, the films are not for the posterity, which emphasized the social nature of the cinema. One of the session participants brought up the film “I am Cuba” (Soy Cuba 1964 ) which is an interesting Soviet-Cuban film showing Cuban realism from that time. The attempt to attain Hollywood or European flashy superiority in Latin American films stayed behind.

Fast times of profound changes influenced documentaries especially. Urge for the revolutionary change and raising consciousness among the people needed films to be produced fast. Limitations in the productions were widely accepted as it was more valuable to document events than concentrate on perfection in production. A good example of a documentary from the era is “Battle of Chile” (La Batalla de Chile 1975) The era also promoted accepting ourselves and showing the true side. This is present for example in the movie “Yawar Mallku – La Sangre del Condor” (1969)

Among other characteristics, the documentary collage technique was widely adopted in Latin American film in 60’s and 70’s. After the revolution in Cuba it was difficult to obtain necessary footage that was expected to arrive from the US which led to usage of paper animation technique (known in Europe especially for Monty Python). In the end of the day helped to challenge the pre-existing representation models creating a certain “urgency aesthetics”.

Since Latin America has been trying to liberate itself by the means of cinema. In many countries the people are still dealing with the things that happened during the dictatorships and armed conflicts. The history is tried to be reconstructed by the cinema. Certain historical events have been difficult to digest and the cinema is used as a tool to get a hold of what really happened. One may say this is an on-going search even nowadays and many countries are trying to catch their own personalities in the cinema. During the past decades the landscape has also become international and there’s a little bit of everything in the Latin American cinema of today.

Generally speaking, in Latin America it has been tricky to show local movies in the cinema. International blockbusters are spread widely in Latin America as well and the typical preference is to see a Hollywood film instead of a film dealing with a local issue. “You want to feel good, not bad, after watching a movie.” It is not until recently that the people are going to see films from their own region, although major blockbusters may still be the number one cinema entertainment. This might sound very familiar for a European spectator as well, although in some cases escapism may be stronger purpose in Latin American audience.

Several talented Latin American directors have jumped to the international field. These include for example Oscar winning Mexican directors Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman 2014, Biutiful 2010, Babel 2006) after having directed “Amores Perros” in 2000, and Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity 2013, Children of Men 2006) after directing “Y Tu Mamá También” in 2001. Guillermo del Toro is also one of the most known and influential people when it comes to horror movies today. Unfortunately, after the “breakthroughs” their English speaking movies have had very little to do with Latin America.

However, some Argentinean films, that actually take place in Latin America, have got wide international recognition. From the past years these movies include for example “The Secret in Their Eyes” (El Secreto de Sus Ojos, 2009) that won the Oscar and Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes, 2014) that got nominated. These films have been distributed also in the cinemas in Finland. Anyway, if you want to experience more Latin America and the local views on the world, you definitively need to hunt them down in film festivals.

In certain Latin American countries the infrastructure for filmmaking is naturally elevated. Argentinean and Mexican films are considered to meet best certain kind of international production standards. These countries have a long tradition in filmmaking and organizations that help film productions financially. In turn, for example in Peru, the local cinema institute was closed in 2011 due to government having misunderstood the organization’s purpose. This obviously made the Peruvian filmmakers frustrated. Anyhow, the trend in Peru is to watch and produce more local films. Local fiction is getting more popular thanks to movies like “The Vanished Elephant” (El elefante Desaparecido, 2014) and “El mudo” (2013).

One of the session’s participants had studied cinema in a Colombian film school. She could tell that, many young educated filmmakers are looking for their roots and making movies about indigenous people, but also on ecological and environmental issues, while the representation has gone somewhat poetic. The film producing ambient in Colombia is also praised as being very fresh and inspiring while the Colombian National Film Foundation sounds to be willing to take risks when it comes to funding film productions.

According to Melanie, younger people are really starting to do their own films which seems to be at least partly a consequence from the DSLR camera development. Many small cinema clubs have also popped up in university campus areas, and huge potential lies in the young generation. The young people are seizing the power of making their own films making the Latin American film each year more diverse and interesting. Especially Melanie mentions the new Argentinean and Mexican film school students that are producing very impressive films.

There’s a long list of sociopolitical films that can be seen in Cinemaissi this year. “Marmato” (2014) is a documentary about how a Colombian town confronts a mining company that wants to mine the gold beneath their homes. The same topics are dealt in a documentary “Daughter of the Lake” (2015) in which the gold is beneath a Peruvian lake. A participant in the session recalls an Argentinean documentary called “Memory of the Plunder” (Memoria del Saqueo 2013)  which explains the money transfer from the poor to the rich. A film that would be very current to the Finnish audience to watch, in addition to the mining related topics.

Melanie’s list continues. Melanie predicts that the documentary “Last Colony” (2015) will have a sociopolitical effect in Latin America. It deals with Puerto Rico, which is the last colony of the United States. The recommendations also include Women in the Mine (Argentina 2014), Mr. Kaplan (Uruguay 2014) and Conducta (Cuba 2014) Last year there was also a documentary Secret Diplomacy (2013) from a Finnish director dealing with the revolution of Chile. For getting a better view on what Latin American cinema is today, one should definitively go to see films that are mostly distributed in their local region and that otherwise wouldn’t reach the Finnish movie theaters.

The next Latin American Film Festival Cinemaissi will take place in Helsinki this month 22-25.10.2015.

Nauhoite sessiosta löytyy osoiteesta:

Elävän kuvan seura

Helsinki Film Academy’s Cinema Society is a series of weekly held peer learning events. This blog is based on the session’s content and on the bloggers own observations, experiences and views on the topic.

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