There’s no doubt about the need to change the sad state of distribution for Latin American cinema in the U.S. so wider audiences can enjoy the many great films being produced in the region that deserve to be seen here. But though this tough reality has been worsened by the economic crisis as fewer distributors are willing to take risks, it is not new. Those programmers and exhibitors passionate about getting great Latin American cinema to American audiences have been struggling against this difficulty for many years. At The Latinbeat Film Festival we have the satisfaction of offering a space for films that might otherwise not get seen at all in this country. We hope the media and distributors take notice and take some risks to help these films get a larger audience.
I started curating The Latinbeat Film Festival in 1999. Presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which also runs the New York Film Festival, our goal has been to bring to American audiences a selection of the very best new films from as many Latin American countries as possible. In addition to quality and diversity we’ve consciously attempted to mirror the most recent filmmaking trends in the region. At the time, countries with a strong filmmaking history, like Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, were starting to experience a cinematic rebirth. It was an exciting moment, as young new filmmakers started to explore groundbreaking ways to tell stories after their countries had experienced years of social, political and economic hardship. Film schools were opening with the return of democracy in some of these countries, and the number of passionate film students was multiplying every year.
We wanted to capture this historic moment with our festival. Latinbeat was the very first to bring the so called “New Argentine Cinema” to NY audiences (amongst others, with the films of Martin Rejtman, considered one of the inspirations for this cinema ) and has championed many of its directors in these 12 years, bringing to NY audiences a new kind of Latin American cinema.
Our program has always included other kinds of films as well. This year we are featuring great, more mainstream romantic comedies from Argentina, alongside personal and innovative films from that country. This variety within a country – as is the case with Mexico and Brazil– reflects the encouraging fact that their budding film industries are gaining strength. That there are commercial films, as well as great documentaries, and small personal films coming out of one country is a sign of cinematic vitality that we aim to reflect with our program, as much as the individual trends. Mexico, for example, has for some years been producing an abundance of fascinating, incisive documentaries. It’s an exciting trend we have sought to reflect in Latinbeat these years. But Mexican films represented in our program also include engaging, personal fiction as well as commercial blockbusters. Seen together in the festival one has a sense of the state of developing cinema in Mexico today.
What’s exciting about this year’s program is not only the diversity of countries represented and the huge variety of genres, styles and original voices from countries with a stronger filmmaking tradition but that other countries, like Chile and Uruguay, have been producing an exhilarating body of work in very recent years. These are trends we have followed closely at Latinbeat since the Uruguayan breakthrough of “25 Watts” and “Whisky” in 2001 and 2004, and through the championing of Chilean filmmakers Andres Wood or Matias Bize, with their very first films. The Uruguayan film, “Acne,” by Federico Veiroj, which we are showing this year, is one of the most recent samples of the kind of edgy, low budget filmmaking and search for a new cinematic language that characterizes Uruguayan films from the past 8 years.
The Chilean selection of “Tourists,” by the up-and-coming Alicia Scherson (whose first film, Play, premiered at LB last year), and “The Good Life” by the more established Andres Wood speak of a cinema with a long tradition but also of a very new generation that is producing an abundance of stylistically varied and small personal captivating films. Last year’s tribute to Chile in Latinbeat presents a good overview of this panorama.
Several other films in this year’s program also highlight the explosive variety of styles and genres in the region: “The Ballroom,” a gem from Brazil featuring an outstanding soundtrack of popular Brazilian music, delicately treads the border between documentary and fiction, exposing a tangle of furtive love stories, longing and passionate encounters that occur in one night at a Sao Paolo ballroom. From Cuba, a dazzling, gorgeously shot co-production with Russia tells a passionate love story against the backdrop of Havana and a small coastal Cuban town. And, finally, back by popular demand, the beautiful Peruvian film, “Milk of Sorrow,” which was such a hit when it premiered at The Film Society’s New Directors/New Films 09.
Another striking, and encouraging trend this year is the number of women filmmakers– directing, editing, producing, doing camerawork or, increasingly, screenwriting. Many of these women carry out several jobs on the same film. Some of this year’s Latinbeat directors also wrote the screenplays for their films and were actively involved in production, if not more. During our panel, co-presented with New York Women in Film and TV on Sat Sept 12, many of these women filmmakers will discuss their work and the challenges they face in the Latin American film industry today.
By showing a variety of great films, The Film Society of Lincoln Center aims to expose the richness and diversity of cultures in Latin America. In the process, we hope to have contributed to the dissolution of some stereotypes about Latin America and Latin American people. Above all, we want to get as many people in New York–not only Latinos and Latin Americans–to see these films and experience the wonderful search for new languages and skilled filmmaking that continues to develop in the region.
This is an exciting time for Latin American filmmaking, especially in the light of how far it has come in the past 12 years. The Latinbeat Film Festival provides NY audiences an opportunity to appreciate a representative sampling of these films, through years of consistent dedicated programming, despite the challenges in distribution for these films. It also provides great opportunities for these filmmakers to reach new audiences. It’s my hope that American distributors and the American film media will take notice.