WORLD CINEMA REPORT: Argentina's Next Wave Struggle Sustains Momentum Amid Economic Collapse
by Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE/03.20.02) — Imagine you’re a filmmaker: you received critical praise and festival plaudits the world over for your first film, and now you’re preparing to shoot your second when, suddenly, the banks are shut down, financing organizations are broke, and the last thing on anyone’s mind is the movies. Welcome to Argentina, where the latest wave of new talents, celebrated from New York to Rotterdam, is finding their country — and film industry — at a standstill.
“We’re in a holding pattern,” says Argentine director Juan Jose Campanella. “It’s very hard to create a budget if you don’t know how much the dollar will cost. Stock footage is tied to the dollar. Anything related to the lab. Hopefully, we’ll reach some stability in the next few months.” Campanella, competing for an Oscar this weekend in the Foreign Language category for his film “Son of the Bride” (opening in the U.S. this Friday) is one of several Argentine filmmakers hoping that their country’s financial woes will be resolved soon.
On Dec. 19 of last year, mass protests erupted in Argentina over an economic crisis that was only getting worse. After riots in Buenos Aires resulted in a reported seven deaths, the economic minister and the president resigned, and what was South America’s second largest economy (after Brazil) lay in ruin. Subsequently, the country has had several interim presidents and seems to be on the road to recovery, but as Campanella says, “No one knows exactly what’s going to happen. It’s even more complicated than Enron.”
At the 2002 Rotterdam Film Festival, several attending Argentine filmmakers issued a statement expressing their collective concerns. “Due to the lack of honesty and talent of the governing class,” it said, “a richly endowed country was brought down at the very same moment that the Argentine cinema started to bear the fruits of the changes in the industry.” Those changes included a system of film education and financing in the early ’90s.
The manifesto went on to call for a new Ministry of Culture; as without it, the country’s main film support organization, the Instituto Nacional de Cine (INCAA) would be defunct. Less than a month later, an Argentine filmmaker Jorge Coscia (“Sentimientos“) finally took the position, according to Screen International, and vowed to retain the organization’s annual budget of $15.5 million and keep Argentina’s declining A-list film festival Mar del Plata afloat. (Despite some organizational problems, Mar del Plata ended just last weekend, handing out top awards to Columbian director Jorge Ali Triana‘s black comedy “Bolivar, Soy Yo.”) The rising alternative to Mar del Plata, the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (running April 18-28) lost 80 percent of its financing, Screen International reported. The four-year-old festival, which last year even scooped Cannes for new Argentine auteurs, is currently in the midst of an international campaign to raise funds for its survival.
The financial hit comes at an inopportune time for Argentine directors, just when they really were beginning to tango. Last year, Lucretia Martel‘s debut “La Cienaga” nabbed a prestigious New York Film Festival slot and U.S. distribution from Cowboy Pictures; Marcelo Pineyro‘s “Burnt Money” also came to U.S. screens. Locally produced movies such as “Nine Queens” (opening in the U.S. this April) and children’s picture “El Hijo de la Novia” beat out Hollywood product for top spots at the Argentine box office. And at Rotterdam 2002, awards went to Adrian Caetano‘s “Bolivia,” and Lisandro Alonso‘s “La Libertad,” while Berlin screened Sandra Gugliotta‘s “A Lucky Day” and Daniel Burman‘s “Every Stewardess Goes To Heaven“; Burman’s 1998 film “A Chrysanthemum Explodes in Cincoesquinas” has been cited as the beginning of this “Newer Wave” in Argentine cinema.
As Pablo Udenio, an editor at Argentine film magazine Haciendo Cine, says, “The big paradox now seems to be, on one hand, you have an increasing reputation for the new Argentine cinema, praised in film festivals, hot in film markets, now even carrying an Oscar nomination, but on the other hand, fighting to survive the turbulence of this terrible, dramatic economic crises.” Udenio says, “The INCAA corridors are about 100 projects stopped” and because of the devaluation of the Argentine peso, the price of a can of film leapt from 140 pesos in December to more than 180 pesos last month.
All is not lost, however. Despite a rocky start during the economic collapse, Pablo Trapero, whose minimalist affecting 1999 debut “Crane World” is another landmark of this Newer Wave, is shooting his second feature, “El Bonaerense.” “Bolivia” director Caetano is also filming his next project, “El Oso Rojo.” Because of international co-production financing (the bread and butter of any upstart industry), many filmmakers will be able to continue. According to Haciendo Cine, “El Bonaerense” is being funded with help from France’s Fond du Sud, and “El Oso Rojo” has money from the Ibermedia Fund, a Latin American-Spanish-Portuguese venture. Lisandro Alonso is writing his next film with a grant from the Rotterdam Film Festival’s Hubert Bals Fund and Lucretia Martel’s next project has been helped along by a grant from the Cannes Film Festival.
“Son of the Bride’s” Campanella says he’s not too worried about his next film. With financing partners that stretch from the U.S. (Warner Brothers funded his last film) to Spain (Tornasol Films helped on “Bride”), he says, “With all these co-productions, I think we’ll manage. But in any case, I’m not shooting until 2003, so by then, we’ll either get better or we’ll die. All I can do right now is keep writing.”
“Nine Queens” director Fabian Bielinsky can also shoulder the crisis because of the globalized nature of the current film market. While writing his next feature, Bielinsky is directing commercials for U.S. and European companies. “Because of the success of ‘Nine Queens’ here, I’m in a privileged situation. I have international connections and European and American production companies contacting me to see what I want to do next,” he says. “But filmmaking here is still very hard,” he continues, citing the INCAA’s current rut. “I may be okay, but some of my friends are not, and the rest of the country is not, so it’s not exactly a happy feeling.”
Both Campanella and Bielinsky blame a broad-ranging Argentine attitude for what has happened in their country as much as ineffective government. They both use words like selfishness, cynicism, and an “everybody for themselves way of thinking,” which figures in both “Son of the Bride,” which chronicles the comeuppance of an insensitive restaurateur, and “Nine Queens,” a con-artist crime film where suspicions and distrust run rampant in Buenos Aires. “We have to do some serious self-criticism,” says Campanella. “A lot of it is our fault. Now I think there is a big movement of realization.”
Begun with thousands of people taking to the streets banging pots and pans and demanding change, this new movement may be a harbinger of something better to come. “Today, as never before, people are gathering in neighborhoods, looking for solutions, looking for ways to participate in our daily, social and political life. And that’s quite a change,” says Bielinsky.
The crisis has also brought the local film community together, Bielinsky asserts. “We all feel we’re in the same boat, with the same basic problems,” he says, “and if someone is able to find a way to get going with a production, I’m sure they would share it with the others.”
There’s another potentially positive outcome of Argentina’s economic crisis for its filmmakers. As talents are already on the rise, just think what such national upheaval will do for their inspiration to create. “Italian Neorealism came out of a situation that is far worse than the situation in Argentina right now,” says Campanella. “I think it will give us things to talk about.”