Struggling against the weight of the past
New talents should take the lead in Latin American cinema
Back in 2005, while he was still the Secretary of Culture for the State of São Paulo, movie director João Batista de Andrade thought about a Latin American cinema festival in São Paulo and started developing the project together with Fernando Leça, the Memorial da América Latina president. At the time, two ideas floated around his mind: contributing to a new understanding of the cinema currently produced in this subcontinent and fighting the cult of the past that had become oppressive, in order to enable new talents to assume the role that should be their due, i.e., that of protagonists of the contemporary scene.
“There we were, with a cinema bias underscored by the dictatorship and by the struggle against the dictatorship of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and this worried me”, says João Batista, who, as secretary, witnessed the 1st Latin American Cinema Festival come true in São Paulo (see Pesquisa FAPESP no. 127) and who, in 2007, no longer in that position, took on the job of curator of the second festival. Held in the Memorial da América Latina, like the first festival, from July 22 to 27, this year’s festival included the viewing of 120 movies from 16 countries, seen by 15.6 thousand people, plus several debates and the bestowing of three awards, besides Fernando Leça’s promise to work toward setting up a movie theatre for the permanent viewing of Latin American movies at the Memorial.
One should clarify that João Batista, as he himself emphasizes, has nothing against the past of Latin American cinema per se, which had ‘several excellent moments’, nor against the lovely fruit it has undoubtedly born. “But to construct a political gesture that is of consequence today, one that contributes to making the new cinema viable, it is fundamental to rid oneself of the excess weight of the past and to look with the eyes of the present at what is going on”, he says. According to him, what is under way is, first, “a perverse globalization”. In sum, this is a phenomenon that produces international visibility and even success for some movie directors, technicians and actors from different Latin American countries, “without this having any actual consequences for national cinematographies in the subcontinent.”
The director of O Homem que Virou Suco (1981) mentions Héctor Babenco, Fernando Meirelles, Iñarritu and Walter Salles, among others, and refers to movies such as Machuca, Cidade de Deus, Amores perros, Central do Brasil and Como água para chocolate to illustrate his views about a type of collection of valuable products that the international market has made on this subcontinent. It is something “like the old pattern of brazilwood extraction”, he exaggerates, producing an outcome that is “good for movie directors, good for the chosen movies, but nonexistent for the national cinematography, which remains unchanged.” João Batista notes, however, that one must preserve movie directors and movies in this review, in order to really analyze in depth the current situation’s contradictions. This internationalization of certain individuals and movies, he adds, takes place with no paternalism regarding the movie makers and occurs within the scope of industry and trade, in line with the latter’s interests. And there are now “several producers and exhibitors that have started to work in our countries with the idea of industrial cinema. They are the new cinema executives, whose offices are opening in New York, Shanghai or Paris.”
In parallel with this globalization model, what is happening today, according to João Batista, is a brutal occupation by American cinema of the exhibiting market in Brazil and its neighboring countries. Recognizing this situation, he says, is vital for any effective new political gesture within the scope of Latin American cinema. “It’s impossible to make this new cinema that we produce viable for as long as American cinema occupies 90% of the exhibition market. We have to strengthen the idea that we want to put a stop to this. Recently, at a certain point in time, only three US movies accounted for roughly 70% of the exhibition market in São Paulo”, complains João Batista.
His view of the cultural industry is that it cannot be managed like any other industry, because it is not the same. “Thus, financial incentives for exhibitors, reserved days for local productions in movie theatres, measures similar to those taken in France to expand the cinema chain committed to this production, everything is valid”, he argues. “We must find a way out politically”, he insists. João Batista promises to focus on disseminating at other festivals, such as those of Guadalajara and Mar del Plata, the ideas of political action already debated in São Paulo. In any event, he thinks it is time for national governments to face the U.S. issue fearlessly. “This idea that the exhibitor should be free to show whatever he wants reflects a mistaken idea of freedom. The power of one cultural industry to suffocate another is not a result of freedom.”
On a different note, Fernando Leça commented that the festival has matured in its second year. He foresees ways to make it increasingly important for Latin American cinema. “Keeping to the assumptions of this second experience, the festival should consist of a quality show, representing the best of the subcontinent’s cinema; secondly, it should continue to be an arena for reflection on the cinematographic activity and the challenges of the movie industry; and thirdly, it should maintain its prize-giving, but expand it, for which it must obtain substantially greater funding.” In 2007, the festival’s total cost was US$ 725 thousand and, in order to get a lot more, Leça has already started taking action, while he also tries to make viable the building of a viewing room in the annex to the Simón Bolívar auditorium.
At the close of the 2nd Festival, those who received the Memorial da América Latina Trophy, besides the R$ 30 thousand cash prize, were the festival’s main guest of honor, Mexican movie director Paul Leduc (see page 10) and the movies Que tan lejos, from Ecuador, directed by Tânia Hermida (audience award), and Arcana, a Chilean work, directed by Cristóbal Vicente (critics’ award).