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New pipelines help Latin American films emerge

Monday, May 20, 2019

LAWRENCE – Would-be filmmakers in Latin America face enormous odds compared to Europeans, much less North Americans. But democratization in technology and regional politics frees today’s Latin American filmmakers to tell more intensely personal stories that are finding receptive audiences globally.

Those are among the conclusions drawn by Tamara Falicov, professor of film & media studies, in her new book, “Latin American Film Industries” (British Film Institute, 2019). It’s the latest in a series of books on international film and television industries published by BFI.

Its purview spans from the dawn of Latin American cinema in early 20th century Mexico to the New Latin American Cinema movement of the 1970s (Falicov locates influences in Italian Neorealism, the French New Wave and the Soviet school of filmmaking in terms of both style and politics) to today’s Guatemalan indie directors, working the film-festival circuit and the internet for funding and distribution.

And while Mexican directors have dominated the Oscars in recent years, Falicov says some Latin American filmmakers have avoided Hollywood, fearing corruption of their artistic vision. That speaks, she said, to the purpose cinema serves as cultural patrimony, rather than strictly commerce, in many Latin American countries.

For instance, rather than allow their indigenous film industries to be swamped by international marketing budgets, Falicov said, several countries have minimum run-length screen quotas that give locally made films a chance to generate word of mouth before theater owners can pull them off the marquee. Likewise, many nations have film institutes that fund creative works as an expression of their culture.

This means that some independent filmmakers in Latin America must work independently of both the Hollywood studio system as well as their own national film infrastructure.

“This is an exciting time for Latin American filmmakers because they have other avenues to show their work,” Falicov said, citing Netflix’s internet streaming distribution of Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-winning “Roma.” “Ideally, because of his success in these mainstream Hollywood movies, people will consider seeing a film like ‘Roma,’ which is not only not in English, but it's in an indigenous Mexican language, Mixteco, and Spanish.”

Such alternative pipelines could even deliver films from places other than the “trinity” of historically major Latin American film-producing countries – Mexico, Brazil and Argentina – to the rest of the world, Falicov said.

And whereas an earlier generation of filmmakers was inspired by the anti-imperialist solidarity and financial support they received among their fellow New Latin American Cinema peers (Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Cuba, to name a few), today’s auteurs travel a circuit of film festivals to promote their more personal works and to prospect for funding and distribution deals, Falicov said.

“Filmmakers today are making films that are not as overtly political as they are more about everyday life,” she said. “They're about marginalized identities – LGBTQAI+, gender and race. And while class is implicated in there, it's not as classically Marxist as the earlier generation.”

Falicov said her KU students respond to the so-called smaller films demonstrating microhistories coming out of Latin America today.

“Students here want to focus on films on either immigration … or women in the cinema, and they all want to examine contemporary films,” she said. “And this kind of contemporary cinema of today that I'm describing very much resonates with students in the same generation.”

Photo: A scene from the 2014 Guatemalan film “La Casa mas Grande del Mundo” (“The Greatest House in the World”) is featured in Tamara Falicov’s book “Latin American Film Industries.”