Outsider Insiders: Francis Alÿs and Melanie Smith at the Liverpool Biennial

There are two artists who moved from Europe to Mexico exhibiting their work as part of the Liverpool Biennial 2018: Francis Alÿs at the VG&M and Melanie Smith at the Bluecoat. Alÿs from Belgium and Smith from the UK. As a country more associated with departures than arrivals, especially with the current US President, Donald Trump’s, emphasis on wall-building and keeping out migrants, this is a good moment to consider Mexico as a place which has a long tradition of being open to receiving outsiders. There have been key periods for growth in immigration to Mexico: the 1930s, when Spain was in the throes of its Civil War, there was an open invitation to those wanting to flee the conflict; welcomes were extended to those fleeing World War II in the 1930s and 1940s; in the 1950s others escaped McCarthyism and the US fear of the ‘red peril’; and so it has continued throughout the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries. Amongst these numbers were a large number of artists, filmmakers, and writers including individuals as varied as the Spanish director Luis Buñuel, US novelist and screenwriter John Steinbeck, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, the US author and activist Audre Lorde, and the Chorley-born artist and writer Leonora Carrington. Added to this distinguished list are Alÿs and Smith. Both of whom are purported to have found in Mexico a space to find themselves as artists and leave behind the politics of home.

I am not yet familiar with Alÿs’ work, but I had the opportunity to see Smith’s work whilst in the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) [Modern Art Museum of Barcelona]. There she had a larger retrospective and it included the recent work being exhibited at the Bluecoat. She uses a variety of different media in her art. Her work portrays humanity set against the backdrop of large scale natural or manmade spaces. It is often dramatic, yet also affecting. Much of her work has been carried out in Mexico, although she has also work in Peru, Brazil and, most recently, Chile. Examples of these are her audio-visual recordings of the British collector and artists Edward James’ jungle space in Mexico in Xilitla: Dismantled 1 (2010) and Henry Ford’s failed experiment in the Brazilian forest in Fordlandia (2014) are expressions of the folly of individuals attempting to control and contain nature as well as subtle commentaries on colonialism.

Her work being shown at the Bluecoat is a video installation, María Elena (2018), named after the town and salt mine owned by the Guggenheim family. María Elena is set in the Atacama Desert in Chile resonant for many reasons and has elements of the significant recurrent themes in her work: labour, nature, and the effects of late capitalist economics on the landscape and people. To understand the significance of the Atacama Desert and as a useful companion piece, it is worth watching Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light, 2010) in which he juxtaposes the grandeur of the space and its significance for international astronomers with the terrible legacy of Augusto Pinochet, who imprisoned, tortured, and disappeared political prisoners during his dictatorship. The Atacama Desert is also rich in copper and nitrates, a significant source of income for Chile in the Nineteenth and Twentieth century and a space of much human exploitation. Previously, at the Bluecoat the Catalan artist, Xavier Ribas’s show Nitrate, explored the significance nitrate mining by British firms in the Atacama Desert. For these and other reasons, this work is highly evocative, captures the scale and drama of this landscape, and suggests at the particularities of its history. In her move from the UK to Mexico, it is clear that Smith has immersed herself in Mexican and Latin American culture, focused on the encounters between outsiders and established communities, and, as a consequence, creates highly nuanced and allusive work.

Having seen the work in Barcelona, in an open gallery space with beanbags as seating and other visitors moving through the space to see other parts of the exhibit, all of which was distracting. Therefore, getting to see it at the Bluecoat has distinct advantages. It is shown in an enclosed gallery space, albeit with some sound leaking from neighbouring installations. The seating is on a plush rug at a curious (and uncomfortable) slant, that vibrates when you see and hear the explosions in quadrophonic sound. The space gives it an immersive feel and makes it easier to spend time with the video. It is non-narrative and multi-layered in its referencing of different times, themes, and concepts. I would recommend going to see it, reading more about the locale and its history to get a deeper understanding, and then, returning to see it again.  Or, just enter into Smith’s evocative dreamscape that is both affirmative and chilling and see what that brings.

Central American Children and the Mexico-US border: Learn More

Teens on La Bestia

Sin nombre (Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2009)

The uproar surrounding the detention of children at the Mexican-US border has brought attention to the migration of Central Americans to the US.

‌The majority are from what is called the Northern Triangle – Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala – and are seeking asylum because of increased violence in their home nations. Many of these take a long, dangerous, and harrowing journey through Mexico, which is also tasked to police their transit through agreements with the US.

On arrival, they have the right under international law to request asylum in the US. This issue came to the public attention in the US when, in April 2018 for safety reasons 150-200 Central Americans travelled as a group through Mexico to get to the US border to petition for asylum.

Whilst many of these cases are being muddled with anti-immigration rhetoric by the current US government, there are complex historic and geo-political reasons for this current movement of people across borders.

Many of these reasons go back to US interventionist policies during the Cold War and have been aggravated by the increased militarization of the US-Mexico border since the Clinton presidency.

It’s important for us to look back at the events of the past that have lead up to this point, so that we have the full context when looking at today’s headlines.

Find out more

To get some further insight into the causes of the movement of so many, here are some recommendations for reading, listening and viewing:

  • In Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions (2017) the New York based Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli writes of her experiences navigating the bureaucracy of the immigration system as a privileged, bilingual individual and sets it alongside stories of children and young people she encountered whilst volunteering for a translation service helping undocumented Central American children facing deportation. It is a short and moving reflection and analysis of the experience.
  • Part of the National Public Radio (NPR) stable, Latino USA regularly addresses issues related to migration, as well as other features including portraits of well-known Latinos, such as Luis Fonsi and Alaska. A May 31 2018 episode took a look at how the US immigration system lost track of about 1,500 minors, which gives a sense of the possible fate of the children whose parents are not able to accompany them.
  • Three of the many recent films that specifically consider the reasons, experiences, and consequences of movement across borders are: Sin nombre (Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2009), La jaula de oro/The Golden Dream (Diego Quemada-Díez, 2013), and Who is Dayani Crystal? (Mark Silver, 2014). Sin nombre and The Golden Dream are about teens fleeing poverty and gangs in their country of origin and make the perilous journey through Mexico. Part of their journey is on top of the infamous and very dangerous ‘La Bestia’ (the beast) freight trains that traverse Mexico. Who is Dayani Crystal? is a documentary featuring Gael García Bernal that is an investigation into the identity of a dead migrant discovered in the Arizona desert whose tattoo “Dayani Crystal” serves as the only clue to his identity.

These are only a starting point, given the complexity and historical reach of this issue.

*This blog was cross-posted on the University of Liverpool Modern Languages and Cultures site.

Kóblic: A Troubling Perpetrator Story

I am currently on a trip to Buenos Aires as part of a project on commemorative practices. My work will focus on Mexico, but Argentina is a locus for much of the critical work around this in Latin America and I wanted to see some of the physical spaces first hand. Whilst here, I got to see a new release starring Ricardo Darín, Kóblic (Sebastián Borensztein, 2016). Here is a link to the trailer.

Set in 1977, the story is about a former captain, Kóblic, a pilot with the Argentine navy. He is charged with piloting the so called “vuelos de muerte” [death flights] during the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional/Dirty War (1976-83). Individuals who had been held and tortured in the detention centres were thrown from these planes into the sea to die. Traumatised by having to carry out these flights, Kóblic finds himself unable to obey orders and goes on the run in Argentina. The narrative unfolds as a thriller with a wish fulfilment revenge plot, Western motifs, and a romantic dalliance thrown in. For the most part it is a pacy and watchable film, and yet, I left with considerable reservations that I have spent some time mulling over. These have to do with plotting, wardrobe, character development, and my own viewing experience.

Plot and Wardrobe

Kóblic and Velarde. Source: http://www.proyectorfantasma.com.ar/critica-koblic-2016-dir-sebastian-borensztein/

There are rather odd plot and wardrobe choices, not least Kóblic’s decision to stay in Argentina. He also keeps his military ID in his wallet and continues to wear his aviator glasses. The former allows for an all-too-neat plot reveal, while the latter is more than a superficial period wardrobe choice and does not read as true. The glasses have associations with the armed forces – think Tom Cruise in Top Gun (1986) for a romanticised version of US Cold War military representation. This makes them key identifiers, a fact that is reinforced by another member of the force in pursuit of Kóblic, who also wears them. A longer piece could be written on the recurrence of these glasses and their US associations in Latin American films of this era. Their presence is highly resonant and seem like an attempt to complicate his character that felt clumsy. Like his decision to stay and to keep his ID, I was distracted by his need to hold on to something that would so clearly reveal his identity.

Death Flights

The Death Flights feature heavily in another film set at this period. Garaje Olimpo (Marco Bechis, 1999) has a powerful opening sequence from the point of view of one of these flights showing an aerial shot of the city of Buenos Aires starting at the water and opening out to a shot of the city. This recurs at later key points in the film. It is only as the plot develops that its full significance is revealed. The point of view of the plane is not made clear. It could be from the pilot, the guards, or one of the detained. Point of view is a powerful tool, and potentially invites us to identify with the deeply troubling position of being one of the individuals who have just committed this act. Garaje Olimpo leaves no doubt that that this is a terrible position to inhabit – whether as perpetrator or victim. The film is primarily focused on the fate of an individual woman who is detained and tortured. Therefore, starting from the position of those implicated in the process is to ask the audience how they are responsible for what took place, to question their own ignorance, or to feel the terror of being a victim. Kóblic is different. The horrors of the dictatorship may be read into the sordid and corrupt ways of the small town in which he is hiding, and may be alluded to in the flashbacks to the death flights, but they are physically distant and allusive. This is part of the reason I came away from it feeling troubled.

Reception

Reading a review in the Hollywood Reporter gets to the nub of another reason I found it troubling. I saw it in a screen with two men who would have been the same age Kóblic is supposed to be in this film and could have been on one side or the other in this narrative, or have known people caught up as perpetrators or victims. We sat in our tiered seating in a modern multiplex in our own rows. The men exchanged some pleasantries beforehand in a slightly nervous fashion about it being like a private screening, but didn’t speak afterwards. They did not seem to know each other. Their presence made me very aware of how the film could be consumed and, like the Hollywood Reporter reviewer, I was conscious that “it’s probably worth reflecting on that such pilots are still there in Argentina, a few years older now, but leading normal, unpunished lives”. Had one of these men at the screening with me been a pilot? The reviewer goes on to say that, because no justice has been served, “The script therefore has to bend over backwards to show that Koblic is a fundamentally decent man, someone we should be caring about”. I’m not sure I agree with that corollary, film can lead to new realisations about the past and can posit that some who carried out terrible actions were wrong to do so, even if justice has not been served. The filmmaker also goes beyond just making Kóblic decent. In fact, he is heroic in the end and that is what really makes this film troubling. There is a considerable responsibility in creating a film from the perpetrator’s perspective.  Making him a figure with whom we should empathise, because he found some moral decency and is now haunted by nightmares, is far from tackling perpetrator complicity or guilt. I came away wondering: if one of my fellow audience members was a perpetrator, could he feel redeemed by this film? I suspect he could.

Good Badman

At a screening of the film, the director felt the need to emphasise that he did not wish to make this a sympathetic portrait of a perpetrator: “Kóblic no existe, es un personaje de ficción. Lo que sabemos todos es el contexto histórico, que hubo cientos de vuelos, cada uno debe haber sido un infierno y uno puede imaginar que puede haber pasado de todo” [Kóblic does not exist, he is a fictional character. We all know the historical context in which there were hundreds of flights, each one of them must have been hell and you can only imagine that all sorts must have happened on them]. The flights are portrayed as terrible, but the primary trauma is experienced by the perpetrator, not the victims. Thus the victims’ stories are absent from this narrative other than through other proxy stories of family abuse. In Kóblic, the perpetrator, not the victim, gets to be an avenging hero in the mould of the good badman of the contemporary Western.

Bad Badman

Another point of contention is the badman in the film. Much praise has been heaped on Óscar Martínez’s performance as the corrupt police officer, Velarde (see, for example, this review). He is a cartoon villain. He wears a bad wig – one of his first gestures in the film is to adjust it in a parody of the Western sheriff fixing his hat-, he has false teeth, and is greasily lascivious. All of this Martínez performs well. Playing opposite this character Kóblic can shine. Velarde provides space for Darin to look thoughtful and reflective. Kóblic is a man haunted by his past and the plot is built around him being bothered by such bad badmen as Velarde. It reduces the potential for nuance and sidesteps the possibility for real depth in favor of a slash and burn revenge narrative. In the absence of actual justice, the cartoonish badman (and his sidekicks) provide an opportunity to enact fantasy justice.

Conclusion

Kóblic should get international distribution because of Darín’s star power and the European and US producers and distributors attached, also, the Dirty War has much traction internationally, and it is a well executed film. This is a genre film combined with long takes of beautiful landscape that, in some ways contains much visual pleasure, but it is a worrying venture into exploring perpetrator narrative.

 

Latin American Cinemas, European Markets

Looking forward to this event in Manchester at the end of April. For more details on booking and attendance, click here. I’m going to be talking about this project I have been working on.

Streaming Mexican and Cuban Film

I have just finished writing a chapter on streaming Latin American film in Ireland and the UK. This has involved reading right up to the last minute on how data and algorithms are used to determine what is shown and trying to keep up with controversies, such as the one that blew up in January about the possibility that Netflix will pursue subscribers who use unblockers or proxies. I kept my search to the bigger providers in the market: Netflix, that has considerable cross-market appeal, and MUBI and Curzon Home Cinema, because they appeal to the art house viewer, which is the usual means of distribution for non-Hollywood cinema. I focused my attention on Mexico, a country with a long and highly productive output, and Cuba, which has a more variably output and hasn’t had the same access to international film markets.

I originally looked at MUBI in 2012 and compared their offering to early 2016. The other two were not established as streaming services in 2012, so I only looked at their 2016 offering. The more in-depth discussion happens in the chapter, but what I want to share, here, are the screen shots for 2012 and 2016 for those of you who want a quick insight into the patterns and trends, and who may like it to supplement the chapter when it is published.

In 2012, MUBI followed a pay-per-view model. According to the founder, Efe Çakarel he set up the service when on a visit to Japan he wanted to watch In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000). Finding it unavailable he realised there was a market gap for curated arthouse cinema. Here was how it looked in March/April 2012.

General view

Cuba

Mexico

As you can see, there is a variety of films that can be viewed instantly and indefinitely. I highlight the film, Revolución, because it was released on MUBI in an unusual streaming first release.

MUBI has subsequently changed its streaming model and now only releases 30 films a day as a carefully curated cinema club. This loses the unlimited on demand access to films. It is possible to see what has been shown previously according to country searches and through film lists curated by subscribers. This is what it looks like in 2016:

Cuba

Mexico

By lists Cuba

By lists Mexico

Interestingly, if you search for ‘Mexico’ or ‘Cuba’, these mostly show films with these country names in the title,

‘Cuba’

‘Mexico’

Curzon Home Cinema is attached to the Curzon Cinemas and is an extension of the cinema chain’s offerings to online audiences. It shows recent releases and some older films on demand. The Latin American film offering is dependant on high demand films for which Curzon and its affiliate Artificial Eye has distribution rights in the UK and Ireland. Look for Cuba and there is a thumbnail with an image of  Buena Vista Social Club (1999) by the German filmmaker Wim Wenders, but no films are available to view when you click on the image.

 

 

The Mexico offering is wider, but nothing near the 100+ films made in 2015 alone.

 

As you can see some of these are made by Mexicans, are about Mexico or, have a Mexican focus. Therefore, they do propose a challenge to what we understand to mean Mexican or ‘Mexican’ cinema. Elsewhere, Rob Stone (2015, 424) has written about the need to put inverted commas around ‘Spanish’ cinema to complicate how the national category is to be understood. The above examples suggest that a similar strategy should be used for ‘Cuban’ and ‘Mexican’ films. This is central to the discussion in my chapter.

Netflix does not purport to offer arthouse cinema in the way that it is understood by Curzon or MUBI. It has a wide offering – to the extent that it has been accused of being bloated.

On my computer – some TV apps have a different interface – I looked for Mexican and Cuban films by going to the ‘International Movies’ in the ‘Browse’ area, then to the ‘Latin American Films’ under ‘Sub-genres’. The shift between movies and films is interesting so too is the erroneous labelling of films of any region as a sub-genre.

In the Irish and UK site there are only 18 ‘Latin American films’, of which only 4 are Mexican and none are Cuban. The 4 Mexican films are: Days of Grace (Everardo Valerio Grout, 2011), a fiction film about three violent kidnappings during pivotal football World Cup games; a story of a beauty pageant winner caught up in drug violence, Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo, 2011); a horror, Here Comes the Devil (Adrián García Bogliano, 2012); and Instructions Not Included (Eugenio Derbez, 2013), a comedy that had the biggest box office earnings in Mexico to date and is currently the highest grossing foreign language film in the US (Cervantes 2016). Miss Bala is the only one of these that got festival and art house distribution, and has received academic attention. The others have gotten little distribution or academic attention, as with many genre films from Mexico. This has much to do with the hierarchical nature of knowledge consumption and the tendency by academics to write about films that appear on curricula, few of which are conventional nor high grossing genre films.

 

Search for ‘Mexico’ in the search field and this is what appears:

Only Instructions Not Included overlaps with the previous category. Search for ‘Cuba’ and this curious selection turns up:

Some are Cuba Gooding Jr films and the others have tenuous links to Cuba. A change to the dates of my research is the addition of Whatever Happened, Miss Simone? that typifies the transience of research online and the ways content can change within hours or days.

There are two broad conclusions from this search and review: firstly, researchers cannot rely on these streaming services to provide on-demand material, and, secondly, the categorisation and curation can provide an opportunity to re-think how us scholars label Latin American and, more specifically, Cuban and Mexican (or ‘Cuban’ and ‘Mexican’) film. What these streaming services provide could be a new way into thinking about national and transnational film.

Reference

Stone, Rob  (2015) “The Disintegration of Spanish Cinema”, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 92:3, pp423-438.

Follow the hyperlinks for online references.

 

Curation and Film Festivals

As someone who is developing a project on curation, this article from NACLA about the growing influence of the Guadalajara Film Festival and its role in supporting Mexican filmmaking is very apropos:  http://nacla.org/news/2014/7/29/guadalajara-takes-new-leading-role-mexican-film

Dictatorships in the Hispanic World

This arrived in the post on Friday. It’s great to see the book in its final form.

Here is the table of contents to give a sense of the range of topics covered.

My own chapter considers two films Voces inocentes (Luis Mandoki, 2004) and La lengua de mariposas (José Luis Cuerda, 1999). The first is set in El Salvador (shot in Mexico by a Mexican director) in the early days of the Civil War (1980-1992), the second is shot and set in Spain, more specifically Galicia, in the run up to the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). It considers how children are used to amplify the effects of war on a society and how an idealised (Western) concept of childhood is often evoked through casting, direction, dialogue and narrative and used to draw attention to the horrors of war.

Click here if you want to buy the book.

The lady with the tutti-frutti hat

Review: Lisa Shaw Carmen Miranda London: BFI/Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

I recently reviewed the first three books in this series: Martin Shingler’s Star Studies: A Critical Guide, Ginette Vincendeau on Brigitte Bardot, Susan Smith on Elizabeth Taylor and Pam Cook’s Nicole Kidman. The review will appear in the Celebrity Studies journal. Shingler’s text is an overview of the field and serves as a fine introduction. He covers a considerable range of concepts related to star studies including: marketing, audience reception, celebrity, physicality and physical attractiveness, accent, the public/private divide, acting, voice, and how they function as auteurs, workers and entrepreneurs. It is done concisely, in an accessible fashion that is both learned and insightful. He uses examples from Hollywood and Bollywood to illustrate his discussion. The other three books are individual star studies which examine specific aspects or focus on key features of a star’s career and star text in under 200 pages.

Carmen Miranda is Lisa Shaw’s contribution to the series. As one of the leading scholars of Brazilian cinema she is well placed to consider Miranda. Shaw provides an overview of Miranda’s career from music halls to Brazilian cinema, her move to Hollywood to become the highest paid female star and then her decline up to her early death. Shaw’s approach is to focus on Miranda’s performance with its camp elements that both play to and challenge US concepts of Latinness; her use of code-switching (between Portuguese and English); her wardrobe, in particular the elaborate “tutti-frutti hats”; and her enduring appeal to a variety of audiences. Using examples of lyrics and describing key scenes in Miranda’s films with close textual analysis Shaw traces the development of her star text. As Shaw details, Miranda received mixed reception from Brazilian and US audiences. In particular, critics and the viewing public in Brazil were sensitive to how they were being presented via Miranda on the big screen. But, Shaw contends that “[v]ia her knowing glances and exaggerations, she allowed for alternative interpretations of performances by audience members who were also victims of type casting and condescension in their everyday lives, letting them in on her joke” (6). These alternative interpretations form part of Shaw’s own readings and are threaded throughout the book. Where chapters one and two look at Miranda’s stardom in Brazil and Hollywood, respectively, chapter three considers her off-screen star appeal. That is, how her version of the baiana look has become instantly recognisable; how she commodified her star text through promotions, working with fashion designers to sell her look; and how her image has spilled over into a multiplicity of different media and products that have endured up to the present day.

This is a fascinating introduction to Miranda, that draws on Shaw’s expertise in Brazilian film and culture, as well as her own sensitivity to camp sensibilities that makes it a fun as well as informative read. As with the other star studies in this series it provides a very useful, insightful and learned introduction to an individual star, and should inspire others to read on and discover more about Miranda, as well as, hopefully, encouraging more people to take another look at Miranda’s film output.

If you are not familiar with Carmen Miranda, for a flavour of her performative style here’s a compilation (official) fanvid of her work set against one of her biggest hits “Chica Chica Boom Chic”.

 

 

 

Latin American Women Filmmakers on the Global Stage, University of Portsmouth

Since the 1970s and 1980s with the arrival on the international scene of such notable filmmakers as Sara Gómez (Cuba), María Luisa Bemberg (Argentina), Lourdes Portillo (Mexico) and Maryse Sistach (Mexico), there has been a growing interest in Latin American Women Filmmakers. More recently, there has been a further increase with the international success of a younger generation who appeal to a global audience, such as Lucrecia Martel (Argentina) and Claudia Llosa (Peru). This is evidenced in the recent publication, Hispanic and Lusophone Hispanic and Lusophone Women Filmmakers: Theory, practice and difference edited by Parvati Nair and Julián Daniel Gutiérrez-Albila (Manchester University Press, 2013), as well as other books considering women filmmakers in a national context, such as Elisa J. Rashkin’s 2001 Women Filmmakers in Mexico: The Country of Which We Dream (University of Texas Press), events such as, Mulheres da retomada: Women Filmmakers in Contemporary Brazilian Cinemawhich took place in Tulane University in 2010, and, of course, this one day symposium at the University of Portsmouth, Latin American Women Filmmakers on the Global Stage.

Having travelled from near and far, after coffee, greetings and some catch up, the event began at 11am. Unusually, I didn’t live tweet the event because we were in a basement room with no 3G and I haven’t yet signed up for the Eduroam setting on my phone. So, this is a reflection of my impressions and summaries based on paper notes taken on the day.

The first paper by Deborah Shaw, the local organiser who had gathered us together and provided us with excellent hospitality, “Sex, texts and money, funding and Latin American queer cinema: the cases of Martel’s La niña santaand Puenzo’s XXY”, considered the complex transnational funding arrangements which have led to the current boom in filmmaking by Latin American women. Reflecting on the new queer, post-feminist protagonists with a defiant and troublesome gaze that is evident in films by many internationally successful women filmmakers, she particularly focused on La niña santa (Lucrecia Martel, 2004) and XXY (Lucía Puenzo, 2007). Mapping out the money trail, Shaw reflected on whether the funding sources could be encouraging certain types of filmmaking with queer perspectives or if this is simply a local development, or, indeed, a complex combination of both factors.

Marvin D’Lugo, Clark University, continued the financial theme through an examination of “Bertha Navarro and the Revamping of Latin American Cinema, Markets, Aesthetics”.  From Mexico, Navarro is a reknowned producer who started in the marginal independent sector and has gradually gained a considerable reputation as a “boutique producer”. Through her company, Tequila Gang, and her Sundance Festival-supported Talleres [workshops], which help first-time scriptwriters hone their projects, Navarro has proved a formidable presence in the development and international success of Latin American cinema. Taking as examples her first film, Reed, México insurgente (Paul Leduc, 1971) and the more recent, Cosas insignificantes (Andrea Martínez Crowther, 2008), D’Lugo traced auteurist patterns in the films that Navarro produces, including showing communal history in human rather than epic terms, the use of indistinct or porous borders, and making films that naturalize real-world media cartographies. Interestingly, Cosas insignificantes is the first time she has produced a film directed by a woman.

Following on from D’Lugo’s consideration of Navarro as producer-auteur, Catherine Grant, University of Sussex, looked at a fellow female producer, Lita Stantic, “The Cultural Salience of an Argentine Female Producer”. This paper was flagged as a future video essay for REFRAME. Grant examines Stantic’s career through her recent recognition as “personalidad destacada” [outstanding personality] in Argentina, and homages and tributes from other festivals around the world. Drawing on the architectural term, salience, meaning outstanding, Grant explores how Stantic has created a star text or brand that she performs consistently in public interviews. Stantic describes her role as producer to be that of the father, while the director is the mother of the film. Grant considered the signatorial practices in the texts that can be traced back to Stantic’s own directorial opera prima, Un muro de silencio [Black Flowers: A Wall of Silence] (1992). She is an avowed feminist and “Indy producer”, and has produced 23 features since 1978, 12 of these by women directors. She made her name in her work with Bemberg, and has had continued successful collaborations on Martel’s first two features.

A break and tasty spread was followed by a further three papers on women directors. I gave the first, “Marcela Fernández Violante: Pioneer. Mentor. Forgotten?”, which considered the director Fernández Violante, a complicated case. For many years she was the only member of the directors’ union in Mexico, was head of one of the largest film schools, yet, because her films defy categorization or international appeal few have made it to the global stage. I called for her work to be reconsidered and placed alongside that of her male contemporaries with whom she has much in common, in particular Leduc. Teasing out a complex figuration of Fernández Violante’s public persona in her interviews, chimed with ideas of the performance of a self that Grant suggested through her study of Stantic.

Next up was Debbie Martin, University College London, who is working on a monograph on Martel, spoke about “Compartir la duda: perception, sensation, uncertainty and the uncanny in Lucrecia Martel”.  Martin considered how each of Martel’s films in the Salta trilogy is a meditation on perception which is educated and habitual. Through the use of “perceptual impediments”, such as sunglasses, screens, and car windows, Martel suggests at an uncertainty around the subject’s boundaries and creates an uncanny closeness for the audience. Sensations such as touch, sound, and haptic looking are all foregrounded in her films through a variety techniques including some drawn from horror.

Rounding off the consideration of this trio of directors in her paper, “Claudia Llosa: Re-inventing Peru Through Film”, Sarah Barrow, University of Lincoln, returned to the earlier theme of funding, and considered the controversies that have surrounded Llosa’s two features, Madeinusa (2006) and La teta asustada [The Milk of Sorrow] (2009), in Peru and on the global stage. Performing successfully on the festival circuit and nominated for an Oscar, La teta asustada was also a box office hit in Peru.  Despite this it was subject to much disquiet, and in many cases vilification, in Peruvian newspapers and on the blogosphere. Llosa is Peruvian born and based in Barcelona, she obtained funding from national and transnational sources, all of which have their own ramifications and tensions when the films are reviewed and received both at home and abroad, as Barrow deftly explored.

From these three approaches and distinct case studies, it is evident that women filmmakers have much to say that is worthwhile examining from multiple perspectives.

The day ended with a roundtable. Marvin D’Lugo, Stephanie Dennison, University of Leeds and Nuria Triána Toribio, University of Kent (as chair), drew on the themes of the day with a lively discussion and contributions from the audience. This was filmed and will be available shortly. Some of the issues that emerged were: the need to study practitioners other than just the director when talking about women filmmakers; whether there is a boom; how commercially successful genre films are often ignored; whether what is being considered by international scholars reflects what is being watched in local cinemas in Latin America; the significance of the arthouse circuit and funding regimes on what is being made and consumed; how teaching needs (availability of films, subtitling, etc) can determine what is studied; and so on. A point of considerable debate was the validity or necessity of looking at women filmmakers separate to their male contemporaries. There is the danger of ghettoising women’s films and thereby marginalising them. But, there is also a recognition that there is a need to reflect on the particularities of being a woman that can determine access to funding, material, technology, education and networks, until there is a level playing field for all irrespective of gender.

In all it was a very convivial and stimulating day with lively discussions after each session and a considerably diverse offering. There were interesting themes and some commonalities in the scholarly concerns, as well as divergent approaches. It demonstrated that the growing academic interest in Latin American women filmmakers has far from exhausted itself.

If you wish to access some films by Latin American women filmmakers try this link as a useful starting point.

 

 

 

Dominican Republic

I just came across this website http://www.cinemadominicano.com/HISTORIADOM/historia_INICIOS.html on cinema in the Dominican Republic.  It’s an excellent resource on a lesser known cinema in Latin America and one which has grown exponentially in recent years.