JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

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La boca del lobo: The army is patrolling in a remote Andean village tracking the invisible yet omnipresent enemy, the Shining Path. (See Jump Cut essay on this film.)

La boca del lobo: Tensions of guerrilla warfare run parallel to the ethnic and cultural clash between soldiers from the coast and indigenous people from the highlands. Lombardi skillfully articulates through the film abuses against the villagers, particularly in this rape scene.

La boca del lobo: The perpetrator tells his friend, "Why worry or be upset. After all she is just an Indian."

Photo of actors Toño Vega, Gustavo Bueno and Aristóteles Picho in a scene where army Captain (Bueno) is about to shoot an indigenous man in front of his two men (Vega and Picho). Once again the film shows agression against indigenous people.

Gregorio: Lives of poor children in the Peruvian capital of Lima are captured in a naturalist and neo-realistic approach. Here Gregorio is in a cinema ...

... watching pornography. (See 1984 Jump Cut essay discussing the film.)

Gregorio's buddy distracts the driver by banging on the driver's side of the car while Gregorio steals her purse.

Grupo Chaski members, Sefan Kaspar, Fernando Espinosa, and Alejandro Legaspi during the filming of Juliana.

Photo of Gregorio and two of his friends at work in a plaza. They are working as street clowns to earn some food money.

Publicity still for Juliana. (Essay on work of Grupo Chaski in this issue of Jump Cut)

Juliana: A school of thieves in Lima.

Similarly as in Gregorio, the Grupo Chaski uses the same aesthetic approach to tell the story of a girl who needs to pass as a boy in order to survive in the streets of Lima. Here Juliana enters the school of theives.

Juliana's disguise cannot hold but she leads a rebellion against their leader.

Juliana has the strength and courage of a boy.

Peru en pantalla trailer (campaign for CONACINE’s funding budget) shows images from a variety of Peruvian films.

Peru en la pantalla was made as an independent production to call attention to the need for funding CONACINE, so that Peruvian filmmakers could keep making nationally oriented films.

 

Brief literature review

Film content and the themes presented in onscreen narratives do not merely offer representations of national culture, but they also provide a focused way to discuss the history, heritage, political and social issues of a nation. Most important, many times films and television programs are a popular culture vehicle indicating contradictions and conflicts within heterogeneous nations (Martin-Barbero, 1993). Latin American governments as well as Latin American filmmakers and intellectuals have used film and later television as important components of their efforts to form, consolidate and promote an ongoing, singular, national self-identity, particularly in response to external systems of difference, i.e., to indicate something unique about that nation's identity in the face of "outside influences." (Schlesinger, 2000). First cinema, and later television, signified the acquisition of modernity in this region (López, 2000). Important for the state, through these technologies national ideals have been widely disseminated (Mattos, 1982; Martin-Barbero, 1993; Garcia Canclini, 2000; Barrow, 2005).

Many non-academic and academic authors have addressed the role of Latin American cinema as a cultural force that promotes and solidifies a concept of nation, as it represents people engaged in different societal, economic and political processes as actors within such a nation. Indeed, the literature on Latin American cinema, particularly addressing the second half of the 20th century, is so extensive,  it would be impossible to cover it broadly in this brief review. Here I refer only to some of the most salient works, both non-academic and academic.

On the non-academic side, perhaps the most well known authors are filmmakers who have theorized and analyzed their own work in relationship to their national realities. For example, we can draw upon their manifestos:

  • Brazilian Glauber Rocha's Eztetyka da Fome [Aesthetic of Hunger] (1965),
  • Argentine Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino's Hacia un Tercer Cine: Apuntes y experiencias para el desarrollo de un cine de liberación en el Tercer Mundo [Towards a Third Cinema: Notes and Experiences for the Development of a Cinema of Liberation in the Third World](1969),
  • Cuban Julio Garcia Espinosa’s Por un Cinema Imperfecto [Imperfect Cinema] (1969)
  • Bolivian filmmaker Jorge Sanjinés' book, Problems of Form and Content in Revolutionary Cinema (1979).

The manifestos and book mentioned above are significant because they explain the need to break away from neocolonial aesthetic practices imposed by Hollywood and European commercial cinema. In these writings, the filmmakers seek to advance a new way of thinking, not only about film, but also about the Latin American condition. These authors want to create a film aesthetic and narrative that could be uniquely Latin American. They also call for the production of films that have scripts reflecting upon and corresponding to local realities and struggles.

On the academic side, Michael Martin's two-volume New Latin American Cinema (1997) provides a collection of writings by the most significant Latin American filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s, including those mentioned above. These filmmakers discuss theory, aesthetics, national cinema and the role of people as central actors of their cinematography. Martin also has assembled critical studies of Latin American film, especially about national cinemas. These include chapters from

  • Julianne Burton’s Film and Revolution in Cuba: The Last Twenty Five Years,
  • Carlos Diegues’ Cinema Novo,
  • Zusana Pick’s Chilean Cinema in Exile.

I should mention as well Pick’s book The New Latin American Cinema: A Continental Project (1993) that explores the institutional and aesthetic foundations of the New Latin American Cinema as an ideological movement and a cinematographic practice.  Other books containing overviews of Latin American cinema are

  • John King's Magic Reels: A History of Cinema in Latin America (1990),
  • Jesús Martin-Barbero's De los Medios a las Mediaciones (1993),
  • Paul Schelesinger's Sociological Scope of National Cinema (2000).

Dealing specifically with Mexico, Trece Directores del Cine Mexicano [Thirteen Directors of Mexican Cinema] (1974) by Beatríz Reyes Navares is a compilation of interviews with important directors working in Mexico between the 1950s and 1970s.  Important as well is the work of Carl J. Mora in Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society, 1896-1980 (1982). Mora’s work, albeit not a critical history of Mexican cinema, presents a well-documented analysis of Mexican commercial cinema from the silent era to the present. This book has been revised and updated twice. The last edition published in 2005 covers Mexican cinema from 1896 to 2004. The series La Aventura del Cine Mexicano (1968), La Búsqueda del Cine Mexicano  (1974), and La Condición del Cine Mexicano(1986) by Jorge Ayala Blanco explores different periods of Mexican cinema’s development as it addresses market expansion and evaluates different commercial genres created for the local and international market.

Another national cinema that developed in the second half of the 20th century is that of Cuba. Since the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959 and the creation of the Cuban Institute of Film Art and Industry (ICAIC), Cuban cinema has been studied for its political significance in the continent and for the large amount of socially conscious films produced by the filmmakers linked to ICAIC. Some of the most salient works are those of Michael Chanan, especially The Cuban Image: Cinema and Cultural Politics in Cuba (1985), revised and published again as Cuban Cinema in 2004. This is perhaps one of the most complete works about the history of Cuba’s revolutionary film industry to present date. Eduardo Noguer’s Historia del Cine Cubano: Cien Años, 1897-1998  (2002) offers an historical analysis of the arrival and development of cinema in Cuba. Both authors analyze the Cuban film industry during the interesting, uncertain period that Fidel Castro termed the “Special Period in Times of Peace.”  Life in Cuba changed because of changes in Soviet politics and the political and economic reconfiguration of the Soviet Union along with other countries under its influence. These global political changes had an impact on Cuban cinema, both in terms of film content and the industry itself. Cuban filmmakers and other artists began to question the future of their country as a socialist nation in a world where their closest ally, the Soviet Union, was disappearing as such. Furthermore, the end of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall coincided with a major shift towards neo-liberalism in most of Latin America. Under this new global economic and political context, film production diminished in Cuba and in the whole region as well.

Along with the decline of feature film production in Latin American came a scholarly neglect of cinema’s situation there in the latter years of the 20th century. Most scholarly worked remained focused primarily on revolutionary-themed cinema produced during the 1960s, 1970s, and a big part of the 1980s. However, as new laws have now begun stimulating production in some countries, we see that scholarly attention is turning back to Latin American cinema with a new focus — shifting to the new generation of filmmakers and films made in the late 1990s and early 21st century.

A few examples of new scholarly work addressing the cinema of this more recent period as well as the political economy of the film industry in the region today are

  • Alberto Elena and María Díaz López, eds., The Cinema of Latin America (2003);
  • Lisa Shaw and Stephanie Dennison, eds., Latin American Cinema: Essays on Modernity, Gender and National Identity (2005);
  • Deborah Shaw, ed., Contemporary Latin American Cinema: Breaking Into the Global Market (2007).

These edited collections present a compelling mix of essays, which address both previous decades where the state played a decisive role in promoting cinema and more recent years in which state support has ended or has being re-articulated under neo-liberal precepts.

Former policies for national cinemas 

Randal Johnson (1996) explains that cultural policies are a way of safeguarding a nation’s cultural, artistic and historical patrimony as well as lessening the consequences of the presence of “commercial mass media and the privately owned culture industry” (p. 134). In most cases, intellectuals, artists, and filmmakers see the state as the de facto protector and promoter of culture, including audiovisual media. By setting screen quotas and import tariffs and by providing financial incentives, the state is supposed to promote the development of a national cinema, and later to build up an infrastructure and programming for national television. When television first arrived in Latin America, several states thus made the effort to unify their peoples lead them into modern citizenry by developing national television systems, which presumably could disseminate national culture, provide a cohesive sense of nation, and provide information and entertainment with local flavor (Straubhaar, 2007).

Following governmental policies about the mass media have always been well-articulated, public criticisms about the state’s audiovisual regulations and what exhibitors see as state interventionism. Tensions between the production and exhibition sectors have existed since the early days of cinema. According to Randal Johnson (1996) “in the early 1900s producers and exhibitors were normally one and the same” (p. 137). The development of independent distribution systems created a gap between those on the production end and those owning exhibition venues. Exhibitors, able to pick and choose, opted for foreign productions over domestic ones, and distributors arranged international agreements to easily get foreign productions (Johnson, 1996). Hollywood, in conjunction with local distributors, managed to control the market to the detriment of national media producers. Today, due to vertical and horizontal expansion, conglomeration, and globalization, we have some producers, mostly transnational ones, owning distribution companies. We also have distributors tightly connected to exhibitors worldwide, which further complicates matters and deepens tensions between local producers and exhibitors.

The detractors of state cultural policies point out that state audiovisual laws hinder free trade and are created under specific political contexts and under particular governments with their own agendas and interests (Johnson, 1996; Moran, 1996)). Many times these laws benefit certain sectors, marginalizing others. Promoting national cinema in opposition to the overpowering presence of Hollywood films may be seen as positive, but if we consider sub-national or heterogeneous cultural perspectives within Latin American nations, then pushing a single national cinema becomes problematic for the left as well (Moran, 1996; Johnson, 1996). For example, the voices of indigenous or alternative and marginalized film and video producers remain peripheral to mainstream national film, video, and television production and distribution. There are many more resources, outlets and venues for the work created by middle and upper class audiovisual professionals and local urban intellectuals involved in these media.

Nevertheless, despite the pros and cons of cinema laws, most people have recognized that national cinema contributes to national dialogue regarding pressing social issues. Many times it may simply entertain with local, culturally specific stories and ideas, creating in this manner a sense of national identity and belonging. Protectionist legislation aimed at developing national cinemas was enacted in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia, but in later years the governments in these three nations overturned film laws implemented under populist regimes during the 1960s and 1970s. New policies now promote competing domestically with foreign imports and inserting domestic cultural production into regional and global film markets through either co-production agreements or by selling regional and/or worldwide distribution rights.

Case study: Brazil

In the early 1990s, Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Melo (1990-1992) terminated a federal cultural policy that had promoted the development of the film industry through tax breaks to both filmmakers and distributors. This policy, despite its detractors and tensions surrounding it, had been in place since the 1930s and was strengthened in the 1960s by civilian populist governments and military dictatorships (Johnson, 2005). Between 1964 and 1979, the different military regimes governing the country implemented a series of laws requiring the media to build, as Mattos (1982) put it, a

"national spirit based on the preservation of Brazilian beliefs, culture, and values" (p. 36).

During those years Cinema Novo, a film movement beginning in the 1950s, produced aesthetically accomplished movies with social content,consolidated its space in national culture, and gained international recognition. Cinema Novo filmmakers such as Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Glauber Rocha, Ruy Guerra and Carlos Diegues worked in a style borrowed from Italian neo-realism and other European experimental feature filmmakers. They produced low budget films using location shooting, and non-professional actors or actors not yet well known. These directors were interested in using simple and even raw aesthetics to capture the complexity of ongoing social realities, using what came to be known as an "aesthetic of hunger."

Cinema Novo attempted to be a popular cinema in the sense that films were about the people and for the people, but ironically most of these films generally circulated in cine clubs, intellectual circles, and national and international art film festivals (filmreference/encyclopedia.com). During the same period, Brazil gave birth to another contrasting cultural movement: Tropicalismo. Tropicalismo includes humor, carnival, and fiesta. Filmmakers drawing on Tropicalismo strived for a more commercial cinema without abandoning the political and social commentary of their local realities (filmreference.com/encyclopedia). Two of the most famous Tropicalismo films may be Bruno Barreto’s Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos [Doña Flor and Her Two Husbands] (1976) and Carlos Diegues Bye Bye Brasil (1980) (filmreference.com/encyclopedia).  As an artistic movement, Tropicalismo cut across different arts and encompassed avant-garde writers, musicians, theater people, and filmmakers. The cultural production that came out of this movement had wider distribution internationally, and several Tropicalismo films became box office hits across Latin America and in other parts of the world.

One such hit was Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, one of the most widely distributed Brazilian films to date. It presents the story of Flor, a good-looking woman living in a small Brazilian town. She's a schoolteacher married to Vadinho, a handsome and erotically attractive man, but a good for nothing. After he suddenly dies, she re-marries a more traditional but less sexy man. Soon she misses her sexual life with Vadinho, so his ghost comes to live with her.

Another major hit was Bye-bye Brazil. Filled with sensuality and sexuality, the film satirizes 1970s capitalistic modernization taking place in Brazil. In the plot, tradition and modernity collide as a traveling circus arrives at a small town only to realize that television has replaced other forms of entertainment, including attendance at the circus. The film's director, Carlos Diegues, a major name in Cinema Novo, also used Tropicalismo to create films that combined social topics with entertainment values. One of the reasons that he did so was because the filmmakers supporting Tropicalismo as a movement sought to make their work financially profitable so they could break away from official support.

Tropicalismo films are aesthetically less like neorealism and glossier in their production values than those created under Cinema Novo’s "aesthetic of hunger." As national cultural movements, both Cinema Novo and Tropicalismo benefited from the cultural policies and the economic support the state provided during the military era. However, both groups of artists were also often critical of the conservative and oppressive military regimes, so that some filmmakers had to go into exile and some films were banned — such as Rocha’s Terra em transe [Land in Anguish, 1967], which challenged the military regime and national structures of political power and corruption.

Although the state created a space for the development of national cinema with the idea of advancing modernization and development, it did not tolerate certain themes or overt criticism. However, many filmmakers were committed to exposing pressing social issues such as rural poverty, corruption, and lack of government support in rural areas. They also exposed underdevelopment, the need for institutional land reform, and many other national challenges.

The period of military dictatorships was important for the development of Brazilian television as well. It particularly benefited Rede Globo, which has now become a global television exporter. The military regimes of the 1960s and 1970s saw television as an instrument of modernity, a tool for developing the nation, and a medium to further their conservative and nationalistic ideologies. The regimes of these decades perceived television the way General Getulio Vargas saw cinema back in the 1930s when he created the first policies to aid the development of the film industry. During the military regimes, Rede Globo received special treatment and financial incentives in the form of tax breaks from the different dictatorial governments between 1964 and 1985. In exchange, Rede Globo supported each of these military governments by promoting their particular ideological agendas with regards to development and national security and did not offer programming that criticized the dictatorships (Mattos, 1982).

Serving the neo-liberal economic agenda set by international financial institutions and the new democratic order, former President of Brazil Fernando Collor de Melo particularly sought to end policies directly or indirectly promoted by the military. Before Collor de Melo’s government, the Brazilian state regulated the media market with a comprehensive policy that included what Jorge Schnitman (1984) calls  "restrictive" and "supportive" laws. Under its restrictive measures, the state allocated screenings via a screen quota system. This limited the number of imported films, most of which came from Hollywood. The quota system helped in allocating space in the local market for national productions. However, the quota system and import tariffs on films could not work in isolation, and the state enacted supportive laws in order to assist the industry more directly. Thus the Brazilian state was actively involved in promoting the media industry through low-interest loans, co-productions, and monetary advances on distribution (Diegues, 1969; Johnson, 1987 and 2005).

The audiovisual policies set by previous governments before that of Collor de Melo, contradictory as it may seem, aided the development of Brazilian cinema, despite the ideological antagonisms between the state and those filmmakers who opposed the conservative, reactionary and terror politics advanced by the different military regimes. The more democratic Collor de Melo terminated the policies that promoted Brazilian cinema. The outcome of his neo-liberal policies favored members of the MPAA and foreign interests operating in the Brazilian market over local cinema production and distribution.

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