JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

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Ciudad de M Although melodramatic, this film looks at lives of disenfranchised, lower class, Peruvian youth. Here Degregori presents the daily reality of a young person trying to get a job honestly by going through a job agency while his friend is offering him a way to make easy money. M is so broke that he cant even afford to buy a condom to have sex with his girlfriend.

El Rey — Antonio Dorado, in this co-production with Eurocine, narrates the story of 1970s drug lord Caicedo. Set in Cali, the film uses dynamic camera angles and fast editing. Dorado, similarly to other filmmakers from the late 1990s and early 2000s, borrows stylistically from advertisements and music videos.

Central Station — publicity poster designed for foreign markets announces the awards received internationally

Central Station — Salles' naturalistic film takes us for an emotional journey where we encounter two lives brought together by a tragic event.

Central Station is set in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil's interior. Location shooting, superb camera work, and convincing acting made this film a blockbuster, gaining global distribution by Sony Pictures.

City of God English-language trailer — In this film, Meirelles' neo-realistic approach combined with advertisement editing techniques tells a powerful story of life in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

City of God Brazilian trailer — The plot focuses on gang life and crime among young men who have grown up together.

City of God — In the 60s Cabeleira was one of the most dangerous gangsters.

City of God — In the 70s Ze Pequeño wanted to own City of God and control all drug traffic in his favela.

Amores Perros — Gonzáles Iñarritu’s film set in Mexico City is an indictment of humanity. The film interweaves three different stories that are connected by a car accident. It reflects on the cruelty of humans towards each other and towards animals.

Amores Perros — Hollywood-style crude violence, dynamic camera work and editing techniques from advertisement ...

... make this a powerful narrative about the lives of people from different social classes in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world.

Amores Perros — Professional hitman, el Chivo, has been hired to kill a businessman who turns out to be the half-brother of the person paying for the hit. El Chivo ends up not killing him.

Amores Perros — Valeria, a supermodel badly injured in the car accident (which triggers the three stories) cannot work anymore. She is homebound, suffering the loss of her beauty.

 

Case study: Peru

Much like in Brazil, in the early 1990s in Peru, former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) terminated the already collapsing Ley de cine [Film Law] and other state cultural policies. Systematically adopting neo-liberal economic and social policies, Fujimori’s government saw culture in general, and film in particular, as one more commodity that needed to compete within local and global market forces without state participation. Until the end of the 1980s, Peruvian cinema had benefited from legislation passed in 1972 by General Velasco's military regime (Perla, 1995). This legislation guaranteed compulsory exhibition of locally produced short and feature length films and thus secured a market share for Peruvian producers. The Film Law also set a screen quota for the exhibition of foreign films that, as in the case of Brazil, were mostly imported from the United States (Atwood & Mattos, 1984; Perla, 1995).

In order to promote the development of a film industry, Velasco's populist regime gave tax breaks to producers and distributors of national cinema. The Industrial Bank (Banco Industrial), a state owned bank, provided loans to filmmakers with well-defined film proposals. Although a tax was added to movie tickets sales, ticket prices were kept low to promote broad attendance at movie theaters. Emilio Salomón, former member of the Peruvian Filmmakers Association, indicated to me that above all the government saw cinema as an important cultural force that could entertain and educate the masses (Salomón, 2004) . [1] [open notes in new window]

Many films produced in Peru during the 1970s and 1980s under the Film Law have plots that show a preoccupation with national integration, particularly the integration of rural migrants to the capital, Lima, and the integration of indigenous people into national culture. Although Peruvian filmmakers did not develop a film movement comparable to Cinema Novo, many of them were ideologically on the left and were influenced by Italian neo-realism and Cuban revolutionary cinema. They produced content that reflected the political and social conflicts of the nation. Some used film to denounce the abuses of the oligarchy against the working class and the poor. Several films from the 1970s focused on hacienda owners and supported the concept of peasant revolts. Some films reflecting this theme, particularly Bernardo Arias Allpa’kallpa (1975) and Federico Garcia’s Kuntur Wachana (1977), were also aligned with the military regime’s populist ideology and were made in the context of Velasco’s land reform of the 1970s.

Other filmmakers such as Francisco Lombardi, Alberto Durant, Armando Robles Godoy, and Luis Figueroa produced work under the Film Law that gained them domestic and international recognition. Equally important is the collective Grupo Chaski. Arguably the most prolific of all, Lombardi garnered international fame in Latin America and Europe, a reputation that allows him to keep making films steadily today. His films are more commercial and not necessarily political in nature but nevertheless deal with and critique Peruvian society and politics. Lombardi’s most acclaimed internationally distributed film, made under the Film Law, is La Boca del Lobo [The Lion’s Den] (1988). This film is a sharp critique of the Peruvian Armed Forces and the abuses against the indigenous population during the war waged against the Maoist guerrilla movement Shining Path.

Grupo Chaski also has a substantial number of productions that have made a mark in Peruvian cinema. They use film for social activism — to give a voice to the poor and to criticize social contradictions. The group’s most notable works are the features Gregorio (1984) and Juliana (1989) that use real street children who play themselves. The films serve as social and political commentaries about rural migration to the city, life in Lima’s shantytowns, and urban poverty in general. The former film presents the story of a boy and the latter of a girl whose families, originally from rural areas of Peru, migrated to Lima in search of a better life. However, racism and a harsh class structure leave them without a real future or place in the capital nor, symbolically, in the nation. Grupo Chaski, as with all filmmakers in Peru, was affected when the Film Law was dismantled. Chaski's film production came to a halt and the group was only reconstituted again as a collective several years later.

President Fujimori’s derogation of the Film Law in Peru has been detrimental to national cinema. It has served to diminish, even invalidate, local production of visual media — film and television — making it extremely difficult to film and distribute due to economic hardship and lack of support. Mass media as an industry under Fujimori came to be one of the most corrupt ever in Latin America. The principal stakeholders of major television networks such as America Televisión and Panamericana Televisión received large amounts of money throughout the 1990s in order to publicize and not criticize the Fujimori autocratic regime. In contrast, Baruch Ivcher, the major stakeholder of another important network, Frecuencia Latina, was deported and stripped of his citizenship because he did not censor reporters' denouncing Fujimori’s corrupt presidency, particularly during Fujimori's second term in office between 1995-2000.

Francisco Lombardi is the only film director who has continued to produce feature films steadily after the derogation of the law. Inca Films, Lombardi’s company, has international agreements for co-productions with Spanish film and television companies and investors. Most other filmmakers have turned to television for a living and are working mainly on production of telenovelas and variety shows. The production of short films has virtually disappeared from the domestic market. When the cinema law existed, short films were a popular format among film producers and directors because the law had required theaters to show shorts along with feature films. Short films were inexpensive to produce compared to features, and they gave a chance to young filmmakers to develop their craft while exposing their work and securing some revenue from exhibition. Later, local distributors and exhibitors, who no longer had to respond to a compulsory law for showing domestic production, decided to abandon national talent.

Case study: Colombia

Similar to governmental media initiatives in Brazil and Peru, efforts in Colombia to establish a film industry have long been linked to state policy, which in the Colombian case dates back to late 1930s. In Colombia the first impulse to develop an organized national film industry took place in 1938, when the government created a film branch within the Ministry of Education. It was not, however, until Alfonso López Pumarejo’s second term in office in 1942 that a law was promulgated for the protection and promotion of Colombia’s film industry (Araújo Castro, 2005). According to Araújo Castro (2005), Colombia’s Ministry of Culture, Ley 9 [Law #9] was created to formalize the sector and help filmmakers and investors to create production companies in compliance with the law, that is, with at least 80% domestic capital. This law aimed at building a commercial film industry similar to those developed in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil during the 1930s and 1940s (Alvarez, last accessed 2/3/06). Although the organized and formal operation of the media industry did not really take off as expected, a considerable number of movies were made independently, an important body of work that can be recognized as Colombia’s first national cinema.

As in all Latin American countries, the Colombian market was flooded with Hollywood films from the turn of the 20th century on. Local distributors had arrangements with the MPAA and Hollywood studios, securing the local market for imported products. This reality eclipsed individual filmmakers' efforts, whose low budget productions could not compete with either Hollywood’s aesthetic appeal or the power of the U.S. film industry. It was not until the 1970s that a more populist and nationalistic government, eager to modernize the nation, took a more practical approach. It recognized that in order to have a local film industry that raises and responds to national questions, the state needed to provide some support for such a media industry to grow.

This kind of thinking about cultural policy is similar to that of other governments in the Southern Cone during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, as we have seen with Brazil and Peru. Hence in 1972 the Colombian government formulated the Ley de Sobreprecio [Law of Overpricing], primarily to help in the production of short films but also that of features. The Law of Overpricing basically required theaters to show a national short film before any feature movie. Tickets to the movies were nominally overpriced to pay local filmmakers for the exhibition of their short films (Gonzales, last accessed 1/2/06). This law in certain way was similar to the Peruvian Film Law that required theater owners to show a national short film before the feature presentation. The combination of compulsory exhibition of nationally produced films and the tax applied to the price of tickets created secure markets and revenues for local producers. The Law of Overpricing was effective because it stimulated the film industry, and filmmakers could produce work with the certainty that their product would be distributed.

More importantly, in 1978 the State created the Compañia de Fomento Cinematográfico more commonly known as Focine. This was an institution under the Ministry of Communications exclusively created for the development of national cinema (Araújo Castro, 2005; Alvarez, last accessed 2/3/06).  Between 1972 and 1982, approximately 600 short films were produced and distributed in domestic theaters across Colombia. With the creation of Focine, in 1978, the state provided soft loans—a below-market interest combined with longer grace periods for repayment, to producers and directors. (Sistemas Nacionales de Cultura, last accessed 2/3/06). The combination of soft loans and compulsory exhibition increased the number of not only short films but also feature films, that reflect a social and political consciousness common to most Latin American filmmakers of that period. Some of these are

  • La Patria Boba (1972) by Alberto Sánchez,
  • Corralejas (1974) by Ciro Durán and Mario Mitrioti,
  • El Cuento que Enriqueció a Dorita (1974) by Luis Afredo Sánchez.

However, quality remained a problem, according to Alvarez (last accessed 2/3/06), who explains that despite dealing with important social topics or having entertainment value, the films made during that protectionist period under Focine had little technical or acting quality. Also, many filmmakers tried to produce a more commercial cinema in term of topics and aesthetics but such films had limited box-office appeal. Thus, one of the most salient films of this attempt is La Mansión de Araucaima (1986) by Carlos Mayolo, which takes place in an old tropical mansion where love and passion are central to the story of a group of people who live there. Each character represents a segment of society — a priest, a servant, a mercenary, a disabled pilot and a seductress and domineering woman.

Similar to historical changes in Brazil and Peru, the arrival of neo-liberal economic policies in the 1990s impacted the film industry. Under Focine, 29 features had been produced in the previous decade. But Focine was closed down during President César Gaviria’s government (1990-1994), who felt that there were more important issues at hand, like the war against the drug cartels and the guerrilla movements. After 1993, when Focine ceased to exist, the dismantling of this office created a void, and the number of domestic productions substantially decreased. There were years with no productions at all (Araujo Castro, 2005), despite efforts from Colcultura and Cinemateca Distrital that tried to support the dying industry (Luzardo Gonzáles, last accessed 2/3/06).

New cinema laws

Since the 1990s Brazil, Peru, and Colombia, like most Latin American countries, have been at a crossroads as their governments have tried to reorder collapsing national economies and stabilize political upheavals. In addition to having to deal with the harsh economic crises and social and internal political struggles of the previous decades, these states needed to respond to the external pressures of participating in the global economy. In such a political and economic climate, governments abandoned protection of the film industry, leaving it to take care of itself and thus compete with global corporations and market forces controlled by transnational corporations.

Other factors affecting the film industries in these countries were the end of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, both of which impacted Latin American politics, creating a de-politicization among some sectors of the population, especially youth. College age people, who traditionally have been an integral part of Latin America's major social and artistic movements, now do not see themselves as politically involved as their previous generations. To some extent socialism lost its power as a social, political, economic, and cultural model. This political change has had an impact on cultural productions both thematically and aesthetically. Social and political commentary in cultural productions in general, and in film in particular, has taken backstage. Instead, cultural producers now search for more financially rewarding formats, and a popularization of themes and subject matter continues to grow across Latin America.

Furthermore, with worldwide political and economic shifts, companies from developed countries took immediate advantage to solidify their positions or begin operations in Latin American. U.S. companies bought movie theaters and distribution companies across Latin America. For example, foreign corporations have fostered an excessive boom in multiplex theaters in urban areas to show Hollywood films. The largest U.S. exhibitors, like Cinemark, own hundreds of movie theaters in the region. Cinemark is present in Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Ecuador (cinemark-peru.com). MPAA member companies such as Columbia, Warner, and Fox have also been investing in cinematic co-productions in exchange for regional and worldwide distribution rights.

Affected by the new socio-political order and the end of support for national cinema as it was known before, filmmakers have been pressuring their governments to establish new laws and mechanisms of state support that would respond to this new reality. Sometimes the rhetoric used by filmmakers and intellectuals when requesting state intervention still consists of arguments based on modernity, development, and national identity. However, unlike filmmakers from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the newer generation is less politicized and more willing to compromise about receiving foreign capital for production and distribution, even when Hollywood studios or mainstream European companies are the investors. Some filmmakers have gained international status by working for Hollywood or European productions or co-productions, for example Brazilian Fernando Meirelles, Mexican Alejandro Gonzáles Iñarritu, and Peruvian Francisco Lombardi.

Currently, the U.S. and two or three more countries (Japan, Britain, France) remain the primary global producers and distributors of media products, especially in the Western hemisphere. Furthermore, their global media corporations continue to concentrate their ownership of production and distribution outlets for film, television, cable, satellite, and now the Internet on a global scale. Such an economic dominance by outside investors continues to hinder the development of national film industries in Latin America. In the face of this economic reality, new cinema laws have been created in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia, but unlike the previous laws, they are now more in alignment with international legislation and international trade agreements affecting cultural production, with conditions principally imposed by the United States and other advanced countries (Miller and et al, 2005; Hershfield, 2000; Shaw, 2007). 

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