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Richly colorful and carnivalesque, this poster for Carlos Diegues’s Bye-bye Brazil reflects the use of Tropicalismo.

Bye-bye Brazil Sexually charged Salomé is one of the circus’ main attractions. She later turns to prostitution to survive since the circus lost its audience due to poverty and the arrival of TV in small towns.

Bye-bye Brazil shows a traveling circus arriving in a small town.

Bye-bye Brazil — Cico, a musician, falls for Salomé and signs on to be the circus’ accordionist.

Dona Flor e seus dois maridos — Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands:Barreto brings to us Tropicalismo in the form of this lighthearted story set in Salvador Bahia.

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands: Eroticism, carnival, and humor are combined here to tell the story of Dona Flor.

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands: The soundtrack by Chico Buarque O que sera enriches the sensuality of Barreto’s film.

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands: Flor's husband Vadinho dies while partying to later return as a ghost.

Terra em transe: Glauber Rocha filmed this classic of Cinema Novo about political life in Brazil on location. (See Jump Cut essay on film.)

Terra em transe: Rocha uses a handheld camera, which the characters address directly, in the tradition of cinema verité and neo-realism.

Terra em transe: Each segment of Brazilian society is represented by various characters, demonstrating symbolically the corrupt relation between church and elite in oppressing the people.

Allpa’ kallpa: This revolutionary film by Federico Garcia was influenced by neo-realism and Cuban revolutionary films. It is set in the high Andean plateau of Cuzco (Peru). Garcia uses an amateur as his main actor (Valdivia) while casting local peasants playing their own lives. In this photo Valdivia, the hacienda owner, defends himself against a peasantry in revolt.


Cinema law in Latin America:
Brazil, Peru and Colombia

by Gabriela Martínez

The history of cinema law in various Latin American countries is tied to the consolidation of nations, ideas of modernity and national identity from the second half of the 20th century to the present. In this essay I will discuss Latin America cinema law in general by looking at three case studies: Brazil, Peru, and Colombia— all of which have used cinema since the very beginnings of its arrival in the region in 1896. At different moments throughout the 20th century these nations have created official state policies to promote local production and regulate markets flooded by Hollywood and European films. While I take Brazil, Peru, and Colombia as representative of the overall Latin American experience in terms of cinema policy, it is also important to keep in mind that even though cultural and linguistic similarities exist among nations, Latin American countries also have distinctive differences.

Nation and identity

Latin America is a generic term that scholars from different fields use when referring to one or a few specific countries. Film scholars also use the term widely when speaking of Latin American cinema, even if only addressing major film-producing countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico, and not others. To an extent the linguistic reduction inherent in the term creates a false sense of a homogeneous continent whose peoples are similar, with a development (or lack of development) that has gone through similar stages, and now with equally developed media industries. In terms of what they have in common, most Latin American countries emerged out of wars of independence fought throughout the second half of the19th century against Spanish and Portuguese colonial rulers. These nation-states do share similar historical roots of conquest, slavery, and independence. They all were coerced to adopt Catholicism as their religion and Spanish as their official language (except for Brazil, a Portuguese-colonized and now speaking country). All of these countries have mixtures of indigenous populations, descendants of Europeans (e.g. Spanish, Italian, and German), African slaves, Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants (e.g. Japanese, Chinese, Lebanese, and Turkish, among others). To a greater or lesser degree these populations have intermingled, creating a racially and culturally diverse continent.

Throughout the continent, as well as within each nation there are regional differences — marked economically, culturally, and ethnically. For example in the Southern Cone, the Andean region, which includes Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador has a larger indigenous population than neighboring countries such as Chile, Argentina, or Uruguay, which are more European or white. Chile is the country with greatest economic stability, and Chile and Argentina have modernized faster than Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Brazil has the largest population of African descendants, followed by Venezuela and Colombia. Brazil and Venezuela are socially, politically, and economically more stable than Colombia. The Central American region, including Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Mexico, is also heavily populated by indigenous ethnicities. In contrast, Costa Rica is whiter. The Caribbean region perhaps is closer to Brazil in that it has large populations of African descent, as in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.

All of these countries have internal divisions as well. Many times geography plays a factor in racism; for example coastal regions tend to be more modern than the highlands, and coastal people are also usually whiter. These elements make many coastal people regard those from the highlands or the Amazon as backwards. In most countries highlanders are indigenous people; thus racism is not only tied to geographical origins and modernity, but also to ethnicity. Amazonian peoples are the most forgotten when talking about the Latin American experience. Indeed, this region between Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela has hundreds of different ethnic groups with their own languages and cultural mores that differ from the rest of the continent. Such heterogeneity within Latin America has led to an uneven process of modernization and development, making the consolidation of nations and national identity a difficult and painful process.

In this article, I define nation as a cultural community made up of people who live within the same territorial boundaries, share a common set of cultural myths, national language or languages, obey the same laws of the land, and respond to the same symbols created by the state for unifying and identifying their nation-state (following Fossum, 2003: p. 5). An important aspect of understanding national identity, especially in the 20th century, is the concept of nation building — the process of integrating marginal people into the national societal and economic framework. Nation building includes forging social cohesion, national unity, and solid national institutions within a stable political system, and also promoting development and other economic and cultural processes aimed at establishing a certain recognizable national identity for most citizens of the land (Martin-Barbero, 1993; Koonings and Kruijt, 1999).

Latin American societies began their nation building process in the 19th century after gaining independence from Spain and Portugal; and throughout the 20th century, nation-states have been trying to consolidate their national identities. Today the process continues accompanied by the political, economic, and social conflicts that have persisted throughout the 20th century. In many countries during the 20th century, governments first used cinema and later television in nation building processes where goals of modernization significantly intertwined with goals of strengthening national identity (López, 2000; Simis, 2002). However, since cinema arrived in Latin America as an import from Europe and the United States, it has also contributed to fostering neocolonial economic, technological and cultural dependency. Not only in terms of media but also in many other ways, newly independent countries have continued as peripheries of European powers and the United States (Paranaguá, 1985; Shohat and Stam, 1994; Miller, Govil, McMurrin, Maxwell, and Wang, 2005). 

Cinema in Latin America

In 1896 cinema arrived in Latin America simultaneously from France and the United States. According to Paulo Paranaguá (1985: pp. 9-10) the first film exhibitions in the region took place in July of 1896 in both Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo where employees of the Lumière brothers introduced the cinematograph. Soon after, in August of the same year, Edison’s invention had an impact on urban life in the capital city of Guatemala, then in Quetzaltenango as well as in the Mexican cities of Guadalajara and Merida. Subsequently cinema debuted in other important Latin American urban centers including Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, and Lima. Almost immediately after the arrival of cinema in all these places, some artists and some members of the elites who could afford the new technology began producing locally. However, the development of production and distribution of domestic cinema in the continent did not advance in an even manner (López, 2000).

On one hand, ever since the silent era, local economic, technical, political, and social structures constrained the development of a film industry. From the beginning, imported films dominated the screens; audiences found them more attractive. Ana López (2000) explains that despite the fact that the technology is attractive in itself, audiences’ curiosity and desire to see people and other parts of the world made foreign films a staple of what "cinema" constituted for its viewers. On the other hand, by the 1920s the U.S. State Department had set up a motion picture section to aid Hollywood and its developing industry, and the Motion Picture Export Association of America (MPEAA) made sure to secure “blind bidding and block booking” in Latin American markets (Miller and et al, 2005: p. 61). Foreign investors and local entrepreneurs interested in money-making have thus long participated in the business of distributing and screening films from abroad to the detriment of the development of local film industries.

During the first half of the 20th century, Brazil (1930s-1940s), Mexico and Argentina (Golden Age — 1940s-1950s) were the only countries that managed to build something of a screen presence capable of competing domestically and regionally with the imports to Latin America coming from the already established Hollywood studio system and European countries, primarily Italy and France (Mora, 1982; Schnitman, 1984; Schumann, 1987; Simis, 2002). The development of those three national film industries in Latin America was in part facilitated by the Great Depression in the United States, and by the wars in Europe (Mora, 1982). The impact of these global economic and political circumstances diminished the international distribution capacities of Hollywood and European production houses, while during that period in Latin America, state support for developing national cinema began to take shape, giving way to flourishing film industries, particularly in Mexico and Argentina. The film industries of these two countries became regional powers taking advantage of Latin America’s geo-cultural similarities where Spanish is the main language in most of continent and other cultural and social values are shared. Brazil, the only non-Spanish speaking nation in the continent, faced distribution limitations principally due to language, but its film industry produced enough content for domestic distribution (Mora, 1982).

After WWII, Hollywood resumed exporting massively and aggressively. Consequently, new laws in some Latin American countries sought both to neutralize Hollywood’s presence and to promote modernization and development. In the 1960s and 1970s laws were re-formulated or newly enacted to include television, which since the mid 1950s had become an important part of national media systems throughout Latin America. Television, like cinema, followed a similar pattern in terms of imports; U.S. programs occupied the largest percentage of screen hours, and local production was limited in its beginnings. Most Latin American television networks engaged in a structural relation of dependency on U.S. networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC), which provided not only content but also a commercial model, and in several cases the capital to set up local networks (Miller et al, 2005; Straubhaar, 2007). Laws were passed to protect cinema and television, especially under populist and nationalistic regimes in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela, and Argentina (Getino, 1987). In fact, to elicit popular support, these regimes often used a rhetoric promoting both modernization and opposition to the U.S. hegemonic, imperialist agenda in Latin America.

Cultural policies supporting national cinema resonated with the aspirations of audiovisual professionals, artist, and intellectuals — especially those from the left. However, these laws had also their critics. The upper class, local film distributors, and theater owners conflicted with populist governments about developing a national cinema. In general, Latin America’s oligarchies saw nationalistic and populist governments as a threat to their economic and social interests. In specific, film distributors and exhibitors, both local and foreigners, saw cinema laws as detrimental for their businesses. They claimed these laws infringed free trade, and that audiences in general preferred Hollywood films to national productions. Many cinema laws set in the 1960s and 1970s did not survive changes in global politics and economics. And in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the shift towards neo-liberal policies in governments worldwide, cinema laws were dismantled in most Latin American countries. Significantly, in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia these laws have been re-articulated but now in terms more favorable to global capital.

In the context of the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st, new cinema laws in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia seek to promote film production by attracting an influx of capital more than by protecting domestic markets with restrictive policies affecting foreign imports. The new set of policies, as we shall see, promotes the production and international co-production of films and television programs that can be distributed domestically, regionally and globally. The new logic is to let the audiovisual sector, both cinema and television, compete on its own for the local and international market. Although culture and national identity remain significant in the elaboration of new audiovisual laws, ideals of modernization and development no longer provide the central component for the creation of these cultural policies. To a large degree, nation building has moved backstage as ideas of globalization shape both state discourse and individual filmmakers’ aspirations of gaining access to global markets.

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