copyright 2008, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 50, spring 2008

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.

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:

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

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

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

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.

(Clip: Dona Flor) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLDaCtqk-So&feature=related

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.

(Clip: Terra—Portuguese only) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7waBTqriD0o

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.

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. (Clip: La Boca del Lobo—Spanish only)


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.

(Clip: Gregorio) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1sY3s2oxW4&feature=related

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.

(Clip: Media under Fujimori) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0y5uXV11Os

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

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). 

Brazil now

In Brazil there are now two laws: Rouanet (1991) and Audiovisual Law (1993). Under these two laws the government offers private citizens, businesses, and corporations the possibility of investing a portion of their income tax, so that they can actually make a profit on monies that would otherwise go to the state. Individuals can invest up to 80% and businesses up to 40%. Also under this law the distributors of imported films are allowed to invest up to 70% of their income tax into national productions (Monteiro de Carvalho, 2003). So far this has been the most sustainable manner through which many local filmmakers have been producing new work, along with entering into local co-productions or with foreign companies such as Columbia, Warner and Fox. Similarly, the current model of film production in Brazil involves the association of independent producers with foreign distributors (Johnson, 2005).

Under these new laws Brazil has seen a re-emergence of its cinema industry, and during the 1990s several films were made that had domestic box office success, in some cases outperforming Hollywood films playing at the same time (Shaw and Dennison, 2005). One such film is Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ A Terceira Margem do Rio (1994), a co-production with French Centre National du Cinema and dos Santos’ company Regina Films, an adaptation of a novel by Joao Guimaraes that centers on a man who abandons his family in order to live in a canoe in the middle of a rural river.

Other examples of successful Brazilian features are Carlos Reichenbach’s Alma Corsária (1994), a freewheeling story of an introverted Sao Paolo intellectual, Torres, obsessed with death (Variety.com); and Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas’ crime-drama Foreign Land (1995), a story of Brazilian expatriates who get mixed up with the Lisbon underworld (Rottentomatoes.com). In 1996 the Brazilian government amended the audiovisual law to increase the tax deduction granted to companies for investing in national productions. After this incentive, several other films were made, gaining not only domestic success but also international recognition, including Walter Salles’ international award-winner Central Station (1998), which gained global distribution through Sony Pictures. However, despite the re-emergence of Brazilian cinema and the success of several films made under these laws, the situation of the industry as dependant on state regulation and support is problematic.

Some Brazilian filmmakers, like Carlos Diegues, for example, have accused the government of President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva of manipulating policy in order to influence film content (Johnson, 2005). Another problem remains the overpowering presence of Hollywood in the market, controlling bookings in domestic theaters and distribution worldwide. This leaves Brazilian producers with not much choice except to depend on U.S. companies for the distribution of their products internationally. The films that have achieved global distribution are those distributed by the MPAA member companies Columbia, Warner, and Fox (Shaw and Dennison, 2005).

Peru now

In Peru, the Fujimori government in 1994, pressured by filmmakers and some cultural institutions, passed a film law (26370), creating the Consejo Nacional de Cinematografía (CONACINE) as the regulatory institution for promoting and overseeing the film industry. This institution, first linked to the Ministry of Education, is currently operating under the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INC). CONACINE, however, did not start functioning until 1996 when José Perla Anaya became its president. CONACINE has a mandate to organize a twice-yearly competition of screenplays and give financial support to the winners, so that they can produce their films. The law stipulates that there be three prizes for each competition, and that the money be dispersed in three payments: at the beginning of the production, at the end of the shooting schedule, and once the film is completed and is ready for distribution.

The state is supposed to allocate $1.5 million annually for CONACINE to award the winning competitors. However, in a country like Peru, pervaded by fiscal instability, filmmakers competing for the awards cannot count on the fulfillment of funding promises. Between 1996 and 2001 the state had given out only 10-15% annually of the actual amount offered (Nuñez, 2002; Salomón, 2004). Representative of this situation is the independent creation of a clip circulating on YouTube. The clip is a collage of images of different Peruvian films that aims to demonstrate what could be produced in the country if only CONACINE were properly funded to disburse awards according to the law.

(Clip: Campaign for Conacine’s funding) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjZC0hjeTnY

Since CONACINE’s creation, only about dozen movies have been completed under this law. One of the first features was Ciudad de M (2000) by Felipe Degregori, a drama about “M,” a young man living in Lima in a precarious unemployment. His only chance to get out of poverty, he thinks, is to become a “mule” for drug dealers exporting cocaine to Miami. Although this film did not have major distribution in movie theaters internationally, it was distributed in European television through Television Española.

(Clip: Ciudad de M —Spanish only[2]) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsmhsxfQbtU

Colombia now

In Colombia, in 1997 the government passed a law for cultural promotion  (Ley 397), creating with this the Ministry of Culture and a general law for culture under which cinema is considered a national patrimony. This law delineates the general characteristics for cultural activities that ought to receive state support, and it also provides guidelines for domestic film productions and co-productions in order to recognize them as "national cinema." Following that, in 2003 the government passed a law exclusively for film: Ley de Cine 814 [Film Law 814]. This law protects the film industry declaring in its First Article:

“Por su caracter asociado directo al patrimonio cultural de la Nación y a la formación de la identindad colectiva, la actividad cinematográfica es de interés social.”(Ley 814, 2003 as it appears in www.elojoquepiensa.udg, last accessed 2/21/06)
[“Film is an activity of social interest due to its character of direct association with the cultural patrimony of the nation and the formation of collective identity”] (My translation).

This law aims to benefit the entire chain of the Brazilian film industry—producers, distributors and exhibitors. It asks all of them to participate in the development of the industry; thus the distributors and exhibitors must contribute to a national fund with 8.5% of their total revenues, and the producers with 5% (www.ojoquepiensa.udg, last accessed 5/21/06). The collected funds are redistributed for productions and co-productions as soft loans or as contingency monies for financial institutions investing in domestic productions. A film with domestic and international success created under this law is El Rey (2004) by José Antonio Dorado, “a fictionalized account of Jaime Caicedo, Colombia’s largely unknown drug lord, a violent but Robin Hood-type figure who rose to power during the 1970s in Cali” (Pratt, 2005). (Clip: El Rey) http://www.jumpcut.com/view/?id=E1E80FF2533511DB8D91961586523BC9

Apart from the laws that are allowing a re-emergence of film production, television plays an important role. Many film producers are partnering up with domestic and international television or cable networks. These partnerships provide production capital, advertising time on national television during the film’s release, and secure exhibition of films on the small screen. Television in Latin America has managed to become financially more viable than film due to its mainly commercial nature. Networks such as Rede Globo and Televisa, for example, have the financial power to produce or co-produce films in their countries and internationally. Rede Globo is part of the Marihno family conglomerate Globo, which owns newspapers, radio, television and film companies. In fact, good examples of Globo’s co-production engagements with successful independent filmmakers are Walter Salles Central Station (1998) and Fernando Meirelles’s City of God (2002).

The melodrama Central Station tells the story of Dora a retired schoolteacher who makes ends meet by helping the illiterate writing their letters to family or friends. She takes charge of a boy whose mother has died in an accident outside the Central Railway Station, and they both go on a journey into an impoverished northeast part of Brazil. After the film’s success in Brazil, it went on to win awards at Sundance Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, the Golden Globe, and it was nominated for two Oscars. In a different, neo-realist style, City of God offered a depiction of lumpen young men's life in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and went to be nominated for four Oscars and the Golden Globe, in addition to winning the New York Film Critics Circle Award and the Visions Award at the Toronto Film Festival. These two films have gone on to be widely distributed in DVD.

(Clip: Central Station—U.S. trailer)


(Clip: City of God—US trailer)


The fact is that now film is not limited to the big screen, but it can have distribution in television, cable, satellite, VHS, DVD, and even the Internet. This proliferation of outlets opens up many opportunities for national and international collaboration. Television networks such as HBO, French Canal Plus, Spanish Television Española, British Channel 4, and German ZDF are increasingly involved in co-productions with Latin American filmmakers. In this manner, these television networks can secure a product for their international distribution networks while profiting from theatrical exhibition as well. However, distribution through most of these channels still requires engagement with those who control them. Local producers remain constrained by the agendas set by global distributors owning these outlets. Thus national cinema is still dependent on a series of factors for its sustainability.

We can say with certainty that television in Latin America has been more successful in sustaining itself as compared to cinema. As mentioned before, TV's commercial nature and its ability to sell advertisement airtime makes it more viable than film. After fifty years of existence in the region, local television networks produce enough content for domestic consumption. In fact, today most of the primetime hours are filled with locally produced shows while off primetime tends to be filled mostly with programming from U.S. networks (Martínez, 2000; Staubhaar, 2007). Large local networks export programs regionally and globally as well, especially telenovelas, comedy shows, talk shows, and variety shows (Straubhaar, 2007). Brazil, despite being a Portuguese-speaking country, has become the major exporter of telenovelas and miniseriesin the region and worldwide simply through dubbing their products to Spanish and other languages.

In many cases people watch these transnational products created within the region more than they consume CNN, HBO, or MTV (Straubhaar, 2007). Also important to take into account is the more recent Venezuelan creation of Telesur, a pan-Latin American television network created to counterweight CNN while also promoting Latin American integration. This network’s headquarter is in Caracas, but it has correspondents in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Haiti, Uruguay and the U.S. (Telesur.com). This kind of development should indicate to us that the usual global media players, although remaining leaders, are at least challenged in certain regions of the world where local producers have achieve the capacity of transnationality due to regional trade agreements and satellite and digital technologies.

Conclusion: twenty first century realities

Randal Johnson (2005) comments on Brazilian cinema that many younger filmmakers in that country have departed from and largely broken free of the ideology of their predecessors (p. 19). They are taking up new themes more in tune with their current personal, political, and social realities, while at the same time understanding that if their cinema is to survive, they must adapt to market and economic forces. Hence, Brazilian filmmakers are adapting to the new geopolitical and global economic order in which their country is submerged. They do this primarily by opting for co-productions and engaging in international distribution through local and global companies that control the markets.

In the Peruvian case the newer generation of filmmakers, with less opportunity to engage in co-productions, are opting to use digital technologies to their advantage. Those who cannot afford to shoot in film are making low budget productions by shooting in high definition video for blowing up to film. Of course, this challenges definitions of “film” per se, but certainly we need to take such low-budget shooting and editing into consideration as more filmmakers and videomakers are using new technologies to cut costs. Furthermore, many filmmakers shooting in high definition video do not even blow up to film but create DVDs ready for local independent distribution.

Those very few in Peru who are still using film shoot mostly in16mm to be blown up to 35mm. As Peruvian filmmaker Luis Figueroa[3] said to me in a conversation in 2002

“In Peru films are ‘handmade’ because we are still lacking the resources, but that does not stop us.” 

Figueroa was referring to the struggling and almost “artisan” mode of film production common in Peru where most filmmakers do not work with high-end technology or large crews. Mostly they use amateur actors, and they generally need to know how to do everything in the production process, from camera work to sound to editing, in case the budget runs short. However, Figueroa is proud of the fact that despite all the odds, Peruvian filmmakers keep on attempting to make domestic narratives that speak to local realities.

It is relevant to point out that Peruvian filmmaker Josué Méndez, director of Dias de Santiago (2005)[Santiago’s Days] has created a masterpiece that is far from merely artisan. The film’s aesthetic and technical quality are highly competitive with films like City of God (2002) and Y Tu Mamá También (2001),for example. The story of Dias de Santiago, somewhat inspired in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), uses cutting back and forth between color and black-and-white sequences to convey the edginess of Santiago’s state of mind. Although not overtly political, this film makes a sharp commentary on the politics of Peru’s internal war that took place in the decades of the 1980s and 1990s; it takes up the aftermath of war for the disenfranchised lower class young men who fought against the Shining Path guerrilla movement while serving in compulsory military duty. It's a socially conscious movie that is also commercially viable. The acting is convincing with a magnificent performance by Pietro Sibille, a previously unknown local actor.

Brazilian, Peruvian, and Colombian filmmakers have not totally abandoned making social commentary to reflect on their nations' current history. As Johnson (2005) and Shaw (2007) say, many of the filmmakers from the newer generations understand that entertainment and social commentary can go together and that despite Latin American directors' obligatory new relation with the international market, films remain a vehicle for cultural and identity affirmation. While most Latin American films are still rooted in national preoccupations (Shaw, 2007), we can also see that the pressure to compete globally, in particular against Hollywood movies, influences filmmakers thematically and aesthetically.

The inevitable and pervasive U.S., European, and to some extent Asian models of film, television, and advertisement have made their mark on Latin American cinema (Thussu 2004; Johnson 2005). While neo-realism remains one of the most influential aesthetic forms, successful films from the turn of this century are using unusual camera angles and fast editing techniques borrowed from advertisements. Crude violence, a staple of drama and action in Hollywood films, has also been widely embraced and is seen, for example, in films such as Amores Perros (2001) and City of God (2002).

These two films share domestic and international success based on their powerful stories where violence is constant. Their cinematic jolt is based on their impressive editing; and the superb acting by professional and non-professional actors deliver the stories and grab the audience. Based on their subject matter, we can say that these films are targeting primarily a young adult audience. City of God links itself to neo-realism by presenting the crude reality of life in Brazilian favelas and using real street children who, for the most part, are playing some aspects of their own lives. Amores Perros is a triptych of overlapping and intersecting narratives, exploring the lives of various characters living in Mexico City who are propelled into unforeseen and destructive dramatic situations (Rottentomatoes.com). Films in Latin America produced in the last eight years, despite all the limitations and flaws in the cinema laws in these nations, have moved far from "imperfect cinema," which characterized much of Latin American cinematography in previous decades.

(Clip: City of God) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iISAiUwY9eM

(Clip: Amores Perros) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L02Hwgvy9mw&feature=related

The re-emergence of Latin American cinema is also stimulating the creation of international festivals aimed at creating a regional market. Festivals serve as marketing tools for national and international productions. Participating and exhibiting in festivals provides prestige. Winning or being nominated for a prize can secure distribution. In Latin America almost every country has an international film and video festival. These have proven essential for creating markets within this geo-cultural region.

While for most of the 1980s and 1990s the Havana Film Festival was the major Latin American film festival (and to a certain extent it still is), other festivals are gaining relevance in the region providing new spaces for filmmakers. Some festivals that are becoming popular destinations for Latin American films and filmmakers include

In addition, a growing number of festivals have been generated by the presence of large diasporic communities in the U.S. and Europe. A sizeable Spanish-speaking market in both continents share language, historical roots, migrant conditions, and nostalgia for the countries they left. One of the ways immigrants stay in touch with their communities is through media, both through feature film, often on DVD, and television.

Some examples of diasporic festivals significant for Latin American film and DVD distribution are these in the United States:

In Europe there are

Other international festivals that have been excellent venues for Latin American films are the

Over the past twenty years Brazil, Peru and Colombia have participated in most of the festivals mentioned above. Filmmakers such as Lombardi, Meirelles, Salles among others have been awarded prizes in some of these festivals, boosting their careers and the ability to keep producing locally and internationally.

Although currently in Peru, film no longer plays a part in state national cultural projects, the filmmakers who dare to keep producing still see this cinema as a cultural force and an important medium for shaping the evolution of society at different levels (Alberto Duran, 2004).[4] Peruvian filmmakers and their supporters have pressured President Toledo’s government (2001-2006), and most likely will continue to press the current government of President Alan Garcia to rearticulate a more viable film law that responds to current local economic needs and is more realistic about posing goals that the state can fulfill in an ongoing way.

While the Colombian state is taking a more serious stand and working towards a more comprehensive and viable film policy, with moderate success, in the Brazilian case we can say that the state does not see film as a national project but as a global business that if well-managed may bring cash and stability to the local industry. Perhaps in the future, the Brazilian film industry might not need as much state support and could primarily depend on a system of domestic and international co-productions.

After all, co-production is not new to Latin American countries, particularly in Brazil. Carlos Diegues (1982) already has commented on the fact that before state laws were set in place to promote and protect the Brazilian national cinema, co-productions were one of the modes of production. He lamented the kinds of co-productions done back then, saying that co-production used to be

"a valid alternative, but, at the same time, was defiled by bad taste and by the most sordid commercialism, representing, finally a form of cultural prostitution" (p.272).[5]

It would be naïve to think that in the 21st century Latin American filmmakers and their states could be so purist as to live and create in isolation from the rest of the world, especially while trying to sustain a certain amount of industrial growth and international distribution. We can only hope that the filmmakers who are committed to their national identities will re-vamp these impoverished film industries while using the new economic order to their advantage — without falling into what Diegues has described as cultural prostitution.              


[1] Emilio Salomón is a Peruvian producer with whom I worked on several movies during the 1980s. He communicated this information to me in a personal conversation about the situation of cinema law in Peru.

[2] The person who uploaded the clip to YouTube indicates release dateas 1999. This is erroneous. The film was produced throughout 1999, and released in 2000.

[3] Luis Figueroa is a Peruvian filmmaker, member of the Cine Club Cuzco, and the School of Cuzco Cinema during the 1950s and 1970s.

[4] Alberto Duran is a Peruvian filmmaker involved in pressing the government for a new film law. He is the author of Peruvian film Alias la Gringa among several other features.

[5] This quote comes from Cinema Novo, an article written by Carlos Diegues and published in Randal Johnson and Robert Stam (1982), Brazilian Cinema. The article has been reprinted in Michael Martin's (1997) New Latin American Cinema.


Alvarez, L.A. El cine en la ultima década del siglo XX: Imágenes Colombianas. In Biblioteca Virtual. Last access 2/3/06 at www.lablaa.org/blaavirtual/historia/colhoy

Araujo Castro, M. (2005). Introduction. In Fundación Patrimonio Fílmico Colombiano. Largometrajes Colombianos: En Cine y Video. Ministerio de Cultura: Bogotá, Colombia.

Atwood, R. & Mattos, S. (1984). Mass media reform and social change: The Peruvian experience. In G. Gerbner & M. Siefert (Eds.), World communications: A handbook. (pp. 309-321), NYL Longman.Ayala Blanco, J. (1968). La aventura del cine Mexicano. Mexico, DF: Ediciones Era.

__________ (1974). La búsqueda del cine Mexicano. Mexico, DF: Editorial Posada.

__________ (1986). La condición del cine Mexicano. Mexico, DF: Editorial Posada.

Barnard, T. (1997). Popular cinema and populist politics. In M. Martin (Ed.) New Latin American cinema: Studies of national cinemas (vol.2 pp.443 - 455). Detroit, MI: Wayne University Press.

Burton, J. (1997) Film and revolution in Cuba: The first twenty-five years. In M. Martin (Ed.) New Latin American Cinema: Studies of national cinemas (vol.2 pp. 123 - 142). Detroit, MI: Wayne University Press.

Carugati, A. (2004). Globo’s Roberto Irineu Marinho. www.worldscreen.com Last accessed 12/25/07.

Chanan, M. (1983). (Ed.) Twenty-five years of the new Latin American cinema. London: British Film Institute & Channel 4.

_______ (1985). The Cuban image: Cinema and cultural politics in Cuba. London: British Film Institute.

_______  (2004). Cuban cinema. Minneapolis, MI: University of Minnesota Press.

Deutsch, Karl W. & Foltz, William J. (Ed.) (1966).  Nation-building (1st ed.). NY: Atherton Press.

Diegues, C. (1969). Cinema novo. In M. Martin (1997) (Ed.) New Latin American Cinema: Studies of national cinemas (vol.2 pp.272-274). Detroit, MI: Wayne University Press.

Elena, A. and Díaz López, M. (2003) The cinema of Latin America. UK: Wallflower.

Fossum, J.E. (2003). The transformation of the nation-state: Why compare the EU and Canada? ARENA Working Papers WP 01/19 www.arena.uio.no/publications

Garcia, G. (1999). In quest of a national cinema. In J. Hershfield & D. Maciel (Ed.) Mexico's Cinema (pp.5-16). Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources.

Garcia-Canclini, N. (1999). La globalización imaginada. Mexico: Paidos.

Garcia Espinosa, J. (1969). Por un cine imperfecto. In Hojas de cine: Testimonios y documentos del nuevo cine Latinoamericano. Volumen III, 1988; pp.63-77. Mexico: Fundación Mexicana de Cineastas.

Getino, O. (1987). Cine Latinoamericano: Economía, y nuevas tecnologías audiovisuales. Habana Fundación del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano. Merida: Departamento de Cine, Universidad de los Andes.

Gonzales, J.L. (2006). ¿Al fín nacerá el cine en Colombia? In Ministerio de Cultura. Last Access 2/3/06 at www.mincultura.gov.co/opinionCultural

Hershfield, J. (2000). Mexico. In G. Kindem (ed.) The international movie industry. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Johnson, R. (1996). Film policy in Latin America. In A. Moran (Ed.) Film Policy: International, national and regional perspectives. New York: Routledge.

_______ (2005). TV Globo, the MPA, and contemporary Brazilian cinema. In L. Shaw & S. Dennison (eds.) Latin American cinema: Essays on modernity, gender and national identity (pp. 11-38). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.

King, J. (1990). Magical Reels: A history of cinema in Latin America. London & New York: Verso.

Koonings, K. & Kruijt, D. (Ed.) (1999). Societies of Fear: The legacy of civil war, violence and terror in Latin America. New York: Zed Books.

López, A.M. (2000). Early cinema and modernity in Latin America. In Cinema Journal 40, No. 1, Fall 2000 (pp 48-78). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Martin-Barbero, J. (1993). Communication, culture and hegemony: From the media to mediations. London & New York: Sage.

Martínez, G. (2000). The impact of cable television on broadcast television in Peru. Master Thesis. San Francisco, CA: Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts, San Francisco State University.

Mattos, S. (1982). The impact of the 1954 revolution on Brazilian television. San Antonio, TX: V. Klingensmith Independent Publisher.

Miller, T., Govil, N., McMurrin, J., Maxwell, R., & Wang, T. (2005). Global Hollywood 2. London: British Film Institute.

Monteiro de Carvalho, C. Filming in Brazil: Legal guide. Sao Paulo,  Brazil: Noronha-Advogados.

Mora, C.J. (1982). Mexican cinema: Reflections of a society, 1896-1988. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Moran, A. (1996). Terms for a reader: Film, Hollywood, national cinema, cultural identity and film policy. In A. Moran (Ed). Film Policy: International, national and regional perspectives. New York: Routledge.

Noguer, E.G. (2002). Historia del cine Cubano: Cien años, 1897-1998. Miami, FL: Universal.

Paranaguá, P. (1985). Cinema na América Latina: Longe de Deus e perto de Hollywood. Porto Alegre, Brasil: L&PM.

Perla Anaya, J. (1995). La radiotelevisión: Espectro del poder y del futuro. Lima, Peru: Universidad de Lima.

Pick, Z. (1993). The new Latin American cinema: A continental project. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Reyes Nevares, B. (1974). Trece directores de cine Mexicano.

Rocha, G. (1965). Aesthetics of Hunger. In M. Chanan (ed.) (1983) Twenty five years of the new Latin American cinema. London: BFI/Channel Four.

Sanjinés, J. (1979). Teoría y práctica de un cine junto al pueblo. Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno Editores.

Schelesinger, P. (2000). Sociological scope of national cinema. In M. Hjort & S. Mackenzie Cinema & Nation (pp.19 -31). London and New York: Routledge

Schnitman, J. (1984). Film industries in Latin America: Dependency and development. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Schumann, P. (1987). Historia del cine Latinoamericano. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editoral Legasa.

Simis, A. (2002). Movies and moviemakers under Vargas. In Latin American Perspectives 2002; 29; 106 (pp 106-114). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Shaw, L. & Denison, S. (2005). Introduction. In L. Shaw & S. Dennison (Eds.). Latin American Cinema: Essay on modernity, gender and national identity. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.

Shaw, L. (2007). Latin American cinema today: A qualified success story. In L.Shaw (Ed.). Contemporary Latin American Cinema: Breaking into the global market.  Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield.

Shohat, E. & Stam, R. (1994). Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. New York: Routledge.

Solanas, F. & Getino, O. (1969). Hacia un tercer cine: Apuntes y experiencias para el desarrollo de un cine de liberación en el Tercer Mundo. In Hojas de cine: Testimonios y documentos del nuevo cine Latinoamericano. Volumen 1, 1988; pp. 29-62. Mexico: Fundación Mexicana de Cineastas.

Straubhaar, J. (2007). World Television: From global to local. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Thussu, D. (2004). Television and local/imagined communities (Globalization of Indian TV: Diaspora as imagined community). In J. Sinclair & G. Turner (eds.) Contemporary world television (pp. 28-30). London: BFI.

Online Resources

Lee, N. (December 8, 2005). In Lima, cab-driving veteran boils with rage of alienation. www.nytimes.com Last accessed 12/24/07.

Pratt, T. (January 21, 2005). Colombia’s Oscar hope: Biopic of drug lord. www.csmonitor.com Last accessed 12/26/07.

www.ojoquepiensa.udg Last accessed 5/21/06

www.filmreference/encyclopedia.com Last accessed 12/25/07

www.Rottentomatoes.com Last accessed 12/27/07

www.Variety.com Last accessed 12/27/07

www.Telesur.com Last accessed 12/26/07

www.cinemark-peru.com Last accessed 12/27/07

To topJC 50 Jump Cut home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.