A cinema of questions:
a response to Verónica Córdova

by Martín Boulocq

translated by Amy L. Tibbitts

About a month ago I received an email from a friend who is the editor of the journal Cuarto Intermedio. He asked me if I would write something about Bolivian film for the next issue, “and even better,” he said, “would be if you could relate your piece to an article that Verónica Córdova wrote that we are publishing in the next edition.” Córdova’s article is titled “The New and the Old in Bolivian Cinema” and refers to the motivations by which Latin American filmmakers, from what came to be known as “New Latin American Cinema” of the 60s and 50s, made films. Córdova’s article ends with a question: if the “old” filmmaker made films to change History, why does the “new” filmmaker make films?

I have to confess that, on the one hand, it was not at all easy for me to sit down and write an article that would respond to that question. On the other hand, I felt an almost moral obligation to do so. This is why I am taking advantage of this opportunity to sit here with all of you and throw around a few ideas.

Here I quote a few lines from Córdova’s article:

“[Some filmmakers] defined themselves as a continental film movement, putting aside differences in forms of production or in aesthetic approaches, and privileging the political themes and positions that they shared…an aesthetic-political movement that transcended film in order to insert itself in the continental fight for liberation.” In the words of Fernando Birri: ‘Films, tendencies, directors that did not explore in one way or another the dignity and necessity of human liberation, cannot be included in the New Latin American Film’.”

I am reminded of an episode from that movie that was made in commemoration of 100 years of film, Lumière y compañía (Lumière and Company), in which various directors of distinct trajectories are invited to make a one-minute short film utilizing the same camera with which the Lumière brothers made their first films. The film, in addition to the short films and documentary style, showed part of the process of the directors’ filmmaking and posed a common question to all of the filmmakers: “Why do you make films?” The responses varied widely, but the one that impressed me the most was one from a filmmaker who remained silent while looking at the camera without knowing how to respond.

I am sorry to tell you that what I have to offer today are more questions than answers. However, I sense that in the act of asking, and including within the questions themselves, one can find clues to possible answers.

Why make film in Bolivia today? Do the same trends in Bolivian film exist now as in the 60s and 70s?

The first danger I find when speaking of “new cinema” and “old cinema” is to place all of the filmmakers in the same bag. I do not think that someone who makes films today in Bolivia is responding to the same worries and less that one can unanimously answer the question: Why does one make films today in Bolivia? If in the 60s and 70s the what is now known as “New Latin American Cinema” responded nearly in unison to a common stance, does that mean that today’s Latin American cinema should do the same?

An old friend, who could have been my grandfather, after seeing Lo más bonito y mis mejors años (The Most Beautiful of my Very Best Years), told me “The world today is gray. In my time, it was either Black or White; we could choose, and what’s more, we were supposed to choose. Not today, now there is nothing to choose.” I ask myself, “Is it that our generation has lost all hope to change the world”? Do the “new” filmmakers believe that film can change the world? Today it seems somewhat pretentious to throw around an assertion like the one Godard made in the 60s, “I make film to change the world.”

I find myself limited to speak from the cinema that I consider closest to me. A cinema that does not pretend to resolve social and political problems (does this imply disassociating oneself from the political act of talking about small social circles such as family, friends, couples?). A cinema, unlike the militant cinema of that time, with more questions than answers. With more questionings and ambiguities than discourses and certainties. A cinema that forces me as an individual—not as a “film director”—to put a mirror in front of myself before looking elsewhere. A cinema that is perhaps arbitrary because it is personal. A cinema that because it is personal stops questioning the other. A cinema that speaks about close experiences. A cinema that explores its aesthetics through the technological possibilities within its reach and that responds to its reality. A cinema that thinks within a universal frame while still being local (because today more than ever it is impossible to think of oneself as isolated from the rest of the world). A cinema that dialogues with current filmmaking not only from Latin America, but also with other corners of the planet.

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