Friday, May 21, 2010
Blog written by Rodrigo Brandao, director of publicity, Kino Lorber Films
By the end of 2009, the internet was flooded with Top 10 lists. The best of the year, the best of the decade, and of course, the best of the best. The assumption was that we needed someone to cut through the clutter, and that these lists are (or would be) useful tools as historical and curatorial documents – maybe an express lane to our past.
Of course, the assumptions within these selective practices need to be examined, and although not all lists are born equal, most of them (at least in the film world) seemed to bring a whiff of the canonical, as if motivated by the simple desire (and excitement) of creating a hierarchical division.
It goes without saying that looking back (i.e. making history) should be an act of re-interpretation, or at least, a moment to re-examine the very process in which selection takes place – and not an opportunity for exclusion.
Mostly made by young and still independent filmmakers in Brazil, the films on my list of the best the decade, reflect the importance of “looking back and re-interpreting Brazilian culture” in the way Brazil is reinventing itself at the beginning of the 21st century.
And while some of these films have been successful outside Brazil, others are still largely unknown outside Latin America. Well, be as it may.
So, here it goes:
Madame Sata (2002 / Dir. Karim Ainouz)
Madame Sata (2002) has many similarities with another Brazilian film that captivated thousands of film lovers around the world: City of God (2002).
Both films depict real-life stories from Rio de Janeiro's past. City of God focuses on the development of Rio de Janeiro's slums during the 1960s and 70s, while Madame Sata is the story of Francisco dos Santos, a famous criminal in the Rio de Janeiro of the 1940s.
Also, both of these films are also energetic portrayals of a stunning city surrounded by violence, musical vitality and a unique kind of multiculturalism and racial politics.
Yet, at its core, Madame Sata is the anti-City of God.
Ainouz's film is, first and foremost, a character story about a bipolar transvestite and a capoeira master who was widely famous in Rio de Janeiro for being a street criminal – and nothing else.
The film re-captures the figure of Francisco dos Santos from the hands of canonical, government-produced and neoliberal history, and makes him into much more than an enemy of the state recorded on criminal records.
With Madame Sata, dos Santos is a father, a creator of street law and ethics, and also, a one-man sexual revolution. This is the Brazilian film to beat from the last decade.
Praca Saens Pena (2008 / Dir. Vinícius Reis )
As a family drama about marital infidelity, Praca Saens Pena has the most unlikely male lead: a history professor.
Paulo, a high school teacher working at a Catholic institution, barely makes enough to get by – and yet, he lives a stable life with his wife Teresa and their teenage daughter Bel.
But when Paulo decides to take on a book assignment to write about the history of his neighborhood, Tijuca, his deep immersion into urban collective history frustrates his family and then, pushes his wife into an affair with a younger lover.
Besides being an intimate and incredibly well-crafted (and acted) melodrama, Praca Saens Pena also works as an examination on the very nature of looking back. Is historical investigation always tied to something in the present? Do we sometimes look at the past simply as a way to validate our present moment?
What is specially interesting about Praca Saens Pena is that the main characters' need to recover the history of his neighborhood is directly tied to the way the place is changing in the present.
And in that sense, looking back, at least for Paulo, becomes a way to effect change in the present. And yet, that is exactly how he almost loses the very thing that kept him grounded: his family life.
Yellow Mango (2002 / Dir. Claudio Assis)
On the contrary of the two title above, Yellow Mango isn't based on a historical fact pr research. Instead, Yellow Mango tells four short stories about intersecting characters who live in a poor neighborhood in the city of Recife, in the Northeast of Brazil.
The scenario is a bit depressing, and so are the character's lives: Dunga, an effeminate gay man working at a low-budget hotel, has a crush on an unscrupulous butcher, named Wellington, who is himself married to an evangelical woman named Kika. Wellington has a mistress Dayse, and, as you already suspect, not a single character is this movie is on a path to dignified happiness or intellectual fulfillment.
Yet, what's so interesting about this film is the way in which it combines religious fanaticism with a picture of a society completely ruled by endemic poverty – both economic and social-cultural. What's left is desire, capital, and a kind of faith that looks more like a black hole than divine light. Still, Yellow Mango never feels unbelievably pessimistic.
Monday, April 5, 2010
At the end of 2009, film blogger Mario Diaz, together with Cinema Tropical, put together a list of the Top Ten Latin American Films of the Decade (2000-2009) according to a select group of New York “film professionals” involved with the marketing and distribution of Latin American films in the US. The idea was to ask select critics, scholars and film professionals to submit their own list of best Latin American films of the decade and simply tally up the results at the end.
In all, 124 films (representing 14 Latin American countries) were nominated for the distinction of being Best of the Decade, and the presence of three Lucrecia Martel films on the final list, as well as the notoriety of most of the films on the list, proved to be a bit controversial for many. On the podcast below, Carlos A. Gutiérrez (Cinema Tropical), Judy Mam, Soldanela Rivera, Rodrigo Brandão (BrazilNYC) and Jeronimo Rodriguez (NY1) discuss the results, while also raising many issues about the current status of film distribution in the United States.
Here is the conversation (also dubbed Tropicast) which took place on March 24, 2010.
For more information on the Top 10 list, visit the Cinema tropical web site.
And here are the Top 10 Latin American Films of the last decade. What do you think?
1. La Ciénaga (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2001)
2. Amores Perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mexico, 2000)
3. Luz Silenciosa (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico, 2007)
4. Cidade de Deus ( Fernando Meirelles,Brazil, 2002)
5. Ônibus 174 (José Padilha and Felipe Lacerda, Brazil, 2002)
6. Y tu mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico, 2001)
7. Whisky (Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll, Uruguay, 2004)
8. La Mujer sin Cabeza (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2008)
9. La Niña Santa (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2004)
10. El Laberinto del Fauno (Guillermo del Toro, Mexico/Spain, 2006)
Also, here’s a You Tube video of the discussion AFTER the podcast recording. The video was shot and edited on an Iphone. Both the podcast recording and the Iphone editing was done by Rodrigo Brandão
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Carlos A Gutiérrez, together with Monika Wagenberg, launched Cinema Tropical on February 19, 2001, with a special screening of Martín Rejtman’s Silvia Prieto at the (now-extinct) Two Boots Pioneer Theater in New York’s East Village.
Since then, Cinema Tropical has incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and expanded to create a national non-theatrical circuit that would also hold regular screenings in 13 of the most important cinematheques around North America, including Facets Cinémathèque in Chicago, the NW Film Center in Portland and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, among others.
Today, Gutierrez’s non-proft is at the heart of Latin cinema distribution in the United States, and it continues to thrive as dynamic and groundbreaking media arts organization. In the interview below, Carlos Gutiérrez looks back at the almost 10 years of his organization, talks about the future of Latin American film distribution in the US, and discusses some of the possibilities in store for the art-house film business in the next years.
Rodrigo: It's been almost 10 years now since you started Cinema Tropical in early 2001. Can you remember (and if so, describe) a specific moment before 2001 that made you realize that there was not only a need, but also the space, for an institution like Cinema Tropical to exist?
Carlos:Yes, totally. The idea behind Cinema Tropical dates from 1997 when I met Monika (Wagenberg) at Robert Stam’s Brazilian cinema class at NYU. We as Latin Americans (she being Colombian, myself Mexican) realized how little we knew about the larger history of the cinema of the region beyond the obvious references (i.e. Cinema Novo, the Mexican melodramas, post-revolution Cuban cinema, etc.). Back then –and it wasn’t that long ago, there were practically no outlets for Latin American films in the city and very few directors had access to the country’s most respectable film festivals. So with those two ideas in mind we started discussing ways in which we could help change those contexts, and timing ended up playing an important role for the genesis of the project. The second event we organized as Cinema Tropical was the NY premiere of Amores Perros with the presence of the then unknown Alejandro González Iñárritu and Gael García Bernal, that film ended up being the one that opened the interest for Latin American cinema in the US.
Rodrigo: It seems that Cinema Tropical has worked on several fronts in these last nine years: from curating film series to facilitating debates, making films available in the educational markets and even, bringing films to NY that would otherwise remain unknown to the American public. But can you give us a more detailed experience of how Cinema Tropical has affected the distribution of Latin American cinema in the United States? What are some of the particular interventions that you think, have caused the most positive effects?
Carlos: Looking back in retrospective, one of the strengths of CT has been the ability of working in different capacities (as theatrical/non-theatrical distributors, film programmers, advocates, publicists and marketers, among other roles.) This in turn has allowed us to see the larger scope of our endeavor, realizing all of the issues pertaining the promotion of Latin American cinema and in this sense working strategically in order to improve things all across the board. In these few years, CT became the largest theatrical distributor of Latin American cinema having released 16 films, which of course has had some impact in the life of these films –or at least we hope so. On a daily basis it’s hard to asses the impact of our work as it’s been a very empirical and in most of the cases working in collaboration with different organizations and people, so in this sense Cinema Tropical has been totally a team effort, a communal project. The exhibition of Latin American cinema in the US has grown a lot in the past few years (it’s still far from perfect though), I think CT can claim some credit for it.
Rodrigo: What I find particularly impressive about Cinema Tropical is the fact that it managed to work both on audience development and on the curatorial side of Latin American film distribution. And in the last years, we've seen Cinema Tropical develop a number of film series with MoMA, BAM and the Lincoln Center, while continuing to expand its ability to communicate with Latino and Latin American audiences in NYC. Do you believe that there's a irrefutable connection between these two sides? That audiences don't develop and grow unless there's a consistent and mutual relationship between curators and the public?
Carlos:This relates to the previous answer in the capacity of CT in acting in different roles. In this sense, we see a pressing need to rethink the traditional categorizations and create new and more accurate paradigms for the context for our work. For example, the typical dichotomy of film as art vs. commerce has a tremendous impact in how the work gets categorized and seen. However it is a very obsolete categorization as most of the film production (at least in Latin America) falls in between. Yet because the films are spoken in a foreign language automatically they get placed in the context of arthouse cinema which remains largely Eurocentric and with a rigid set of rules. So the challenge is how to engage with the films in a larger scope, contextualizing it using different academic and critical tools and at the same time connecting with different audiences. In many instances I see my job as a interpreter, how to come across the value of the films we show –first to our colleagues and film professionals, then to journalists and writers, and to the audience at large.
Rodrigo: What are some of the areas that you think still need to be worked on in the immediate future? My take is that the number of Latin American films that make to the US market are still pretty low... How do we work towards further introducing subtitled and Latin American films to the US public?
Carlos: Contexts are difficult yet the landscape has greatly improved in the last decade. These days 15 Latin American films or more are getting a theatrical release per year. The fight is to create more diverse filters that can understand the richness of the film production and can help attract a larger audience. Looking back in retrospective ,what we’ve witnessed in Latin American in general and in particular in countries like Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, is unprecedented. It goes beyond me; the current critical platforms are very short-sighted in how to appreciate this impressive body of work. It will be a huge revisiting task to understand the creative explosion of the past 10 years. No one, and I mean no one, ever imagined these cinemas would expand for so many years –and based on the promising work by the younger filmmakers, I think it’s here to stay for a while. I hope the process of revisiting this extraordinary decade in Latin American cinema happens sooner than later.
I think the main battle is, and will be in the next few years, in the validating process. One of the crucial issues is that the recent cinema of Latin America has not been yet fully acknowledged in all of its diversity and richness, and in the few cases it’s been accepted, it’s mostly been for odd reasons (like the cyclical fads for “exotic” cinemas in i.e. Iran, Romania, etc.) The ‘history of world cinema’ has still been one sided, tremendously Eurocentric and hasn’t taken into consideration the vast contribution of non-western cinemas, so I would advocate for a type of democratization of the the history of world cinema. In this sense film programming and audience development becomes crucial, yet I believe film programming is currently in a big crisis. It’s preposterous that in 2010 most of the programs are still focused on the filmmakers (auteurism) or by country/region of production (national cinemas). It’s a very reductive perspective on cinema and for the characteristics of the city I think we deserve more creative and engaging film programming.
Rodrigo: You've recently did a survey of the best Latin American films released in the United States, and the list was dominated by Argentinean art house fare and some select films that received wide distribution by larger studios, showing that the so-called gatekeepers are successfully shaping up a dominant (some would call it mainstream) idea of what Latin American is. But as you know maybe better than anyone in New York City, Latin American audiovisual production is incredibly diverse. Do you think it's important to try to introduce other sides of Latin American film production?
Carlos: Indeed, one of the strongest aspects of current Latin American film production lays on its diversity and actually I think the top ten list was fairly diverse. The fact that in the same list there were more ‘arthouse fares’ such as Reygadas or Martel’s work along with more ‘mainstream’ work along the lines of Y tu mamá también and City of God talks about that diversity in the current production of Latin American cinema which is very healthy. Sure, there’s much more diversity than that, and we need to work harder in showcasing those different narrative trends from the cinema in the region, but compared to other similar best of decade lists I think it’s as diverse as possible.
Rodrigo: There has been a lot of talk about how the internet and the VOD market is changing film distribution in all areas - even in the blockbuster arena. Can Latin American cinema use this moment of change and use new technology to increase its audience in the United States? In your opinion, what are some of the pros and cons of this change in the paradigm of film distribution? Are you afraid that the new media would be even less inclusive of some non-English speaking works?
Carlos: I actually think distribution is becoming less and less the issue. I can tell you about numerous films that are totally at hand through the current distribution platforms but that the audience at large (or at least an audience that could be interested on the work) doesn’t know it. If we don’t create value for all of the great content that we’re working with it won’t matter if the films are easily available for screening, downloading, renting, streaming or whatever the outlet is. Creating visibility and value for the films that are already available is a titanic endeavor yet more pressing than trying to create new distribution platforms. Until we unknot this tie any technological debate I think is futile.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Blog written by Rodrigo Brandao, director of publicity, Kino International
Soldanela Rivera was born in Puerto Rico. Moving to New York in 1990, she attended Sarah Lawrence College, receiving a BFA with a concentration in dance, and in 2005 received an M.A. in arts administration from Columbia University.
In addition to her performance and research experience, Soldanela has worked extensively in production and marketing in the Latin music industry. For 15 years, she and partner Blanca Lasalle, founder of Creativelink, was responsible for publicizing a broad roster of clients, including corporations, non-profit organizations, and well-known figures in Latin music.
Soldanela was recently hired to oversee the new Hispanic Division for Falco Ink ( http://www.falcoink.com/aboutus.html ) and is preparing to launch Alquimia Films, an initiative sponsored by the Puerto Rico Film Commission and founded by Roberto Busó-García, that will focus on seeking Puerto Rican screenwriters in the United States and beyond.
In this exclusive interview for Latin American Spaces, Soldanela talks about the challenges and future of Latin American and Latino film distribution (and marketing) in the United States.
RB: In recent years, we’ve seen a drastic reduction of press coverage, at least in the printed media, for foreign cinema. Film critics have lost their jobs, art sections were either closed or greatly reduced, and writers are now being asked to write shorter and more celebrity-based stories. Is the Latin media going through a similar shift? Would you say that in comparison, the so-called Latin/Latino media is more or less attentive to Latin American cinema?
SR: At certain times, the Latino media is more or less attentive to Latino cinema, and less so towards Latin American cinema. It depends on what the "mainstream" festivals are highlighting - because unfortunately, Latino/Spanish outlets follow what the mainstream is highlighting in relation to our films and filmmakers. But in general, I get a sense that the Latino press is beginning to be more attentive towards Latino cinema in the United States, at least in New York - I really feel that. It's harder to get editorial in magazines than in newspapers and television, I think mainly because they have the biggest pressure to sell their magazines and celebs are the bait. But to be a bit cynical and go into a tangent, who makes a celebrity a celebrity or a film star a film star? The great thing that is happening is that Latino Film festivals are popping everywhere and that just builds the Latino film industry, forcing the local press to go and cover them. So the attentiveness or awareness is slowly building, slowly picking up.
RB: What are some of the toughest challenges in terms of promoting cinema to readers of Latin media in the US? Can you talk of a unified Latino audience or is this still a widely diversified and fragmented audience, with very different class backgrounds and cultural interests?
SR: It is still very much a widely diversified and fragmented audience, with different classes and language backgrounds. I think the language and education differences widen the challenges to develop audiences for Latino films more than cultural interests because a marketing and publicity effort has to be targeted at different levels, it doesn't work to go at marketing and publicizing a film in the same way that the Hollywood standard has established. Not because its wrong or bad, it's just there are a lot of niches and pockets and Latino film audiences haven't been developed or cultivated at a grass roots level, so there's a gap in the way films are getting to their target audience. The message is fragmented on the whole. Promotion efforts are going after the "making-it-big" story without having reached a core audience, face-to-face. It's hard because I am not saying that the standard is bad or wrong at all, it is there, and it works, and it is our guide, but the Latino demographic has changed dramatically in the last 20 years and I do think the moment to re-think how we are reaching our audience is incredibly important. It's a time to take risks and that is scary place to be for most people. Above all this is the fact that Latino films and Latin American films have come in and out, nothing consistent and have been placed into many categories (i.e. art house, foreign, Mexican, etc). Now we have more consistency and that is why I think about risking and opening ourselves to rethinking how to market, publicize and distribute these films. Using the standard as a guide, but looking outside the box for other possibilities.
RB: How did you get interested in working on the field? Do you consider yourself more of a film connoisseur or a publicist?
SR: As far as film is concerned I consider myself a film lover first. I am not a film connoisseur, although I've seen a lot of films. But I would say as they say in English about a "well read person," that "I'm a well read film person." I got involved in Latino film publicity a few years back when I, my friend Mariem Perez, and her husband Carlos Ruiz, were traveling the festival circuit with their first film Maldeamores. When that happened all around me friends were doing films and I started to work and then, Blanca got the El Cantante film and I was brought in to be part of her team and it was a great experience. I was hooked! I really love that we have so many Latino filmmakers and artists and crews willing and committed to creating films.
RB: The total population of Hispanic and Latino Americans comprised 46.9 million or 15.4% of the national total in 2008, and yet, Spanish-speaking films, or films mainly dealing with issues related to the Latino population, are still rare and mostly delegated to the art house circuit? Why is that? Is this mostly a problem related to the availability of films?
SR: I think this relates to what I was saying before about re thinking how to market, publicize and distribute Latino films at this time in our history. Right now is a new time for the Latino/Latin American demographic so, that is one reason. And sure, availability also has an impact: because it hasn't been consistent. I also think the more Latino press supports our filmmakers the more chances Latino and Latin American films have a chance to generate an independent industry (for lack of a better term), where we can celebrate our own filmmakers and actors outside the standard, and not limit our film celebrities to the Latino celebrities that are in Hollywood. And I am not saying that Latino Hollywood celebrities is a bad thing at all, I am saying we can have great talent that just needs to be supported by our own people.
RB: Would you say that the Latino/Latin population in the United States is underserved as far as audiovisual products go?
SR: I think this is more of an issue of representation on mainstream TV and film sure... The Latino film industry in the United States is growing now more than ever before, so it is new ground.
RB: And if so, how do you think we can slowly change this picture and develop audiences for these films?
SR: This is the conversation we are beginning to have right now Rodrigo about thinking outside the box.
RB: I think you and I agree that the films exist... They just have a hard time getting to the public. Do you agree with that?
SR: Yes I do, there are less platforms and opportunities for our filmmakers. Do we need traditional film houses to open films? Do films need to open in big cities? Is opening in a big city the only reason a film should get reviewed or the only way to present Latino/latin American film? Where are we choosing to take these films? Should we be going to schools, community enclaves or local theaters before movie houses?
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Blog written by Rodrigo Brandao, director of publicity, Kino International
While thousands of cheerful Brazilians celebrated the historical selection of Rio de Janeiro as the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games, many in Chicago, Illinois (USA), were relieved to have the losing bid.
More than 18 months before The International Olympic Committee selected Brazil’s postcard metropolis over other three finalists (i.e. Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo), Chicago residents were already organizing (together with leftists organizations and progressive urban planning institutions) to fight against the Olympic fever -- and protect the housing rights of low-income dwellers threatened by the city’s Olympic ambitions.
“I am afraid that if the city wins their Olympic bid, it would displace many of us poor, Black folks,” said Cathy Weatherspoon, 88, in an a article that appeared on the New America Media website (www.newamericamedia.org) on June 7, 2008. She continues: “My building is three blocks from the Olympic Village site, and I can’t see the city spending all that money to build the darn thing knowing that welfare folks live a few blocks away.”
Weatherspoon’s fears aren’t unfounded, of course.
A year before, in June of 2007, the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), a U.N.-funded agency, released a report confirming what many have long feared: that the Olympic Games is one of the world’s top causes of displacements and real-estate inflation around the word.
The report, titled “Fair Play for Housing Rights: Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights,” revealed that gentrification and soaring real-estate prices linked to the Olympic games have displaced more than 2 million people in the last 20 years.
And while a great number of these forced evictions happened in Seoul, South Korea, and in Beijing, China, low income African Americans were also strongly affected by the 1996 Olympics.
Almost 300-pages long, this respected study has identified key housing issues that result from the staging of Olympic Games. Here are some of them, in a direct quote from the document (the document is available for download at the end of the article; page 196):
It goes without saying that Olympic Games represent a unique chance for Brazil and Cariocas (i.e. Rio’s dwellers) to improve their city as well as their standing among the international community. Brazil is by large, open to both foreign cultures and markets, and this event could be an opportunity for the world to strengthen its connection with South America’s largest nation.
Yet, it is important to point out that Rio de Janeiro has a history of class and racial discrimination that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, and the preparations for the Olympic Games can not exacerbate this problem.
Now more than ever, it is important that NGOs, community organizers, artists, politicians, architects, and engaged citizens attempt a radical re-thinking of the city’s infrastructure, which is still divisive and discriminatory. Historically, poor people have been renegaded to less desirable locations, and the famous favelas in Rio de Janeiro are, in fact, the direct result of large populations being displaced from other parts of the city -- and even, from other parts of the country.
As such, it is crucial that Rio officials and politicians go against this trend and turn the preparations for the Olympic Games into a rare moment of positive state intervention into public spaces (both in the Favelas and in the “asphalt”). This is a chance for the state to redeem itself, and to establish a different relationship with a new generation of Brazilians which will inhabit the streets of Rio in the decades to come. This is also a chance for the state to ask for forgiviness from its citizens -- forgiveness for decades of exploitative behavior towards its own people.
The budget for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is set at approximately $14.4 billion, and there’s little doubt that such massive investment in the city can help its habitants live much more fulfilling lives. But for such a revolution to take place, the Olympic Games has to be seen as an opportunity to re-think the city’s structures and core principles -- and not as an opportunity to cement the city’s discrepancies and alienating prejudices.
Yet, it is important to remember that when Rio de Janeiro hosted the Pan-American Games in 2007, politicians failed to deliver on promises of infrastructure improvements (including building additional highways and cleaning up Guanabara Bay). And after the party was over, there was little to show for, besides a debt that was much higher than the projected $177 million that was initially suggested.
Therefore, it might be a good idea for Brazilians to start working on (and organizing around) ways to make politicians and city officials accountable for the huge responsibilities they fought so hard to inherit.