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?