Films of Latin America

Created on : October 23, 2023 09:12 | Last updated on : January 17, 2024 16:27


Despite the internal differences among the indie filmmakers, they shared a common objective, at least as an ideal: not to replace a colonizing ideology for a homogeneous and massive culture, but to create an active spectator who could think for him/herself.


Latin American cinema refers collectively to the film output and the film industry of Latin America. Latin American film is both rich and diverse, but the main centers of production have been Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Latin American cinema flourished after the introduction of sound, which added a linguistic barrier to the export of Hollywood films south of the border.

Cinema has played an important role in the representation and diffusion of culture throughout the Americas since its arrival at the turn of the nineteenth century. Latin American Filmmakers have utilized the silver screen for a variety of purposes, from propaganda to entertainment to raising social consciousness. As in other areas of American life, Africans and their descendants have played significant roles in the development of the cinematic tradition in Latin America and the Caribbean. They have made important contributions as Latin American scriptwriters, producers, editors, directors, researchers, and actors despite discriminatory practices that limited their access and opportunities. At the same time, however, weak Latin American and Caribbean economies have provided few opportunities for Latin filmmakers of all ethnicities.

Despite these obstacles, Brazil and Cuba, two countries with significant black populations, have produced scores of feature films in Latin America that have garnered national and international praise. In addition, experimental filmmakers and documentary filmmakers in Latin America have made several important works that speak to national and local experiences.

Unfortunately, even high-quality Latin American films cannot attract the audiences that the highly advertised Hollywood blockbuster films often do. Nor has Latin America or the Caribbean developed internationally influential directors. This has little to do with talent and much to do with language barriers, access to global communication systems, and limited publicity.

An assessment of Latin film production in three broad geocultural divisions—Brazil; the Caribbean Basin; and Mexico and Spanish South and Central America—will help one understand the varied experience of the people of the African diaspora in film. Shaped by international and national social, political, and aesthetic trends, the cinema of Latin America has nonetheless contributed to pan-African consciousness. Indeed, feature films and documentaries of Latin America about black culture and history have also played an important role in raising the awareness of the impact of the African diaspora throughout the Americas.


Origin of Latin American Films

The origins of early Latin filmmaking are generally associated with Salvador Toscano Barragán. In 1898 Toscano made Mexico's second film with a plot, titled Don Juan Tenorio. During the Mexican Revolution, Toscano recorded several clips of the battles, which would become a full-length documentary film in 1950, assembled by his daughter. Other short films were either created or influenced by French filmmakers. Mexican movies from the Golden Era in the 1940s and 1950s are significant examples of Latin American cinema. Mexican movies were exported and exhibited in all of Latin America and Europe. The film Maria Candelaria (1944) by Emilio Fernández, won the Grand Prix in Cannes Film Festival in 1946. Famous actors and actresses of America from this period include María Félix, Pedro Infante, Dolores del Río, Jorge Negrete and comedian Cantinflas.

The Cinema Novo movement in Brazil created a particular way of making movies with critical and intellectual screenplays, a clearer photography related to the light of the outdoors in a tropical landscape, and a political message. The film The Given Word / Keeper of Promises (1962) by Anselmo Duarte, won the Palme d'Or at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first Brazilian film to achieve that feat. A year later, it also became the first Brazilian and South American filmnominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Director Glauber Rocha was the key figure of the Brazilian Cinema Novo movement, famous for his trilogy of political films: Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol, Terra em Transe (1967) and O Dragão da Maldade Contra o Santo Guerreiro (1969), for which he won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Cuban cinema has enjoyed much official support since the Cuban revolution, and important filmmakers include Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. In Argentina, after a series of military governments that shackled culture in general, the industry re-emerged after the 1976–1983 military dictatorship to produce The Official Story in 1985, becoming the first of only three Latin American movies to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

A new style of directing and stories filmed has been tagged as "New Latin American Cinema," although this label was also used in the 1960s and 1970s.

In Mexico, movies such as Como agua para Chocolate (1992), Cronos (1993), Amores perros (2000), Y tu mamá también (2001), Pan's Labyrinth (2006) and Babel (2006) have been successful in creating universal stories about contemporary subjects, and were internationally recognised, as in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Mexican directors Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón(Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter Guillermo Arriagahave gone on to Hollywood success, with Cuaron and González Iñárritu becoming the only Latin Americans to win both the Academy Award and the Directors Guild of America award for Best Director.

The economic crisis affected the production of Argentine films in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but many Argentine movies produced during those years were internationally acclaimed, including El abrazo partido (2004), Roma (2004) and Nueve reinas (2000), which was the basis for the 2004 American remake Criminal.

Contemporary Latin American Cinema

The modern Brazilian film industry has become more profitable inside the country, and some of its productions have received prizes and recognition in Europe and the United States. Movies like Central Station (1998), City of God (2002) and Elite Squad (2007) have fans around the world, and its directors Walter Salles, Fernando Meirelles and José Padilha, have taken part in American films and European films.

There is a movement in the US geared towards promoting and exposing audiences to Latin American filmmakers.

In Latin America, there has been renewed interest in animation ever since the late 2010s Ventana Sur's Animation! and Mexico's Pixelatl festivals have inaugurated the creative potential of animators to an international level. Two of Latin America's biggest animation companies are Mexico’ Ánima Estudios and Brazil's TV Pinguim. Together with the other animation houses in Latin America, they are bringing forth stories depicting the exotic locations of South America, the indigenous myths and legends, and universal themes that has the potential to have worldwide appeal. In 2017 alone more than 100 feature-length animated films were currently worked on in Central and South America. Financial backing is the only factor that holds back the Latin American animation industry such as those in Peru.

One of the most notable differences between the New Cinema in Latin America and other “new cinema” movements around the world was the particular relation between avant-garde films and industry the former movement affirmed. While in European cinema, the avant-garde cinema involved the radical negation of any type of industry in defense of independent cinema, in Brazil, and most generally in Latin America, the avant-garde was only possible with a transformation rather than a negation of the industry. According to the New Latin American filmmakers the core of the new film industry was the collective character of the films that implied the breakdown of the traditional division between the independent filmmaker behind the camera and the masses in front of it.

Despite the internal differences among the indie filmmakers, they shared a common objective, at least as an ideal: not to replace a colonizing ideology for a homogeneous and massive culture, but to create an active spectator who could think for him/herself.

It is common today to hear expressions like “post-utopia” and “post-communist art” to define an era in which artists seem to overcome the “idealistic” perspectives of the artistic creation from the 1910s until the 1970s. Movements like the New Latin American Cinema, among others, are perceived today almost as impossible political dreams that failed in implementing a new reality. Although Marx and Engels made an explicit critique of utopian socialism trying to give socialism a scientific basis, terms like communism are associated today with an unattainable idealization of social organization. If one judges projects like the New Latin American Movies from the perspective of the empirical results it would be easy to classify it as a utopia that showed its limitations during the second half of the twentieth century.

Filmmakers like Fernando Solanas, Fernando Birry, and Patricio Guzmán continue making movies, it is quite difficult to access them if one does not live in the country where they were produced. If the New Latin American Cinema “failed” as a cultural project, it was even more unsuccessful as a social plan.

If we go through the project of the New Latin American Cinema as a future-oriented plan, as the promise of a new period in which the social conditions of Latin America will change, it would be possible to affirm its utopian character. However, we think although their multiple attempts at the identification of arts and political practices, there will always be an irreducible difference. Cinema keeps an autonomy that allows it to be art and not simply a pamphlet used in the political struggle.


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