Filmmaking in Latin America

On Tuesday, I had an opportunity to listen to some of the best contemporary Latin American filmmakers and film advocates at an event that the Si Cuba Festival organizers put together. The organizers invited panelists from different countries of Latin America: Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Chile. The panel discussion was titled: Meet the Industry: A conversation with directors and key industry figures of Latin America. The discussion progressed in both Spanish and English. For those who couldn’t understand Spanish or English, translation was available through headsets.

The panelists were great speakers. In the beginning, they talked about their trials and tribulations as filmmakers and film advocates in Latin America, and they later on discussed their current projects. Finally they touched on what they think will be “the future of cinema”, especially within the context of their region.

There were various topics raised, few among them: the artistic or awareness creation aspect of films; the business side of filmmaking: funding, marketing, advertising, distributing both locally and internationally; the politics of film distribution; the availability of funding or lack thereof; screening films; the role of film festivals in introducing new films and filmmakers; the advent of new media and the future of film: social networking and its effect on filmmakers and their films, the internet age and film; the challenges, opportunities, developments of filmmaking in Latin America; the pull and push factors of Hollywood that Latin American filmmakers have to face regularly … etc.

Among all the panelists that one person who grabbed my attention the most was the film producer from Brazil. His brief talk on the development of Brazilian cinema and the commitment of Brazilian government to the arts in general and to filmmaking in particular made me wanna fly to Brazil right away. I have always enjoyed Brazilian films, but getting to know how these films are made and what support system they have in the background both from the public and the government was not something that I expected I would be lucky enough to hear it directly from an accomplished Brazilian film advocate. The gentleman talked how the Brazilian government makes it so convenient for films to flourish and for filmmakers to rise above the tides both domestically and internationally. He discussed the satellite-based distribution system whereby even the villagers in remote areas, as long as there is a satellite dish in the village, can watch on big screens the latest films released in the capital. He said the government has also a pro-poor system that provides very poor families with affordable or free tickets just like food-stamps so they can go and watch the movies at the theaters near them like everybody else—if this is indeed true, it’s quite impressive.

I got three very important lessons from the panel discussion, two of them regarding financing film projects:

  1. Make your film with a money your market can give you back, i.e., be realistic about your financial limits.
  2. When asking for funding, be aware that whoever gives you money makes or will try to make decisions on your behalf. Your independence is at stake. You may be forced to either compromise your artistic vision or listen to whatever demands your financial backer may have.

The third lesson: be optimistic, always, even during your worst moments.

The moderator of the panel discussion, an English filmmaker, emphasized the importance of new media such as social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube. He stated that filmmakers should take great advantage of these emerging technologies to promote and distribute their films, and to reach out to new audiences or to potential financial backers. He also talked about the importance of owning a website as a filmmaker. He advised the website must be kept fresh, updated frequently, which will then attract more and more visitors. He recommended putting some extracts of new films on YouTube and other similar websites, which can generate a buzz through word of mouth—the cheapest and most effective form of marketing.

Some audience members expressed their fears that cinema, in its organic form (big theaters, big white screens, black background, popcorns, projectors) may die soon because of competition from the digital world: Apple TV, Netflix, iPad, DVD, Blu Ray, etc. But others fired back, stating that cinema will never die regardless of technological advancements. According to them, in fact, it will be sought after way better now than before. All, nonetheless, agreed that filmmakers must consider every available option to make their films known or seen.

After the panel discussion ended cheerfully, I went home, feeling somehow enlightened. I was quite happy I attended it because it reaffirmed my belief that there is so much in common between Africa and Latin America. I hope to see one day a strong South-South cooperation between these two beautiful continents.

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