Thursday, December 17, 2009

Latin America Today - In Film and in Life

OK I’m back from what seems a decade in Latin America. The most notable real life events come from seeing society’s rich and poor working side by side without seeming to be aware of one another. Days are filled with commerce in Buenos Aires and life in the night (outside of the night clubs) is filled with refuse left from the day and scavengers collecting (and eating!) all that is salvageable.

In Cuba, as the Cubans are fond of saying Castro has democratized poverty, the scale seems to have tipped upwards since my last visit in 2003 after which Bush pulled the plug on travel. It is now legal again under general licenses; LAX hosts a weekly charter as do Miami and New York.

Most notable film events in Buenos Aires’ Ventana Sur, a $3,000,000 event (extravaganza?) which I hope will yield enough business for it to be repeated, perhaps not at the cost of junking the Plata Del Mar festival immediately preceding it, next year.

There were quite a few film sales including Ondamax's sales to South Korea. Zona Sur was picked up worldwide by Shoreline and will be showing in Sundance. It was the most stylish and interesting version I have seen of the rich decadents’ being replaced by the indigenous industrious. Last year's Sundance World Cinema selection from Chile, The Maid, was also a Shoreline pick up. Elephant Eye picked it up after Sundance for US and it is still running in theaters. Elephant Eye also picked up international rights to Precious. These are two canny companies to watch. Other pickups from Ventana Sur include TLA Releasing acquiring all UK rights from Wide Management to Enrique Buchichio’s Uruguayan film Leo’s Room and Jose Campusano’s Vile Romance from Argentina.

To return to Ventana Sur, my intellectual favorite was the Brazilian-Czech production Budapest about a ghostwriter being sold by Elo Audiovisual.

Cinando’s Screening Room, a 2 month extension on viewing all the films in the market, is brilliant. A specialist who is interested in music can find jewels among the market pertaining to music -- be it tango, Cuban music, Venezuelan, or Afro-Diaspora. There were six films about Cuba itself, four centering around tango, two about the Mapuche tribes of Indians who are still fighting for their rights in Chile and Argentina (they are the most apparent indigenous people to be successfully fighting off the exploiters of their lands and culture … to this day).

Seeing the young filmmakers in Cuba who work outside of the official ICAIC along with other artists, was inspiring. I came home with three projects I would like to promote: One a superbly animated ($500,000 to animate + post, etc) story of the legendary African gods worshipped in Cuba, Orishas, a modern day parable of a mortal beloved by the goddess Ochun causing the powers of the gods and humans to merge and flow only to separate again. This project should be grabbed by the top African American producers looking for a franchise. The other, Close Up, is a candid look at the marginalized youth in Havana today – from punks to gays to vampires who all hang out on the Paseo. The third project begins with the reissue of the 45 year old classic Nosotros La Musica which defined the soul of the Cuban by its music. The new version of Nosotros La Musica is being planned now. I myself am tempted to use Create Space, Amazon Video On Demand and iTunes to create a series of Cuban films or films on Latin music as a niche annuity in the film and music business, though I think it would be better served by an IFC, HBO or Magnolia who could make the event spectacular and back it up with a steady product flow.

Receiving a DVD of the IDFA competition film Eyes Wide Open (Gonzalo Arijón - winner of the Joris Ivens Award in 2007 for Stranded - and writer Eduardo Galeano - Open Veins of Latin America taking us on a journey through today's Latin America), being sold by Autlook, and being able to watch it among some politically astute Cubans in Havana, and then seeing Oliver Stone’s doc South of the Border on the closing night film in Havana were the high points of the trip. To see the democratic process working in favor of the indigenous people in Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela, Brazil (and the reaction we’re now seeing in Chile’s election and in Honduras’ non-election) was a transformational experience, provoking thoughtfulness and a new perception of world events. The last scene of Oliver Stone’s doc, proposing that perhaps the continuing migration of Latinos from these forward moving countries will influence their actions in the United States to create the changes in social legislation as proposed by Obama himself offers hope for the first time of a United America.

If I could program a double bill of South of the Border to be followed by Eyes Wide Open in every city with a Latin populace in the US, I would have performed my service to the country. Theatrical events, DVD and online marketing and sales, arranged around community discussion groups could rack up money comparable to the Robert Greenwald machine, or perhaps could even be sponsored by the Robert Greenwald machine, or MoveOn.Org…is anybody listening?

My next blog will be how I deal with the culture shock of return to the states. Stay tuned.

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