23rd Mar Del Plata International Film Festival
Argentina, November 6 - November 16 2008
23rd Mar del Plata International Film Festival. Founded in 1954, reborn in 1996, and always in search of an identity, Mar del Plata is the only “A” Latin American festival in the (increasingly less relevant) FIAPF denomination. In the past, this distinction meant that films in the festival’s international competition had to be international premieres. The restriction proved toxic for the lineup, and in recent years, was tweaked so that the only films banned were those that had been already in competition in other “A” festivals. But this year, the winner, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Still Walking (Aruitemo Aruitemo), was also a candidate for the main prize in San Sebastian.
To speak of more important matters, the 2008 edition was probably the biggest ever in terms of film shown — around 500 entries, 261 of them feature-length. The growth in the program was a consequence of a changing of the guard. The festival has a new date (November, instead of March) and a new president, José Martínez Suárez — an 80-year-old veteran filmmaker whose motto is “a festival is like an ice-cream parlor. There should be a flavor for every taste”. Under Martínez Suárez, the post of artistic director was re-created, and Fernando Martín Peña was appointed to the job after three years heading the Bafici in Buenos Aires. (Also, the team of programmers responsible for upgrading the quality of the festival over the last few years kept their jobs.) The result was a huge mixture of old and new films, national and international, avant-garde and popular, fiction and documentary, short and feature. Films by Albert Serra and Kiyoshi Kurosawa made the international competition, and there were sections devoted to Jean-Claude Rousseau and Michaela Pavlatova along those dedicated to Jean-Pierre Melville, Polish filmmakers and ancient Argentine comedians, which included many free screenings. The festival held three official competitions: International, Latin American and Argentinean. Fourteen Argentine films in different formats (mainly digital) were competing for those trophies (some of them accompanied by a cash prize, or credit towards striking a 35mm print); twelve of them were world premieres.
In all, a very big festival in an easy, friendly city by the sea, with an audience composed mainly of senior citizens. The major drawback of Mar del Plata was, as usual, the poor quality of projection at the city’s ill-equipped theaters. The FIPRESCI jury was well-lodged and hosted — and surprisingly, when our task was finished we received a retroactive per-diem of 50 pesos (around 15 US dollars) a day. (Quintín)