Documentaries in the Cinelatino Festival

in 25th Toulouse Latin American Film Festival

by Dieter Wieczorek

The Cinelatino Festival offers a documentary competition program consisting of seven works. There are also short documentaries, as well as a large section titled Cinema and Politics, divided into the subsections Dictatorship and Violence of the State, Migration, Media and Power, and Globalization. With all of the films in competition, we find at least one of the main aspects of documentary filmmaking: detailed specific knowledge, an inside look at geopolitical or geographical situations not accessible to regular travelers, the reconstruction of complex political or social realities, or a confrontation with surprising personalities.

Tango No Todo es Rock is the title of an Argentinean-Uruguayan-French coproduction by Jacques Goldstein, who follows the tango in its historical developments, its variations and its attempts at innovation, while giving space to the personal experiences of some master dancers. The tango involves surrendering to one’s partner, but it is strictly limited to three minutes. No other dance form demands such quick reactions to a partner’s improvised movements, and no other dance offers such a clear philosophy about accepting the other’s individuality through the continual exchange of steps. Tango is in itself a melancholy school of life. Love exists in the intensity of the moment; it is made possible by the acceptance of its inevitable and sudden end.

The Argentinean work Looking for the Huemul (Buscando al huemul), by Juan Diego Kantor, features two men who look like adolescents crossing a Patagonian forest in search of the last huemuls: a kind of deer threatened by extinction. In the men’s nightly conversations, memories of fables and myths come up. The indigenous culture is constantly threatened by the intrusion of a homogenous society. Shots of untouched landscapes add a dimension of visual pleasure to this problematic subject.

Drought (Cuates de Australia), by Everardo González, confronts us with the arid, devastated steppes of northern Mexico. The film captures the harsh fight for survival, without playing down the inhabitants’ joy in living, their games and ceremonies and rituals, the laughter of their children. When there is no rain, the group must move on. Animals die and become food for vultures. González frames scenes of this difficult life with depictions of the wilderness and nature.

The Columbian-Bolivian co-production The Eternal Night of Twelve Moons (La eterna noche de las doce lunas) follows a young woman at the beginning of her puberty. Her family asks her to live for one year in isolation, with rare visits from a few selected women. She is forbidden to laugh. The aim of this ritual is to increase her value as a bride, and to generate more bridal gifts for the family. With a strong will and grace, the young woman goes through this year of her life, reduced mainly to knitting. Surprisingly, at the end we discover that she is not naively obedient to her family, but accepts her situation as part of a tradition she believes in. But her last words also make it clear that she will not agree to a forced marriage, and that she looks forward to her studies. From time to time we look inside the isolation cottage via a hidden camera. This film was honored with the main prize in Toulouse, the Prix Documentaire Rencontres de Toulouse.

In the Argentinean-French coproduction El Impenetrable, by Daniele Incalcaterra and Fausta Quattrini, two brothers want to return their land in the forest of Paraguay’s Chaco to the indigenous people, who have been stripped of the land in the past. It quickly becomes evident that this is not a good idea. A powerful soy producer has already installed his equipment on the land to clear the forest. To return the land to the poor indigenous people would effectively mean handing the land to the soy producer. The filmmakers provide a lucid analysis of the mechanisms of globalization, capturing a large number of protagonists including the soy producer, who casts himself as a victim of market prices dictated by the West, which force him to produce cheaper and cheaper goods. He also claims to be part of the fight against world hunger. For the brothers, there is only one solution: to declare their land as a protected cultural reserve and offer it to the state, a long legal process which has already been sabotaged in the past. After some administrative holdups, the case is finally closed with a handshake from the president. This adventurous documentary makes it clear that every square meter of forest counts, if it can be kept outside the reach of a monoculture.

Nature and environmental destruction are also the subject of the Brazilian Ouvir o Rio: Uma Escultura Sonora de Cildo Meireles. Filmmaker Marcela Lordy accompanies sound artist Cildo Meireles during his project to capture the sounds of the main Brazilian rivers, from their sources all the way to the ocean. We follow cascades, surfs and various constructions which use water. Meireles counterpoints the sounds of water with those of human laughter. The Portuguese language produces a kind of river-laughter via a palindromic effect. This road movie and documentary shows some adventurous ways to capture sound. Although planned purely as an aesthetic project, the work ends up turning a critical eye on the ecological disasters of damaged landscapes and rivers.

Rubén Guzmán’s Civilisation (Civilización) retraces the life of artist León Ferraris, for whom the Vietnam War was a key experience, transforming his aesthetic-based art into subversive statements about military intervention, Christianity and sexuality. One much-discussed work combines the image of Jesus on the crucifix with that of a military bomber. Ferraris’ exhibitions are often scandalous and threatened with closure. The Argentinian cardinal and now Pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio authorizes a declaration in all churches, in which he advises against viewing the artist’s work. This causes recognition of Ferraris’ work to spread. Civilisation is based on the subject’s memories and reflections, and is enriched by archival materials. The artist refers to his work as political, and to himself as a corrosive critic.

Edited by Lesley Chow