Online and On the Spot of LATAM film

in CinéLatino – 32nd Rencontres de Toulouse

by Paulo Portugal

In these strange and unexpected times, some festivals have moved fast by switching this year’s edition from physical to online. Paulo Portugal looks at the example of LATAM but, in all its restrictions, still can’t escape the enthusiasm generated by the program. 

These are strange times in which we are living. In just a couple of months the film world has changed in an almost apocalyptical way, placing a cloud of uncertainty on the horizon for which it is not yet possible to foresee the outcome. After the last big international festival gathering that took place in Berlin last February, where the discussion of the ‘corona virus’ spreading was already apparent, we were still far from imagining what was about to come. At the same time arose the possibility of covering the 32nd edition of Cinélatino, in Toulouse, one that made us anxiously anticipate the discovery of new trends in Latin American cinema, while serving as a jury member for FIPRESCI. 

However, we soon realized the pandemic was going to affect deeply the film industry (and the world) while we were all summoned to go into social isolation. In line with government decisions, Cinélatino was forced to cancel one month ahead of its already scheduled 32nd edition. A mandatory reclusion, this also affected the John Cassavetes retrospective already programmed for the Cinémateque de Toulouse. The alternative was to at least deliver the awards of the festival by the jury who was going to see the films online. That would be a first time for a FIPRESCI jury. 

At the same time, it became clear that elsewhere several festivals were also cancelling or postponing editions without any clear idea about the future, while theatres and film productions globally were shut down and questions rose about the reasonable alternatives to follow until the end of this unprecedented crisis as benign contra-virus. 

This was already on our minds when, in our living rooms, we ventured into the natural wonders of the landscapes of LATAM cinema, while gradually unveiling the films selected for the main program competition of Cinélatino. While relaxing on the couch, trying to feel close to a theatrical experience, we could not feel apart from the extreme social and political unrest suffered by several countries of the region. In a way, as if oppression and violence could fuel such a level of imagination, technical expertise and tight budgets, that is what we saw in competition before our friendly discussion via conference call with fellow members of the jury – Xavier-Daniel, Sjoerd van Wick and with coordination from dear Isabelle Danel.

Already in the back of our minds were the deep stories rooted in Chilean colonial domination, translated on screen: from those who have, White on White (Blanco en Blanco); from those who abuse, Some Beasts (Algunas Bestias); to those who don’t have, Permanent Floor (Planta Permamente), or just seek sexual liberty, The Thousand and One (Las Mil Y Una); or just roam on the road, like in the Brazilian film Rolling (Rodantes). We were also dazzled by the potency of the new Mexican cinema, as showcased in a strong presence portraying clever alternatives to a society dominated by drug cartels, No Particular Signs (Sin Señas Particulares), The Dove and the Wolf (La Paloma y el Lobo) or Sanctorum (Santuario), the latter our choice for the main award. By the end we almost felt the urge to do a slow Cumbia dance, like Ulises character in Mexican director Fernando Frias’ second feature I’m No Longer Here (Ya No Estoy Aqui), another film in the Mexican slot.  

Needless to say, that at the moment we write this report, several festivals are still adapting to new strategies in order to maintain an alternative edition to show and share programs developed several months in advance. That would be the case of A-Listers such as Cannes and Venice, but also the likes of Toronto, San Sebastian and Karlovy Vary all will joint in an alternative solution called We Are One, an online event scheduled to be presented in Youtube and made up with films from 20 of the most relevant festivals.

A different path was also taken by Nyon-based doc-fest Visions du Réel, and also Denmark’s huge CPH-DOCS. Even Robert De Niro’s Tribeca fest will host a section with 3D goggles, the Cinema360. Sign of the times? Let’s see how mainstream cinema (and maybe not only) copes with the new streaming wars, with such colossus as HBO Max (the company anchoring stream service is ready to launch May 27), but also Disney +, YouTube TV or even another one called Peacock, ready to dispute a market largely occupied by Netflix that grew with the ideal conditions set by COVID-19.

Aside from all this business narrative (and much less film culture), we might figure out that at this point some of the best films of the year are already stocked somewhere safely in digital files. Hopefully these are all waiting for the end of the actual ‘malware’ in order to open that wonderful vault of creativity and, hopefully, being able to share it in a film festival near a crowd of us film lovers.

Paulo Portugal
Edited by Steven Yates