The New Equator

in 27th Guadalajara International Film Festival

by José Romero

The newest edition of the Guadalajara International Film Festival focused on the new faces and stories of the small South American country of Ecuador. Even if its film industry is not up to par with those of Argentina or Brazil, this small sample shows that there are a handful of young Ecuadorian directors dealing with topics relevant to the country’s current reality, one which needs to be widespread and discussed. Ecuador’s cinema is already on an identifiable path, an identity and voice which is already being felt in regional film festivals. One important aspect of this industry is the San Antonio de los Baños School in Cuba, where most directors learned their craft, while others spent time in the United States or Europe. This has given them a different, more international outlook which allows for emotional filmmaking and transcends boundaries.

Eight films, both fiction and documentary, were shown during the festival. We’ll highlight the most interesting ones:

Grandparents (Abuelos): This debuting director is a talent to watch. The film digs into family memories and ancestral memories of which we don’t know much. The director Carla Valencia Dávila follows a frequent theme of recent documentaries: family investigations, á la Shakespeare and Victor Hugo’s Intimacies. Here she’s after the memory of her grandparents: on one side is her Chilean grandfather, Juan Dávila, a Communist activist and member of Salvador Allende’s political party. A compromised man who, after Pinochet’s coup in 1973, was captured and sent to a clandestine concentration camp, where he was shot by firing squad and buried in a mass grave. The other story is of her Ecuadorian grandparent, Remo Dávila, a doctor specializing in alternative medicine, with which he was able to save many lives, including his own. He dedicated his life to helping others and also sought the secret of inmortality. The film starts with offscreen narration, photographs of the grandparents and testimony from Davila’s parents. There is a warm and tender dialogue between them, contrasted with harsh images such as views of mass graves. Valencia Dávila touches on the duality of human existence, life and death, beauty and cruelty; and on this she bases her family history. Images of Chile and Ecuador run in parallel, and the director’s own voice adds the emotional heft of reading a long-lost family journal. The director also contrasts the arid Chilean desert with Ecuador’s exuberant vegetation; water and dry land are part of the same portrait, of a family tree which housed two apparently opposite individuals.

In The Name of the Daughter (En el Nombre de la Hija): 2006 gave us one of the best debut films from this side of the continent: How Much Further (Qué tan lejos). Typical of these parts, the sophomore effort from Tania Hermida took years to get off the ground, until our wish to see more of her work came true. In The Name of The Daughter, written by Hermida herself, is set in 1976 in the Ecuadorian Andes. Nine-year-old Manuela and her younger brother Camilo are vacationing at their grandparents’ hacienda. It’s about a girl’s struggle to uphold her father’s name, against her grandmother’s wishes to call her Dolores, a name which has stayed in the family for generations.

This rebelliousness is in defense of the ideals of an absent father, and in this way, Hermida’s film has a clear anti-conservatism, anti-dogma slant, especially in regards to nearlyfeudalistic ideologies that held court over haciendas in the 1970s. These polarizing political views coming from young children might sound unbelievable to some audience members, but it’s pretty close to children’s fables we are familiar with, since it reflects on recent Ecuadorian history and also works as a genteel comedy.

Anytime Soon (Esas no son Penas): This movie was made in 2007, and it tells of the reunion of five female friends from Quito, who haven’t seen each other in 14 years. Behind the comforting setting lies a telling portrait of the middle class and Ecuadorian women. Despite some forced moments, the directors Anahí Hoeneisen and Daniel Andrade efforts to present an option different from what is regularly shown in multiplexes is commendable. It’s an intimate story, much more frequent and painful than we’d like to admit.

Ratas, Ratones y Rateros and Fisherman (Pescador): It was interesting to see Sebastian Cordero’s debut film and his most recent one in the same event. The latter was selected to compete in the category of Iberoamerican Fiction Film. It has been 12 years since Ratas, Ratones y Raterosand, three films in, a style begins to emerge. His stories are very humane, with characters about to be betrayed by their own conscience; they have an unclassifiable emotional complexity, which makes the stories wholly unpredictable. His latest film is a look back, a tribute to the film which put him on the international map, but it is not his best work. Fisherman is a road movie, based on the true story of an Ecuadorian fishing town where a boat is stranded on shore, with a large amount of cocaine hidden under its floorboards. The townspeople distribute it amongst themselves (all this happens during the opening credits) and we follow one of them, Blanquito. He’s a thirtysomething fisherman who still lives with his mother, who wants to turn his life around and escape. We follow him on a journey through Ecuador selling dope, an experience that will redefine his life and provoke a loss of innocence by entering an unknown, ruthless world that will teach him he’s not ready to play in the big leagues of urban life. Cordero paints an accurate portrait of modern day Ecuador, in geographical and emotional terms; it’s as sad, absurd and hopeful as this fisherman’s adventure.