The Turning Sky over Buenos Aires By José Carlos Avellar

in 7th Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema

by José Carlos Avellar

First of all, before any other comments, we must say that this year the Buenos Aires Festival was usual “privileged space to boost the new Argentinian cinema”, from the point of view of an international guest, and, from the point of view of the Argentinian audience, “a way of gaining access to a world cinema which does not arrive through the traditional means” – as pointed out by Fernando Peña, the new artistic director of the Bafici, in the opening pages of the wide open catalogue of the festival, which includes an International, an Argentinian and a Short Film Competition, a World Panorama and a series of retrospectives and homages, among them Albert and David Maysles, Andreas Kleinert, Chantal Ackerman and Robert Frank.

In brief, the 2005 Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente was a continuation of a line established in its very first edition. Those “commanding principles” used year after year as a basis to organize the program are there: to have a program structure “free to be modified according to what was suggested by the year’s film production”. And exactly the fidelity to its tradition established seven years ago made it possible for the same festival to come with a new face. The same, but a new one: “this year it was made clear that documentaries are progressively occupying a more prominent space in the world’s film production”. So, a change “in the historical norms of the festival to incorporate documentaries in the International Competition, which, until now, had only been for fictional films”, said Peña. A change, and a very significant one, a quick answer to a creative turning point in Latin American Cinema now. If documentaries are occupying a prominent space in world cinema they are much more prominent in Latin America Cinema at the moment.

And so, the many good documentaries produced in 2004/2005 were included in this year’s Bafici program; we can mention: from Brazil, Justiça / Justice by Maria Augusta Ramos, Peões / Workers by Eduardo Coutinho. From Mexico, Toro negro / Black Bull by Pedro González Rubio and Carlos Armella and Relatos desde el enciero / Prison Conversations by Guadalupe Miranda. And from Argentina, Meykinof by Carmen Guarini, Cándido López, los campos de batalha / Cándido López, the battle fields by José Luis García, Fasinpat, fábrica sin patrón / Fasinpat, the Bossless factory by Daniele Incalterra and Los de Saladillo , by Alberto Yaccelini.

Well, yes, documentaries are not a new thing in the film production of Latin American countries. All the new cinema since the 60s resulted from a dialogue between fiction and documentary. Some documentary editing, shooting and narrative practices were used as a starting point to create new fiction in the cinema – at the same time, documentaries took some working methods from fiction films. Nothing very unusual – the same happens in modern cinema in general – but the tradition is stronger in Latin American cinema where almost all the films are based on true stories.

Well, yes, fiction films were also alive and well in the 7th Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival. Sometimes trying a dialogue with television and videoclips as a way of reinventing storytelling (for example: the story of Koreans in Buenos Aires, Do U Cry 4 me Argentina? by Bae Youn Suk, and the story of Jews in Argentina, Judios en el espacio / Jews in Space by Gabriel Lichtmann). Sometimes proposing some solid dramatic constructions, some light and amiable ones, some highly stylized ones. With the risk of imprecise information that such reduction may present, we could maybe give as an example the Danish Lad de små børn (Aftermath), by Paprika Steen, and the Argentinian Hermanas / Sisters by Julia Solomonoff; of the light ones the Chinese Lü cao di (Mongolian Ping Pong) by Ning Hao and (maybe the best fiction in the International Competition) the Mexican Temporada de patos (Duck Season) by Fernando Eimbcke; and of the stylized narrative, the Argentinian Monocloc, by Luis Ortega, and the Russian 4 by Ilya Khrzhanovsky. Yes, fiction was there. There is not exactly a crisis in fiction but perhaps it is a better moment in documentary film production around the world.

No doubt, the best films in Buenos Aires were the documentaries. The best of all was El cielo gira (The Sky turns), made in a small Spanish village, Aldeaseñor, where only fourteen people are still there and the film maker, Mercedes Alvarez, was the last person born there. Coming back to the village she left with the family when three years old, she looks at people and landscapes, at the mist around the streets and the clouds in the sky, the old abandoned castle being prepared to be transformed into a tourist hotel and the time passing by, with an eye as delicate as the one of the painter Pello Azketa (also born in Villaseñor) who is becoming blind and painting his last works from memory, almost without seeing even the canvas, remembering things he once saw in the village.

In the same direction as a documentary where the way of seeing is more important than the things we see, where the way of documenting reality is the real document, the true reality the film shows us, following in the same steps of this Spanish documentary were two films giving a rich picture of Argentinian cinema and society nowadays: Meykinof by Carmen Guarini and The ones from Salladillo by Alberto Yaccelini, both films about films. Guarini’s film is about the shooting of Ronda noturna / Nocturne Watch by Edgardo Cozarinski. The Yaccelini deals with the local, spontaneous, popular, amateurish video production for cinema and television in the city of Saladillo, in Buenos Aires province, during the worst moments of the economic crisis – from 2003 till the last 2004 elections.

Guarini, producing not exactly a making of but something that could sound like one (a meykinof), an open document of the shooting of Night Watch by Cozarinski, proposes a reflection around the idea and practices of documentary and fiction in film making, a reflection about how we can see and think reality through the cinema.

In a certain way Yaccelini does the same in The ones from Saladillo, following the work of Julio Midu and Fabio Junco. Showing how they produce and show films in Saladillo (first in the old and abandoned movie theater of the city and then on local television) with the direct participation of men and women, young and old workers fighting to overcome daily problems, the film proposes a picture of how the people react to the hopeless situation in which they are through the cinema: making something in a moment where apparently nothing was possible.

Side by side, Guarini’s and Yaccelini’s films make stronger a feeling we received most of the time from Argentinian film production in the last years: the most important is not the special quality of two or three films. They are there, yes. But more important is the movement, the existence of all the films together, the fact that cinema there has become almost a language of direct communication (something like an Argentinian Spanish dialect) to discuss the changing sky over Buenos Aires.