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A Festival of worldwide exposure.

The VI Americas Film Festival lends credence to the dictum that cinema is very much alive and a force to be reckoned with in our Hemisphere. Most of the films in this year's Festival are not blockbuster money makers, but they offer an immense compensation. They are frequently offbeat and always intriguing. With over 24 works, the Festival brings out the marked contrasts of the countries represented, reflecting the vision of its founder and president of the Americas Film Foundation, Glaucia Baena Soares. "The Festival is a celebration of the peoples of the Americas, the sharing of concerns and commonalities, and the honoring of our cultural diversity," remarks Mrs. Baena Soares.

The common denominator is the extraordinarily fine caliber of the selection this year. Although the festival is a serious and scholarly forum, lively surprises abound with movies that one is not likely to find at the neighborhood cinema. Screenings in Washington, D.C., are from October 8 to 18 at both the American Film Institute Theater and the Biograph, after which the Festival travels to The Eleven Thousand Sunset Boulevard Cinema Complex in Los Angeles, California, for a repeat performance October 22 to 29.

Inaugurating the festival is the much awaited Spanish hit "El rey pasmado" (The Dumfounded King), winner of the prestigious Goya Prize in 1992. Director Imanol Uribe, is one of the many filmmakers who honor the festival with their presence this year. The film tells a story about the 20-year-old King Felipe IV of Spain, who becomes obsessed after seeing a nude for the first time in his life. His erotic desires clash with the interests of the church and the state and the belief at that time that "all women are either whores or witches."

Another hit from that country is Carlos Saura's dazzling cinematic exercise "Sevillanas," which is imbued with his special brand of magic and poetry. THis documentary homage to Flamenco dance is exhilarating both to the eye and to the ear. Saura has concocted a brilliant film symphony, passionately composed through music and dance that could be seen as a companion piece to his much acclaimed "Blood Wedding." "Sevillanas" features some of the luminaries of this unique Andalusian world, such as the legendary Lola Flores--the languorous camera climbs up her dress as if it were a strange sort of abstract landscape that suddenly brims with uncontrolled emotion as the divine Lola goes into her act. Saura, who was honored last year with a special screening of his 1977 "Cria cuervos," is back to talk about his new film.

Several other countries are represented with equally impressive documentaries. Brazil's "Conterraneos velhos de guerra" by Vladimir Carvalho probes the fascinating saga of the construction of that country's capital, Brasilia. Canada offers a comprehensive portrait of a famous dissident that is admirably constructed--"Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media" by Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick. "Bolivia: On the Trail of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" examines the legendary outlaws' foray in that country. Ultimately, it is a breathtaking homage to the beauty of the land and its people. Haiti has also gone the documentary route with a film portrait of African leader Lumumba, "La Mort du Prophet" by Raul Peck. This could justifiably be called "the year of the documentary," since a substantial number of entries are in that category.

Many of the films offer an engaging study of contrasts and parallels when pitted against one another. Argentina's "Un lugar en el mundo" by Adolfo Aristarain delves into several socio-political problems of a rural community The story is a touching flashback of a young man's relationship to his parents and others, as a powerful corporation is about to buy up large portions of the land in the vicinity to build a dam, disregarding the needs of the people. Venezuela's "Disparen a matar" by Carlos Azpurua, based on a true story, can be seen as a contrast--the story unfolds in an urban setting that plays an equally important role in the plot. The film probes police corruption and the ethics of journalism, as a mother seeking justice befriends a sympathetic journalist after her son is brutally murdered by the police. Although one film's bucolic landscape is a far cry from the other's hellish cityscape, both are about simple people struggling with their unfair destiny.

Four of the films offer very unusual love stories. The Brazilian "O corpo" by Jose Antonio Garcia is a hilarious black comedy about a three way relationship between a man and two women, whose perfect state of matrimonial bliss is disrupted when a third woman enters the scene. Costa Rica's "La segua" by Antonio Iglesias is about a young woman, the belle of Cartago, who is supposedly a monster and drives men wild when she shows them her horrifying face. She finds a solution to this problem by falling in love with a blind man. Venezuela's "Luna llena" by Ana Cristina Henriquez takes place in a psychiatric hospital and examines the relationship of two inmates, Esperanza and Pedro, who manage to leave the institution and are finally tracked down and taken back in an ambulance, where they passionately embrace. At one point he asks her "How much madness do we need to love truly?" This axiom could apply to the U.S. film, entitled "Walls & Bridges." In this love story, a white nun falls in love with a black artist and leaves the convent to marry him. After a series of tumultuous events, the couple lives happily ever after. Shot mostly in Harlem, this poignant work was directed, produced and written by Nigerian-born Uzo. It is an example of North American independent cinema at its best.

Peru's "Caidos del cielo," by veteran filmmaker Francisco Lombardi, unfolds through three intertwining stories. An old couple spends their time preoccupied with the building of their tomb, while one of their tenants and their former maid live out dramas of desperation. The tenant is a radio star commendator who falls in love with a mysterious suicidal young woman whom he tries to help without much luck. The maid has become blind and lives with her two grandchildren in such squalid conditions that they are forced to search for food in the city garbage dump. The film is a study of the absurdity and futility of the human condition, with underlying tongue-in-cheek commentary.

Chile's "La frontera," a debut for Ricardo Larrain, has won the Silver Bear Award in the Berlin Film Festival, as well as a Goya this year. It is a strong condemnation of the military dictatorship in that country, and yet it is done with such cinematic sophistication that the political content becomes secondary to the strength of its images. A man is banished to Patagonia to live as an exile. In this remote region, he finds love, friendship and magical experiences that transform him.

Canada's "Buster's Bedroom," by Rebecca Horn starts out as a homage to Buster Keaton, as it follows a film student, Micha, who is fascinated by the silent star. Gradually it becomes something else through stunning images and a refreshing sense of cinema of the absurd, as the narrative builds to a frenzied crescendo of nonsensical, yet beautiful audacity. The heroine arrives, as if on a pilgrimage, at Nirvana House, a sanatorium in the California desert, where her idol Keaton stayed following the end of the silent era. She encounters a group of unusual characters. Dr. O'Conner, played by Donald Sutherland, keeps dangerous snakes--he does experiments with venom and holds a theory that great strength can be derived from complete inertia. His patients include an alcoholic, played by Geraldine Chaplin, who is convinced by the doctor to live in a wheelchair; an ex-pianist who pursues his ideal of silent music by destroying his grand pianos; a former actress who collects, in the form of butterflies, the souls of her dead lovers; and a poor man who thinks he is a bee and goes around gathering nectar. The outcome of this cast of souls is an unbridled operatic release.

Some 15 directors will also participate in the Inter-American Film Festival Directors Roundtable in Washington, D.C. to discuss mutual challenges. In addition to Uribe and Saura, these include Adolfo Aristarain ("Un lugar en el mundo") and Jorge Polaco ("Siempre es dificil volver a casa") from Argentina; Rebecca Horn ("Buster's Bedroom") from Canada; Ricardo Lorrain ("La frontera") from Chile, and Sergio Cabrera ("Tecnicas de duelo") from Columbia.

Not all of this year's films are by established directors. "Rice, Beans and Salsa" was made in the Washington, D.C., area by a young Dominican filmmaker, Nelson J. Ginebra. This 23 minute film is a refreshing essay on cultural identity. It depicts a group of 4 young Hispano-American men who get into a heated debate about what it means to be Hispanic, as they savor a Latin meal. This short piece not only demonstrates a talent that will surely flourish, it delivers a relevant statement.

The frequent back-stabbing associated with most festivals where prizes are awarded is fortunately absent here. This is an element that Glaucia Baena Soares consciously strove to avoid, opting instead to create a unique vehicle for talented artists to present works which merit exposure and often have been overlooked in the world of cinema hype. As a result of her vision, the Festival is imbued with the spirit of the "love of filmmaking." The enlightened filmgoer, as well as the simply curious, will agree that this multi-national group of film artists and produces have proven this medium to be the most far-reaching contribution of the century to world culture.
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Title Annotation:The VI Americas Film Festival
Author:Suro, Federico
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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