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The Americas Film Festival.

We now think of film festivals as glamorous marketplaces, but originally they were more like exhibits of paintings in a museum or art gallery. The intention was to let people sample what was newest and most interesting in the film world, with an emphasis on high artistic quality. As the world of film festivals developed after 1945, however, glamor and commerce became the dominant idols of the film world, and the original festival ideal of artistic exhibition went into a more or less permanent eclipse.

But in the 1960s there was a revival of original film festival aims. First, there were film weeks--exhibitions of films that travelled around the globe introducing audiences to the latest productions. The term, derived from the famous Critics Week organized by the Association of French Film Critics, simply describes an exhibition of from eight to fifteen new films, all chosen for their artistic value and for their contribution to our understanding of the cinema as an art form. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico all came to rely upon film weeks as a means of introducing audiences from New Delhi to New Orleans to the best of their films.

At the same time, there was a surge of interest in film festivals on a grander scale, with no buying and selling, and with no prizes. In the late 1970s the largest and most successful of these was the Los Angeles International Film Exposition (FILMEX), which introduced North American audiences to some of the best films from Latin America.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. By the end of the 1970s, festival entities like FILMEX had to cut back, and in many cases, were forced to become more conventional. Film weeks likewise suffered. In Latin America, filmmakers became the victims of their own success. As their films achieved better penetration of foreign markes, there was some inevitable decentralization, which made it harder to put together packages of films for exhibitions. Decentralization also meant that there was no one organization in any country with the means to ship a large bulk package of motion pictures around the world, or even to locate the potential exhibitors for such a package.

Ironically, then, as Latin American films began to have some degree of market penetration in Europe and North America, audiences found good films ever more difficult to see. Enter dynamic Brazilian cineast, Glaucia Baena Soares, who, with the support of the Organization of American States, has established the Americas Film Festival in Washington, D.C.

The Americas Film Festival showcases new films from member countries, providing film artists the rare opportunity to have their films scened in North America for the general public. From its beginnings in 1987 the festival has been successful in getting significant films of the sort that do well in European film festivals but are rarely shown in the U.S. In 1987, for example, Colombian Jorge Ali Triana's Tiempo de Morir (Time to Die), was by far the most competent Gabriel Garcia Marquez yet seen on film. It is from an original script, and thus not technically an adaptation of Garcia Marquez prose work, but there is so much in it that is familiar to the author's readers that it plays like an adaptation of some work he wrote and simply forgot to publish.

This is a good example of the kind of film that the Americas Festival has brought to North American audiences. Along the way there have also been some notable coups. In 1988, Fernando Ezequiel Solanas became the first Latin American to win the prize for best director at the Cannes Film Festival. In fact, his film, sur (South), was the first Latin American feature film to win a major prize at Cannes since Brazilian Anselmo Duarte's work O Pagador de Promessas (The Keeper of the Promises) in 1962. Sur opened the 1988 edition of the festival, thus receiving its U.S. premiere in Washington rather than New York or Los Angeles; and this trend has continued.

This of course is not to say that the Americas Festival is afraid to show films that even professional film critics and artists find difficult. Gustavo Mosquera R.'s Lo que vendra (Times to Come) is an intensely difficult film about the relationship between a hospitalized youngster and his male nurse. In the best Latin American tradition, it is a tale of personal friendship which leads to revenge, firmly rooted in the social and political realities of a particular country (in this case, modern Argentina). Similarly, in 1989 the festival screened two difficult and troubling works, Eliseo Subiela's Ultimas imagenes del naufragio (Last Images of the Shipwreck) and Jorge Coscia's Tango War, both from Argentina.

Subiela's earlier work, Hombre mirando al Sudeste (Man Facing Southeast) was one of those successful films that divided audiences. In places it is so good one can hardly believe it. But, as an improbable science fiction story with no overt political content, it also annoyed many viewers, particularly those who like the line between reality and fantasy to be firmly marked. Naufragio is just as outstanding artistically, and just as divisive. A far more somber work than Hombre, it chronicles the gradual disintegration of human relationships rather than celebrating their enduring qualities.

Tango War is even more problematic--one of those films whose strength lies in its conception: the British have continued their war with Argentina and have taken over Buenos Aires; the tango has been outlawed. Although by now there have been far too many Argentine films celebrating the tango, the strength of Coscia's work lies in his ability to come up with an imaginative idea and then build a film around it.

Woody Allen has always argued that critics give too little attention to the ability of the film artist to be creative. Art, after all, involves imagination. Coscia definitely has it, as does Subiela. The presence of both on the Latin American film scene is another guarantee of its continued vitality. And their presence in the Americas Film Festival is convincing proof of how quickly this festival has moved into a leadership position.

John Mosier is editor of New Orleans Review, a film and literature journal. A member of the governing board of the New Orleans Film and Video Festival, Mosier is currently chairman of the English department at Loyola University in New Orleans.
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Title Annotation:part 2
Author:Mosier, John
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Words:1058
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