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The hemisphere projects a new image.

The fourth annaul Americas Film Festival reflects a pivotal time in the history of Latin America. While the themes of repression and intolerance persist, contemporary directors face new challenges prompted by the increasing freedom in countries previously ruled by military regimes. The era of the "New Latin American Cinema," which was characterized by social and political protest, is reaching an end as citizens throughout Latin America go to the polls to elect their leaders.

In October of this year, leading filmmakers, actors, directors and critics assembled in the capital of the United States to talk about filmmaking in Latin America. Over 14 countries from North and South America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal were represented in this year's festival. "The goal is to make these films available to a wider audience", says Glaucia Baena Soares, President of the Americas Film Festival Foundation. Soares also pointed out that a seminar was held to discuss how institutions in various countries can help filmmakers promote cultural cinema throughout Latin America.

The movies shown were as diverse as the producers who made them- and as distinct as the countries in which they were made. They protrayed characters struggling for independence as well as the painstaking process of confronting Latin America's difficult past. Furthermore, two of the films shown at the festival set precedents for cinema production in their countries. This Village, a film about the struggles of an ambitious young girl in a small tradtional village, is the first feature movie ever produced in Grenada. The first all Jamaican-made film in 20 years, Crossroads illustrates the danger of uncompromising dogmatism: a rightous taxi driver who is a firm believer in capital punishment is sentenced to be hanged for a crime he did not commit.

One of the most popular films of the festival, La Luna en el Espejo (The Moon in the Mirror) probes the uncertainties of the new found freedoms of Latin America. In this film, Chilean director Silvio Caiozzi questions whether it is possible for people to reconstruct their spirit after years of oppression. An old, crazed marine, unable to accept his son's budding independence, places mirrors throughout the house to monitor his every move. The son, known only by the epithet Immature Fatty, harbors grudges against his father after years of living under his tight reign. But Immature Fatty seeks freedom only to be able to destroy his father, not to enhance himself.

For Caiozzi, La Luna en el Espejo represents a transitional phase. "We are beginning to make films which have good social value, but lack the bleak political content present in so many movies made over the past decades, says Caiozzi. "It's a new stage for us and we are looking forward to doing films about more universal subjects."

Although Latin American directors continue to examine topics of a more general appeal, this year's screenings showed their desire to reacquaint viewers with the value of their own culture. For decades, Latin Americans have imported blockbuster movies which portray life abroad, particularly in the United States, and have often ignored their own history and contemporary reality. Many people bought into the theory that exported culture was richer than home-grown. However, new films are dispelling this assumption by portraying familiar Latin American scenes -- women selling fruits from market stands, children playing in parks -- and using traditional music as background.

Natal de Portela (Natal, of the Portela Samba School) is one of the few Brazilian films ever made whose central focus is the cultural celebration of carnivals. This film is a French-Brazilian co-production, created by the founder of Brazil's Cinema Novo, Paolo Cezar Saraceni. It tells the story of a modern-day Robin Hood who makes millions of dollars playing the illegal numbers game and donates his entire fortune to start samba schools. The nostalgic rhythms of the samba evoke in Brazilians a strong sense of identity and rekindle hope for a bright future.

Other films provide insight into the political history of Latin America. Maria Cano, by the Colombian director Camila Loboguerrero, is a biographical film about the Colombian woman poet and labor leader of the twenties which depicts scenes from Bogota's 1926 Workers' Congress and the 1928 massacre of banana pickers in Cienaga. The film won the Best Photography Award in the 1990 Cartagena Film Festival.

In a similar fashion, Mexican director Diego Lopez focuses on the life and works of a great Mexican painter, Francisco Goitia, as a means of viewing his country's history of political turmoil. In his film, Goitia, un dios para si mismo (Goitia, a God for Himself), Lopez shows Goitia returning to Mexico City in 1913, after studying abroad, to find his country enveloped in a bloody civil war. Amid poverty, unemployment and destruction, Goitia tries to capture the conflictual character of his nation.

Another issue gaining momentum in Latin American cinema is the examination of the role of women in society. Argentine director Maria Luisa Bemberg's Yo, la peor de todas (I, The Worst of Them All) chronicles the life of the renowned sixteenth century Mexican poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz who committed herself at the age of 20 to a convent--the only outlet for her creative spirit. Through her writing and controversial attitudes, Sor Juana became a central figure in the literary and social circles of the time. In Marcos Zurinaga's A Flor de Piel, a successful Puerto Rican woman abandons a comfortable life to help raped and battered women. In the process, she runs up against insensitive institutions and makes a commitment to fight for the improvement of women's rights.

No festival is complete without its share of controversial films. Argentine made Kindergarten, a movie about adults acting out their fantasies, unconstrained by social taboos, filled that slot. The film has been tainted by allegations that minors were mistreated during the filmin. Although it has passed approval by the National Film Institute of Argentina and has been ruled as not obscene by a judge, the debate has stimulated dialogue about the impact of film on society.

Glaucia Baena Soares maintains that "the Americas Film Festival will continue to mark new stages of filmmaking in Latin America, with wider participation and increased support each year." If the success of this festival is any measure of the future of Latin American cinema, then the world can look forward to a plethora of creative screenplays and powerful images.

Marcela Kogan is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. who writes about Latin American Culture.
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Title Annotation:Film; Latin American films
Author:Kogan, Marcela
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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