by Sérvulo Siqueira
Cut, no. 29, February 1984, pp. 22-23
In its first three years of existence, the International Festival of the Latin American Cinema in Havana has become one of the most important cinematographic expositions on the continent. Every film which proposes in any way a new vision of Latin America finds space. According to Pastor Vega, the festival's director, every film shown must be related to the problems of the country in which it was produced, be linked to its national culture, and pursue an authentic expression of its society, and its people. Since all such films are shown and discussed, such a criterion has made possible the exhibition of almost 1,000 films in three years, with a great predominance of short documentary films.
During two weeks of intense, simultaneous activity in December, films are shown in competition and in parallel showings in the New Latin American Film Market, which specially addresses exhibitors and distributors. Special rooms are set aside for showing videocassettes and seminars and debates consider the most important Latin American cultural and cinematographic issues. Also independent North American cinema finds a receptive public; thus prizes last year went to EL SALVADOR, ANOTHER VIETNAM, directed by Glenn Silber and Teté Vasconcellos, and EL ALAMBRISTA, by Robert Young.
A true barometer of the continent's social and cultural questions, the Festival has focused on Central American cinema and has sessions which show the emergent force of the new styles of Peruvian, Venezuelan, Panamanian, and Chicano cinema. Last year the festival extended its cultural focus to a poster competition and now to Super 8 film, the use of which film format has been extraordinarily large in Latin America in the last years.
This interview is with Pastor Vega, who directed the film PORTRAIT OF TERESA, and is director of the Havana Film Festival. Speaking to me in December, 1982, he evaluated the festival's past three years. He discussed Cuban cinema's new perspectives and pointed to the most important objective of the event. Through the window of authentic cinema the Festival seeks to establish a space in which "to strengthen a Latin American presence and to discuss Latin American social and cultural problems more than they've been discussed in the rest of the world."
Siqueira: Tell how the idea was born to create a film festival in Havana for all of Latin American film.
Vega: New Latin American cinema arose in the 50s in many countries — in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, etc. At first the movement in the various countries was not connected. The Cubans didn't know what was going on in Brazil; the Brazilians didn't know what was going on in Chile; the Chileans weren't aware of what was happening in Bolivia. We did not have links among us.
Only in 1967, ten or fifteen years after this movement began, was the Viña del Mar Festival held in Chile, and it produced an enormous explosion because we all gathered together for the first time. Throughout all these years the Latin American filmmakers only had met each other in European festivals or on occasional trips. At the Viña del Mar Festival in 1967 we could see in a condensed way all the important film work from many countries. In the measure that we discovered ourselves, we could unite. We met again there in 1969, but for economical and political reasons, we could not continue.
Later, through Mérida University in Venezuela, the so-called University of the Andes, we filmmakers tried to continue to meet the need of having a gathering place for Latin American cinemas to see the films produced on the whole continent. Sometimes we had a meeting or a small festival, but we could not continue that tradition born in Viña del Mar. We needed a place where we could discuss our problems — the Cubans with the Brazilians, the Argentines with the Bolivians, the Chileans with the other New Latin American filmmakers, etc.. So much time had passed since the last meetings and festivals that ICAIC decided to organize the Festival of the New Latin American Cinema in Havana.
The first festival was organized here in 1979 and seemed like an explosion. More than 500 filmmakers came. We showed more than 300 films. Practically speaking, it was not a festival but a catharsis — a Latin American cinematographic catharsis. The results stimulated all of us.
We found out many things. Our movement had an enormous force. We had many questions to solve and an urgent need to catapult the new Latin American cinema into the world. Although there was great interest in our work elsewhere, at the same time it was an extremely unknown movement because it was not distributed throughout the world.
Now, in a positive way, North Americans, Western Europeans, socialist countries, and even Australians come here, so that the event becomes a key element in our cinema's greater distribution in the rest of the world. Just this one basic function, so necessary to develop our work, has already fulfilled part of the Festival's task.
Here we organize the New Latin American Cinema Market to which international buyers come as well as exhibitors and distributors, who find here practically everything new filmed in Latin America. They watch films, and contact directors, distributors, and critics. They establish a coherent network of contacts. From this improved interchange and communication, the development of film work has also greatly improved. I believe such meetings will stimulate the production of new films and the theoretical clarification of many issues.
This will happen because in addition to the Festival, we have seminars, theoretical discussions, and analyses after film showings. Since so many filmmakers meet here, we can talk about our mutual problems. Many duties are coordinated among us during the event. The Festival offers a meeting place and a time for coordination, analysis, promotion and distribution. We have tried to fulfill a whole series of needs and gaps. This has allowed the Festival to be promoted and strengthened and to mature and develop.
In fact, the Festival has grown so much that you need to choose what you are going to do and cannot participate in all of the events — the participant needs to specialize. This year, we extended the event to film's graphic side — posters and advertising. Even advertising is part of the Festival's aims, since we must research new ways to promote our films.
In December 1983 we will enlarge the Super 8 competition. In many countries, especially Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia, Super 8 films have great force, and those countries have showings in which many important works are exhibited. In preparing for 1983, in 1982 we organized a special showing of Super 8 films from Venezuela. In the future we will have a new competition for Super 8 films from throughout Latin America. We will invite judges for the Super 8 contest and award prizes so as to incorporate these films into the active life of the Festival and to exhibit Super 8 work from all over the continent.
The Festival must attempt to solve some of the most urgent issues related to the clarification of ideas, especially to establish a better knowledge of our continent's reality in the rest of the world. Our objective is to strengthen the presence of Latin America, its culture and existence, so that this continent might have increased international respect. Our continent has been forgotten and ignored for a long time, but the last 20 years' political struggles have permitted an internationally broader knowledge of the Latin American situation. Also our filmmakers must face this duty in their artistic activity. Certainly the Festival must serve these objectives.
Siqueira: I would like you to speak about the structure of the Festival and how it has made the selection of the films which participate in the competition.
Vega: The Festival is characterized by the fact that we share the same problems with other Latin American countries, despite the fact that Cuba has its own social system. This festival is not put on by a rich nation.
As a matter of principle, we accept any film that might be classified as a product of the new Latin American cinema, according to the, criteria I mentioned before. This is all we demand. We do not want to promote cinema which puts consciousness to sleep, dulls awareness, or limits communication.
On the other hand, unlike other festivals, we cannot invite many people, sending airplane tickets and paying expenses. Ninety per cent of the participants pay their way. But we do try to make those expenses the minimum possible. We don't want to obtain profits through the Festival but cannot exceed our financial capabilities. So we try to establish some sort of compromise, where each one can give a little bit of her/himself to contribute to the event's success.
In our first festival, more than 500 filmmakers came. We didn't have time to organize the second one well because it came only 10 months after the first one, so only 250 filmmakers came. This year more than 300 filmmakers came. Oddly, we had thought we might not do it as an annual event because film production might not be so high and also for economic reasons. But reality has demonstrated the contrary. Latin American film production is high, and the filmmakers feel they need to participate despite the adverse conditions they face.
Siqueira: Could you analyze the cultural, social and cinematographic tendencies that these festivals have expressed? I noticed in the last festival , for example, there were many films about Nicaragua and El Salvador. I believe this reflects cinema's desire to be part of this process.
Vega: Certainly filmmaking participates in national liberation movements. This is generally characteristic of the new Latin American cinema, which seeks to express the truest historical process of its people. Also this cinema has a Latin American viewpoint. We see ourselves as a betrayed people but also as a single nation — with several cultures and historical situations but with the same desire to exist authentically and with the same enemies blocking this as a possibility.
Our cinema calls for continental unity because although we are each culturally distinct, we have deep similarities. For example, Cuba and Brazil have the same roots. Our national cultures have an infinity of common points. We share with the other countries the same language and similar historical processes. We contemplate ourselves in the same way as Bolivar, Juarez and Sandino — the great leaders of our liberation movements in the past — liked to do, as a single nation and an undivided people. Thus, this Festival reflects our concern for national liberation, now concentrated in Central America in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Nicaragua's filmmaking was born during the time of the first festival. It's filmmaking created inside Nicaragua's war of liberation and participating in it. In the second festival, the first and most authentic cinema from El Salvador erupted. And in the third festival, both the cinemas from Nicaragua and revolutionary El Salvador continued their process of consolidation, showing films full of a variety and force never seen before.
Siqueira: Tell me how you see the Cuban cinema now. Unfortunately, I think the Cuban cinema is still very much unknown even in Latin America.
Vega: This year we celebrated the 23rd anniversary of our cinema. We already have three generations of filmmakers. I belong to the second generation. We used to like to consider ourselves a young film practice, but we are no longer so young. There are other cinemas younger — from Panama, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, and the Chicano filmmakers. The technical, material and spiritual conditions needed to establish a certain degree of maturity are already accomplished here. By 1983 we should see a great transformation in terms of the amount and the quality of our films, especially since we are transforming and modernizing our industry's technological structure. Twenty years ago we had to interrupt this process because of our economic situation, the U.S. blockade, and a lack of currency to buy equipment abroad. Film equipment is increasingly sophisticated and more and more expensive and we have to buy it because we don't produce it. But now we are modernizing.
Right now, we make between six and seven feature films and over fifty documentary films per year. Next year, we will practically double this, so as to incorporate our new generation of filmmakers who have already made many documentary films and must start to make 23 features.
This confrontation of three generations, receiving the heritage of multiple visions and dealing with them, together with the modernizing of the industry will create a qualitative as well as a quantitative jump. 1983 will be an extreme1y interesting year for Cuban cinema.
I myself have just finished a screenplay, which extends the theme of PORTRAIT OF TERESA. I want to continue to explore changes in the Cuban people's behavior and emotions within the field of the family relations. New conflicts are already appearing in our society in conjunction with new historical situations. All of this has changed our awareness or at least has created a need to modify our consciousness and revise our attitudes and feelings. It is this world that I would like to keep exploring and reflecting.