Puerto Rico's Super-8 Festival

by Maria Christina Rodriguez

from Jump Cut, no. 28, April 1983, pp. 64-65
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1983, 2005

The film medium has been a source of fascination for Third World countries, where technique is given a godlike status and people are used to being passive spectators. Although many realize the importance of filmmaking as a tool to communicate with an immense number of their people who otherwise would be unreachable, the economic factor for would-be filmmakers has always been a stumbling block. So Third World countries remain as raw material for big studio productions from capitalist countries. Even though Puerto Rico has a particular relationship with the United States, it remains within U.S. policy for underdeveloped countries, in which they can only serve as settings for movies and as captive markets. It is only recently — within the past ten years — that these countries have discovered that filmmaking does not have to mean big studios, huge budgets, and unreachable cinematic techniques. The Super 8mm film format, originally devised as a toy for the U.S. family, has been rescued from that end to become a tool for everyday people interested in communicating through this medium. The Super 8mm format is on its way to becoming a sophisticated communication instrument within everybody's reach.

In October 1982, after individual competitions in international Super 8mm festivals (Quebec, Mexico, Venezuela, Portugal, and Brazil), a group of moviemakers in San Juan, Taller de Cine La Red, organized an encuentro (a getting together) of Super-8mm films from Puerto Rico and from other countries. Richard Clark, the director of the International S-8 Federation (in Montreal) brought a sample of the best international works in this format from. Belgium, Quebec, and Brazil.

From Latin America, an excellent Mexican documentary by Luis Lupone, QUE DIOS SE LO PAGUE, traces the everyday chores of a pompous small-town priest. This documentary has a very strong social criticism of the Catholic Church in Mexico. Without a doubt, the best international Super-8mm animation film presented was Lewis Cooper's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JOE SOAP (England), an excellent and sophisticated use of animated clay dolls. The film's antiwar message comes out loud and clear for all ages, especially since it was made during the British war in the Falkland Islands.

Germán Carreño, director of the Cinemateca Nacional de Venezuela in Caracas, brought to the encuentro a sample of Venezuelan productions in Super 8mm. Venezuelans are using this format as a way to protest everyday aggressions against their communities, their environment, and their existence: CARENERO by V. Rodríguez denounces the contamination of water that resulted in the death of millions of fish in his town. CONTAMINACIÓN records the organization of another community to protest the air pollution created, by industrial waste. Using comedy and parody, Carlos Castillo in TVO and HECHO EN VENEZUELA portrays the consumerist impulse in bourgeois Venezuelan society.

From the United States, Nilo Manfredin was represented by GAY IS OUT. This film began with the various definitions of the words "gay” and “out” by characters posing as various gay stereotypes, only to arrive at no definition at all. This subject proved to be controversial to many in the Latin American audience. Kimberly Safford and Fred Barney Taylor of New York City presented a segment of LIVES OF THE ARTISTS. This work focused on local artists presenting their work and themselves. The Super-8mm format encourages their spontaneity and creativity. Although this type of art might be quite familiar to New Yorkers, it was not totally strange to the Puerto Rican audience. Old San Juan (where the encuentro took place) has its own sidewalk artists.

Puerto Rican filmmakers were able to present a variety of their work for the first time to a local audience that was generally unaware of the Super-8 format. Poli Marichal presented her animated films in which she experiments with sounds, colors, and drawing, scratching on the film itself. Douglas Sánchez, who now resides in Mexico, presented two fiction films that parody social mores in Latin American countries: FOTONOVELA and VIERNES SOCIAL. During a program of S-8 for children, Cánavos presented a story with puppets, CON AMOR SE FENCE AL DRAGON. Two filmmakers presented their own versions of childhood heroes: SUPERMAN by J. L. Mezo and TARZAN by Waldo Sánchez. A testimonial film made collectively in a film workshop directed by Carlos Malavé, MEMORIAS DE UN YAUCANO, records the testimony of a 110-year-old man who was a witness to the 1898 North American troops landing in Puerto Rico. He sings and narrates how the events of that time affected him — a young black working man confronted by a foreign white uniformed army. MAIZ by Waldo Sanchez traces the origin and the cultivation of corn by creatively combining the historical and the picturesque.

Puerto Rico's Encuentro Nacional de Cine Super-8 has given us an excellent opportunity to introduce this format to people interested in filmmaking but who up to now were unaware of it. Super-8 is undoubtedly an up-and-coming medium for developing countries like Puerto Rico. (For more information on the international Super-8 film scene, write to International S-8 Federation, 9155 Rue St-Hubert, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2M 1Y8.)