Cocina de imágenes,
Primera Muestra de Cine y Video Realizado por
Mujeres Latinas y Caribeñas

A pioneer event for tasting the recipes of Latin American
women's filmmaking during the 1970s and 1980s

by Elena Oroz

translated by David C. Williams

Cocina de imágenes. Primera Muestra de Cine y Video Realizado por Mujeres Latinas y Caribeñas (Kitchen of Images, First Exhibition of Latin American and Caribbean Film and Video Made by Women) was held in Mexico City from October 1 to 11, 1987. According to its catalogue, 74 films in film format (16 or 35mm) and 46 videos were shown; in all, 120 productions from fifteen different countries. At the same time, the Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City hosted a symposium on the nature of women’s cinema and the production and distribution difficulties faced by female film and video makers in the region. In addition, an informal meeting was held at the headquarters of the Zafra distribution company, with the participation of more than 50 women creators, programmers, distributors and scholars from various Latin American countries, the United States, Canada, and Spain. The exhibition was organized by Ángeles Necoechea, in close collaboration with Julia Barco and Guadalupe Lara, drawing on the considerable mobilization of women resulting from the Fourth Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Encuentro held in Taxco, which brought together 1,500 participants.[1] [open endnotes in new window]

Despite its one-off nature, Cocina de imágenes was a pioneering event in consolidating cinema made by women in Latin America and consequently in establishing transnational feminist film networks that originated in the region. Already in its day the exhibition was experienced and described as a crucial event. For example, Julianne Burton remarked on site the great opportunity it offered her to analyze women’s films: “I knew this was going to be a historic meeting and I think it is” (Encuentro 1987). Later, she endorsed this perception in The Women’s Companion to International Film when noting,

“Cocina was the historical equivalent of the 1967 festival in Viña del Mar from which the history of the New Latin American Cinema is dated: that founding moment when what have previously seemed individual concerns and isolated pursuits come into focus as a movement, a concerted endeavor that spans geographical borders and cultural, material and political differences” (235).

Having established the relevance of an exhibition that, nevertheless, has hardly had any academic repercussion beside a handful of scattered contributions (Burton 1990, Pick 1989, Vega 1998), my article has a twofold objective. First, I contextualize the origins of Cocina de imágenes, paying special attention to the background of its promoter, Ángeles Necoechea, and to the transnational feminist networks that enabled its existence. Second, I recover here the discussion topics present in the meetings held there, where important issues such as the role of film schools, collective work or the problems related to distribution and exhibition were addressed. In fact, the singularity of Cocina de imágenes also lies in the circumstances in Latin American media making in which it was set. It was a transitional moment marked by technological changes resulting from the nascent use of video and the redefinition of the thematic, aesthetic, and industrial concerns of women’s cinema in the region after an initial, more or less militant, impulse.[2]

For this historical account, I draw from personal interviews, memoirs, and reviews published in the press or academic literature. The primary and crucial source is the sound recordings of Cocina de imágenes made by Julia Lesage, a participant and privileged eyewitness of the event, who generously shared them among various scholars and which I accessed thanks to the Latin American Women’s Audiovisual Research Network (RAMA). These audios are a rich body of documentation whose partial publication prevents, to paraphrase Isabel Seguí in her reflection on feminist methodologies, the disappearance of women

“in the transit from oral records to written histories, which is to say, in the passage from unofficial to official history” (11).

In keeping with this observation, the vividness and immediacy of these records also allows us to evoke the experiential side of the gathering, restoring, as Ruby Rich proposes in Chick Flicks, “a set of lived experiences long since forgotten, shelved, or denied by those who went through them” (1). Thus, when referring to the work of pioneering filmmakers or critics of the 1970s in the Anglo-Saxon sphere, Rich remarked that

“it’s more important than ever to acknowledge their contributions and valorize the nerve and will that made their interventions possible” (5).

This disappearance of women as originary figures is more flagrant in the case of Latin America and women’s history. Although, in recent years, notable contributions have been published aimed at reassessing the women’s contributions in the region during the 1970s and 1980s, we cannot forget that in the dominant historiographies,

“the militant revolutionary optic has underestimated even other forms of commitment such as the longstanding impact of feminism in cinema” (Paranaguá 76).[3]

The personal is political:
Ángeles Necoechea’s background and the organization of Cocina de imágenes

In December 1987, the Mexican feminist magazine Fem devoted a monographic issue to the Fourth Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Encuentro in Mexico, in which it also covered Cocina de imágenes. Among other articles, it included a chronicle (Hernández 1987) and a contribution by Ángeles Necoechea. In “Cocinando imágenes,” Necoechea offered an emotional account of the effort involved in its organization; in addition, for a reason, the text is full of notes on her love breakup resulting from the precarious balance between sexual-affective and professional spheres. While describing the uncertainties present during the process of organizing Cocina—lack of economic resources or insecurities related to the interest the event might spark—Necoechea underscored the vital role of the networking among Latin American colleagues, already forged in similar events, for the exhibition’s existence. Specifically, she highlighted the support of Brazilian director Ana Carolina:

“the conversations with her clarified a lot about my work and, in general, about how we women (some of us and so far) live our creative work trying to incorporate it into the rest of our lives; about our insecurities, doubts and perhaps unnecessary sacrifices” (Cocinando 34).

This highly subjective writing in Necoechea’s essay shows how the personal and the political converged in the genesis of Cocina de imágenes. As Ruby Rich observed, the first women’s film festivals, which emerged as part of the feminist and countercultural momentum of the long 1960s,

“were experimental laboratories, producing a new feminist cinematic consciousness while simultaneously putting into practice the political commitment behind the activity. Every planning process was inevitably a political process as well. Debates took place on everything from programming choices to day care accommodations to ticket pricing” (Chick Flicks 31).

In this regard, the choice of name, “Cocina de imágenes”—in English, “image kitchen,” “image stove,” or “image cuisine”—was not a minor detail. Necoechea chose a domestic metaphor to continue advocating women’s imaginaries, experiences, and approaches and to insert them into a public sphere, that of filmmaking, which was and still is highly masculinized. As she reflected in the article mentioned above,

“Personally, I love kitchens; I have spent most of my life in different kitchens. For me, it is the warmest place in a house. There I have had the most intense conversations, the most heated, the most intimate, the most joyful and the saddest. In the kitchen I have sat to work, write, draw, read. [...] I am under the impression that those who inhabit and enjoy their kitchens are warm and affectionate people” (Cocinando 33).

In keeping with this spirit, Cocina de imágenes was a horizontal meeting managed with a high degree of wilfulness and minimal resources. In addition to the money provided by Necoechea and Barco and some participants’ individual and spontaneous economic contributions, Cineteca Nacional collaborated with providing an auditorium, and another governmental institution printed the graphic material (Necoechea 2021). Important for its promoter, the festival was not only an achievement in itself. On the contrary, she conceived it as an “invention,” in which “how it is being made and lived” was an end in itself so that the “quality of the relationship” and the friendship between organizers and participants gradually grew closer during its preparation (Necoechea Cocinando 34). Years later, in a personal interview, she noted that her goal was “to prove to myself that it was possible to organize such an event as showcasing the great variety of cinema made by women in Latin America” (2018). In hindsight, it is worth suggesting that with this event she intended to put a sort of finishing touch to her broad engagement with the international women’s liberation movement—neofeminism, as conceptualized in Mexico (Bartra 2002, Lau 2011)—and her activism conveyed through artistic practices.

Therefore, it should be noted that Ángeles Necoechea was a member of La Revuelta, an important feminist collective that, in addition to publishing a magazine of the eponymous name (1976–1978), carried out numerous performances and protests in Mexico City. Among them stand out La opresión de la mujer (1976), which ironically depicted the role of the government, the army, the Church and the media in the construction of femininity, and Obra sobre el trabajo doméstico, la pareja y el aborto (1978), an action connected to a feminist campaign aimed at drafting a voluntary maternity bill. In both instances, these practices were consistent with the main demands of Mexican feminism at the time (Bartra 2002, Lau 2011), whose agenda was marked by reproductive rights, violence against women, and the analysis of the social and symbolic spaces where male domination was most patent. Moreover, these interventions, and those of other feminist groups, redrew the Mexican urban and media landscape from a gender perspective in the context of the post-68 crisis (Aceves 2019), building a “feminist public sphere” (Rashkin 7) in which film soon became a central actor. Indeed, like many creators and intellectuals of her generation, Necoechea also approached cinema to propagate feminist ideas among a broad public (Rashkin 7), as her involvement in Cine Mujer proves.

[Above and left]

Colectivo La Revuelta performing La opresión de la mujer. Photos © 1976 by Ana Victoria Jiménez.

Colectivo La Revuelta performing Obra sobre el trabajo doméstico, la pareja y el aborto. Photos © 1978 by Eli Bartra.

Cine Mujer (1975–1986) was a pioneering collective that emerged at the CUEC (University Centre of Film Studies). It made an openly feminist cinema in Mexico, with clear transnational political and aesthetic connections (Oroz 2018, Aceves 2019). It addressed taboo subjects such as abortion, sexual violence against women, domestic life, or prostitution (Millán 1999, Torres San Martín 2008, Rashkin 2001).

Stills from Cosas de mujeres by Rosa Martha Fernández (Colectivo Cine Mujer, 1975-1978).

Within this group, Necoechea was an actress in Cosas de mujeres (Rosa Martha Fernández, 1975-1978) and later led two projects: Vida de ángel (1982), a documentary about the daily struggles of women from popular classes, and Bordando la frontera (1985), a piece that skilfully mixes documentary devices with a fictional plot to explore labour conditions in the maquilas and which, at the time, would be the collective’s last film. The making of both films, of evident political and creative value, was highly complex, and Necoechea says she had a “frustrating” experience due to her inexperience in filmmaking and the difficulty of coordinating a team and adjusting to strict production schedules (Necoechea Interview by Lesage 1987). Consequently, she also contemplated Cocina de imágenes as an interim project, after which to return to film production with “less anguish” (Ibidem).

Stills from Vida de ángel by Ángeles Necoechea (Colectivo Cine Mujer, 1982)

Importantly, Necoechea was also part of Zafra, Mexico’s leading independent film distributor, founded in 1978 and whose catalogue drew from national and international political cinema. Zafra was primarily active in providing material for alternative exhibition spaces, following the militant premise that films were an instrument for political reflection in the service of social struggles. Since its catalogue included the first works of Cine Mujer,[4] she deployed an intense international promotional campaign, showcasing the collective’s films in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York, which allowed her to meet Ana Carolina. She also travelled to Cuba to attend a screenwriting workshop with Gabriel García Márquez, where she met the Venezuelan filmmaker Fina Torres. It was from that director that she learned as much or more than in the course as the two simply talked about work and cinema (Cocinando 33-34). Moreover, without her work at Zafra, Cocina would have been virtually impossible, since the company offered a minimal infrastructure—office, telephone, contacts—for its production. Necoechea also saw organizing Cocina as an opportunity to redefine what she considered a “very masculine” (2018) work and cultural space, thanks to an exciting project that would allow her to “make the most of the places and jobs that one inhabits” (Cocinando 34).