Panel 1, May 30, 2011, 11:00 am-12:55 pm

Moderator: Paloma Celis Carbajal, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Presenters: Gregory Berger, Grigoyo Productions; Shamina de Gonzaga, What moves you?; Carlos Gutiérrez, Cinema Tropical; Alexandra Halkin, Chiapas Media Project; Christopher Moore, Sol Productions
Rapporteur: Daisy V. Domínguez, The City College of New York

Paloma Celis Carbajal began by noting that she met several of the panelists at LASA and suggested they come to SALALM to promote their material to libraries and that she was very pleased they accepted her invitation to participate on this panel. Carbajal noted that Gregory Berger of Grigoyo Productions could not attend.

Christopher Moore, Director of Sol Productions, began his talk, “Film as Source Material and Teaching Tool: Sol Productions and Moving Pictures o Los Autos de Caracas,” by saying that his goal on the panel was twofold. First, he wanted to consider theoretical approaches to memory in the documentary film genre and second, to find ways to work with librarians to preserve and provide access to these films. He co-founded Sol Productions in 2006 with the idea that the company’s films would not be the final word but would provoke more discussion about different topics. In 2007, Sol Productions produced three documentary films (in Venezuela, Senegal and France). Since their company did not have a public relations firm working with them, they traveled to over 90 schools to promote their films, but Moore notes that would not be possible this year due to the economic situation. Moore said he was excited to be at the conference in order to get ideas about how to promote their films even in difficult economic times and how to make them available in libraries throughout the world. Adding material online is one way around this but he wondered about the financial viability of it. Moore said that film is a very serious analytic tool as both a compliment to written works but also in its own right. Moore ended by showing the trailer for the Hugo Chavez documentary, “Puedo Hablar May I speak?”

Next, Alexandra Halkin, founding director of Chiapas Media Project and the Americas Media Initiative, presented “Collaborative Documentation and Advocacy.” They have been working with the Zapatistas since 1998. Due to the militarization of Chiapas, the last Zapatista video was produced in 2006. The war on drugs has filtered throughout southern Mexico and has affected their ability to produce for external distribution, though not for internal distribution. A lot of their archival material is being lost (covered in fungus in many cases) due to lack of climate control and the fact that a lot of material is still videotaped. While Halkin and her colleagues know what is needed to preserve this film, there is no funding for it and the situation has not changed. There are copies of the films in Mexico and the United States. Distribution to universities in the U.S. is critical and has sustained their work but due to the economic downturn, it has become difficult to obtain funding for travel and honoraria. The Cuban media project does not have distribution outside of Cuba and there are problems with the English subtitles in these Cuban documentaries. The work of TV Serrana, which was founded by UNESCO in 1993 and has 490 documentaries, is of excellent quality and subject matter. With funding from the Ford Foundation, they were able to add English subtitles to 20 of their documentaries. Librarians’ work is very important.  Money from the sale of videos goes back to Chiapas and Cuban communities. Halkin noted that they have tried to develop a symbiotic relationship between universities and marginalized filmmakers in Mexico and Cuba and this allows them to produce more films. Halkin ended by showing a trailer from the TV Serrana Tour.

Carlos Gutiérrez of Cinema Tropical began his presentation, entitled “New Partnerships in Latin American Outreach Through Film: The Cinema Tropical Case,” by noting that Cinema Tropical is a New York City based media arts organization which promotes Latin American cinema in the United States through regional programming. Noting that the economic crisis affecting the film world is affecting all of us, Cinema Tropical is interested in collaboration with the academic library world.

Gutiérrez then moved on to describe the recent explosion of independently produced film in countries like Argentina. In the mid-1990s, Argentina produced a new generation of filmmakers that produced feature and documentary films without government funding as had been done in the past. Then this explosion of film moved to Uruguay, which hadn’t produced a film in years, and more recently, Central America. However, it is difficult to get access to material from Central America.

When Gutiérrez moved to New York from Mexico City in 1997, there was not much Latin American cinema on American screens. The so-called “Three Amigos” brought attention to what was happening in Latin American cinema. Cinema Tropical began by having weekly screenings over the course of one year which led to interest by other theaters. So, they created a network in NYC and then in the country and have screened thirteen films across the U.S.,  which has become part of their circuit of films. They then started doing theatrical releases, which are the main aspect of releases which guarantee reviews. The now defunct LAVA (Latin American Video Archives) was a key organization in bringing videosl from Latin America over to the U.S. and Cinema Tropical has not really found new ways of doing this.

A major issue is that there is very little knowledge on how to contextualize Latin American film and therefore, to have critical debates. He mentioned, for example, that the New York Times reviewer of “Amores Perros”directed by González Iñáritu loved the film but thought that there had not been any art house films from Mexico since Buñuel. He noted that this is one way that universities can do outreach. Cinema Tropical partnered with the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at NYU and combined screenings with discussion. Cinema Tropical also took screenings to the Arab world and more recently has partnered with the organization called What moves you? They recently started selling DVDs to universities. Cinema Tropical also created a list of the best ten Latin American films (which also mentions 130 films) of the past decade which led to a publication. Cinema Tropical will also publish a book on Lucrecia Martel, the director of “La Ciénaga,” who Gutiérrez recommends highly. He ended by promoting the screening of “Nostalgia por la Luz” (which screened the next day at the conference).

Shamina de Gonzaga’s presentation was entitled “Film as a Springboard for Dialogue on Immigration and Related Issues.” De Gonzaga started by noting the collaboration between Cinema Tropical (which served as the film distributor), NYU (which served as the academic hub), and her organization, What moves you? (which produces awareness campaigns) on the Indocumentales film series, which seeks to show the subtleties surrounding the issue of immigration. These events are also a way to disseminate resource packets and educational materials so that the film is “not accepted as gospel” but extends the conversation. De Gonzaga noted that it is not the same to see a five minute news report about a tragic incident as watching a 90 minute in-depth documentary. She gave an overview of the five films that were screened. The first film is “Al Otro Lado” which deals with drug trafficking and the popular musical genre known as narcocorridos. Another film is “Farmingville” which follows the aftermath of the killing of day laborers. De Gonzaga noted that the strong reaction among audience members to this film in particular validates the importance of having these screenings. “Los Que Se Quedan” deals with the impact of immigration on those who stay behind. “The Sixth Section” is a short which deals with people in upstate New York which sends money back to Mexico to build a baseball stadium. “Which Way Home” deals with mostly very young Central American children who attempt to come to the U.S. by freight trains and many times do not make it. “Mi Vida Adentro” is about an undocumented woman who is accused of killing a child in her care. De Gonzaga notes that during the screenings they may have lawyers who are more qualified to answer certain questions as well as community members because it is important not to be in silos. De Gonzaga ended by showing a clip of “Al Otro Lado,” which screened later that afternoon.

Questions and Comments:

Paloma Celis Carbajal commented on films as a catalyst to dialogue so that people will be receptive to certain issues. The Indocumentales series went to Wisconsin and it was tied to an exhibit on 200 years of immigration between US and Mexico. Celis Carbajal thought of this topic because she wanted something that was of interest not just to Mexicans.  This was the first time she got e-mails from the community requesting material from the exhibit, not just from faculty and students. So, this springboard from the film series worked.

Jesus Alonso-Regalado (SUNY Albany) asked whether the distributors were considering selling streaming videos. Gutiérrez said that this was not available yet but acknowledged that this is the trend. Moore said that “Democracy in Dakar” is sold digitally via iTunes but there is no distinction between individual and institutional purchases. They are behind on the process but open to it.

Daisy Domínguez (City College of New York) asked whether any collaborations had come about as a result of the dialogues at the screenings. De Gonzaga said that the resource packet helped and that it happens all the time. Halkin noted that a number of U.S. students have come down as interns to Chiapas and later, professional relationships have developed. Professors have toured TV Serrana and Halkin will be taking some of them to a national film festival in Cuba. She notes that the screenings open up the possibility for collaborations on different levels. Even individual communications like e-mails are a stepping stone toward bigger things. Moore noted that some students who are not at film schools have been motivated to pursue filmmaking and have even gone on to having their films screened at places like the Tribeca Film Festival.

Paula Covington (Vanderbilt University) asked whether Halkin had a sense of the scope of the archive and the cost of preservation of the Chiapas Media Project. Halkin said that the tapes are dispersed but that there were about 1,000 hours worth of recordings, including raw footage, on mini DV cassette and some on super VHS.

Martha Mantilla (University of Pittsburgh) asked whether there were any packages for institutions who want to invite these organizations to do presentations at universities. Gutiérrez noted that Cinema Tropical acts as intermediaries between libraries and filmmakers and mentioned packages like “Latin American Left” and “Music and Film Series.” He highlighted Brazilian filmmakers who have made a lot of films on many singers which also delve into issues of race, politics, and class but which are not distributed in the U.S.

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