BEIRUT: When people think of “America,” they often mean the U.S., though the Americas sprawl for some thousands of kilometers south of the U.S.-Mexican border.
While millions of people from the Mashreq have migrated to Latin America, those precincts generally seem to register in the local imagination because of football.
Perhaps in response to this state of affairs, the Spanish Embassy in Beirut and the Cervantes institute will present Otras Miradas (Other Viewpoints). This screening cycle is devoted to the cinema of Latin America as well as Spain and Portugal, which formerly claimed ownerships rights there.
With 22 features and feature-length documentaries projected over nine days, Otras Miradas promises a relatively relaxed gambol through recent Latin American film production – the bulk of the work was released in 2011-12, though there are a few older movies, the most antique from 2002.
One film in Otras Miradas’ documentary selection that may ring a bell with Lebanese audiences is Faviano Maciel’s 2007 “Oscar Niemeyer: La vida es un soplo” (Oscar Niemeyer: Life is a breath). The film examines the life and work of the Brazilian architect responsible for such modernist gestures as Tripoli’s Rashid Karami Fairground and the city of Brasilia – focusing explicitly on his communist leanings and his passion for women.
Based on the subject matter of most of the docs program, though, questions of environmental degradation and social dislocation are very much part of Latin America’s collective consciousness – especially in Guatemala, which has two docs on this theme, and Ecuador, with three more, all released in 2011.
“El Oro O La Vida” (2011), by Guatemala’s ?lvaro Revenga, looks into the destruction caused by transnational mining companies working in Central America, focusing on the contamination, disease, death, community division and criminalization of social protest fomented by the Canadian gold company Goldcorp.
Melissa Gunasena’s “La Palabra Maya” (The Mayan World) is a conversation with members of Guatemala’s Mayan community about their ancient relationship with the land and contemporary views on wealth extraction.
Arturo Hortas’ award-winning “Sucumb?os, Tierra sin Mal” (Sucumbios, Land without Evil), looks into Ecuador’s history of oil exploration, which began in Sucumb?os in 1967, and the deleterious effect it’s had on five indigenous communities.
Leonard Wild’s “Yasun?, Two seconds of Life” examines Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park in the Western Amazon, host to both one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and a large part of Ecuador’s oil reserves. Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has proposed that the oil be left in the ground in exchange for investment in renewable energy.
Pere Hermes’ “Del vent al Blau” (Into the Blue) is a poetic travelogue through Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia and a critical reflection upon the relationship between man and nature and today’s current model of development.
The Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world has a lively culture of indie film production. Events like Otras Miradas tend to prize geographical diversity over the critically acclaimed work, but many of these films have already enjoyed some measure of international festival exposure.
Most of the feature films speak in dialects of art house cinema, though some have found more success than others. Some titles were picked up for the competition programs of Berlin, Cannes and San Sabastian. Others premiered at smaller events, while a few have no distribution history.
“Las Malas Intenciones” (Bad Intentions) the debut feature of Peruvian director Rosario Garc?a Moreno premiered in the Berlinale’s Generations program in 2011, where it was nominated for the Generation Kplus Crystal Bear for Best Film.
Set in the 1980s, when the Shining Path guerrilla movement was settling into its campaign against the Peruvian state, the story is told from the perspective of 9-year-old Cayetana – the willful but fragile step-daughter of an haute bourgeois papa. When she learns that mama is pregnant with a boy, Cayetana assumes that she herself will die when he’s born.
Between the foreboding created by shots of insurgent graffiti, dead animals and sick and ageing relatives and Cayetana’s obsession with Peru’s ill-fated past heroes (who occasionally visit her) “Las Malas Intenciones” is a moody and dreamlike narrative.
Deploying four cinematographers to capture the dramatic landscapes of rural Bolivia and employing an all-amateur cast to animate a script completely in Quechua, “El Regalo de la Pachamama” (The Gift of Mother Earth) is also a daring, beautifully peculiar work.
The 2008 feature film debut of Japanese writer-director Toshifumi Matsushita blends neorealist and documentary sensibilities as it follows a father and son traveling along the country’s traditional “salt road,” exchanging salt for agricultural goods. Matsushita’s routine pauses for ethnographic song-and-dance are given added pitch by unexpected infusions of Japanese mythology.
Also worth a look is “El Camino” (The Path), from 2007, another neorealist inflected road movie. The feature debut of Chilean-Iraqi director Ishtar Yasin Gutiérrez premiered at Guadalajara in 2007 (where it won the FIPRESCI prize) before being picked up by the Berlinale in 2008.
The story follows two kids who decide to abandon their miserable lives in Nicaragua and set off to find their mother who’s migrated to Costa Rica for work. A poetic polemic, the story accentuates the hardships of economic migration while employing powerful cinematography and unsettling music and sound.
An altogether different species of road movie is “Mal D?a Para Pescar” (Bad Day to Go Fishing), director Alvaro Brechner’s 2009 debut.
The film premiered at Cannes’ International Critics’ Week, where it was nominated for best film and the Camera D’Or.
Set in small town in South America circa 1960, the film follows Jacob, once “the strongest man on earth” but nowadays well on the road to oblivion, and his manager Orsini. The pair scratch out a living by organizing wrestling exhibitions and feats of strength in Uruguayan townships.
Beautiful to look at, laconic in the best art house tradition, flirting with comedy and noir, “Mal D?a Para Pescar” has been summed up as a Coen Brothers’ remake of “The Wrestler.”
How could you say no to that?
Otras Miradas is up at Metropolis Cinema Sofil from Nov. 1-9 with screenings twice daily at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. The films will be projected with subtitles. Tickets go for LL5,000 apiece, though festival passes are also available. For more information ring 01-204-080.