By Richard Shpuntoff
Last Thursday night, Luis Puenzo, the first Argentine to ever win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, with The Official Story in 1986, stood before a packed house at the national Gaumont Cinema in Buenos Aires. Talking to an assembly of much younger filmmakers, along with producers, film technicians and students, he pointed out the irony of the current reality of filmmaking in Argentina. “While Ralph Haiek (the new President of Argentina’s national film institute, INCAA) is in San Sebastian promoting Argentine film, back here the Institute’s policies are making it impossible for these same films to reach a local audience.” Puenzo added, “Haiek actually had INCAA pay to bring a representative of the private theater chain Hoyts to the Festival.”
According to a recent article in La Nación, one of Hoyts’ multiplexes programmed 23 screenings per day of the horror film It, but only five and two screenings, respectively, for local “big” budget films Los que aman odian and El fútbol y yo; and if we are looking at independent auteur cinema, only one Argentine film—A Sort of Family by Diego Lerman—had a single slot, at 12:10 pm. Other recent films such as Alanis by Anahí Berneri (who won the Teddy in Berlin in 2005 for her debut film A Year Without Love), Natalia Garagiola’s Hunting Season and The Desert's Bride by Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato had no screenings through Hoyts. Paradoxically, both Lerman’s and Berneri’s films are in the Official Selection of the San Sebastian Film Festival where they have received great critical acclaim, in contrast to the lack of support the film institute has given them at home.
Last night’s assembly of filmmakers was in reality an emergency meeting and protest organized by a network of six filmmaker organizations to respond to the film institute’s recently announced Resolution 942, which will severely limit who gets access to funds for filmmaking. Though still being debated, independent filmmakers say that the resolution strongly favors the large commercial studio productions and cuts out the great majority of independent filmmakers.
Back in April, when the national Minister of Culture Avelluto demanded the resignation of Alejandro Cacetta—a producer who has worked with filmmakers such as Pablo Trapero and Paula Hernández—because he refused to fire staff for their political allegiances, then Vice President Ralph Haiek, a childhood friend of President Mauricio Macri and a TV producer, was promoted to run the institute. The filmmaking community protested Cacetta’s forced resignation, saying that this was part of a bigger plan to cut funding to filmmakers. The major media outlets claimed the filmmakers had no basis for their claims, and supported Avelluto and Haiek by giving them plenty of airtime and print to say that there would be no cuts.
Filmmaker Virna Molina of RDI, an association of documentary filmmakers, said, “Resolution 942 has created a lot of legal instability in the film industry. Films that were approved and are in production now and have planned their budgets and schedules based on a specific legal framework are now in a state of uncertainty and risk having to shut down.” Molina explained that implications for future productions as well: “Under the new resolution, financing a film requires a greater need for more private money up front in order to start the first few weeks of production. Only the large production companies have the kind of money necessary to make films under these conditions.”
The initial response by media outlets this was not only supportive of the changes by the film institute, but within days of INCAA announcing the resolution, two high profile “journalists” (think Fox News) conducted smear jobs on the filmmaking community, claiming with no evidence that producers were giving bribes to get their funds moved through the institute and that funding had been going largely to anti-Macri propaganda, listing merely 10 of the over 700 documentaries that have been produced through State funding over the past decade.