Removal of Argentina's Top Film Official Sparks Protests

 Photo by  Haciendo Cine

Photo by Haciendo Cine

By Richard Shpuntoff

Brought together in a state of outrage, well over 1,000 representatives of Argentina’s film and audiovisual community crammed into the Gaumont Theater in Buenos Aires yesterday to protest and respond to the forced resignation of Alejandro Cacetta, the president of the nation’s film institute (INCAA— the National Institute of Film and Audiovisual Arts), which is responsible for funding a large majority of Argentina’s film production, with more than 200 premieres in 2016 alone.

The controversy took the film community by surprise two nights ago when accusations of corruption were aired publicly on the entertainment-news talk show Animales Sueltos  (Animals on the Loose). The show, which has a reputation for being used by President Mauricio Macri’s center-right government to make media “hits” on political figures who don’t toe the official line, announced that it had a leaked document from the Anti-Corruption Office about irregularities in spending by Cacetta.

In a private online forum, members of one filmmaking association, Realizadores Integrales de Cine Documental (RDI), responded nervously about the implications of the accusations, but were also laughing about how obvious it was that the “reporting” was a set-up: The host and his guests had no idea who they were talking about, firstly, confusing Cacetta’s name, and then flashing images of Pablo Rovito, the director of ENERC, the National Film School, as though he were Cacetta.

They went on to accuse Cacetta of being an insider “with conflicts of interest” because he was a managing director for the two largest film production companies in Argentina—Pol-ka and Patagonik Film Group—and has produced more than a dozen films for directors like Pablo Trapero and Paula Hernández, even though almost every president of the film institute, since its creation in 1968, has come from the filmmaking community. In fact, almost a year and a half ago, when Cacetta was tapped for the position by Pablo Avelluto, the national minister of culture, Avelluto cited Cacetta’s broad experience in the industry as one of the key reasons for his selection. 

Minister Avelluto—originally a journalist and editor who was part of the production team of El diálogo (The Dialogue), a film that attempts to justify the 1976 coup by the Argentine military and the subsequent dictatorship that was responsible for the disappearance of 30,000 citizens—demanded Cacetta’s resignation the day after the broadcast. Backpedalling from the accusations against Cacetta (no charges were filed), Avelluto stated in an interview with Clarín newspaper that he wasn’t “questioning his moral integrity,” but claimed that, “INCAA is a nest of corruption that Alejandro could not or did not want to break up.”

Cacetta, who earned his degree as a national public accountant at the prestigious Universidad de Buenos Aires, not only maintains his innocence, but also stated that as president of the institute, he did not find INCAA to be an organization full of corruption. Along with the outpouring of support from the industry and the major assembly held yesterday in response to the controversy, Oscar winner Juan José Campanella (The Secret in Their Eyes) tweeted: “There is not a SINGLE person in the film industry, NOT ONE, who has doubts about Alejandro Cacetta’s honesty. Horrible and obvious set-up."

Yesterday’s meeting, referred to as an “assembly of the audiovisual community” resulted in a document signed by dozens of filmmakers, producers, actors, and representatives of organizations and unions demanding the resignation of Avelluto as well as that of Hernán Lombardi, minister of public media and formerly the minister of culture for the city of Buenos Aires when Macri was its mayor, accusing both of taking actions that are damaging to the state of Argentina’s national cinema.

Behind all of this is a concern that this attack originated from above Avelluto’s office, and that President Macri is using this as a first step toward slashing overall funding for the film industry. Oscar winner Luis Puenzo (The Official Story) was quoted as saying it was all a “smoke screen” for a larger operation by Macri to “break up” the various organisms that represent Argentine cinema. Puenzo argues that Macri is planning a drastic reduction of the budget for Argentine cinema, in order to benefit his friends. 

Interestingly, two of Macri’s children, Agustina and Franco, both studied film and are listed as directors of a recent documentary about a show by Cirque de Soleil. Agustina Macri will soon make her fiction debut, directing the film Amor y anarquía.