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LatAm in Focus: Latin American Cinema's Point of No Return 

Kleber Mendonça and Juliano Dornelles at Cannes 2019

Brazil's Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho at Cannes.

February 26, 2020

If you have the impression that more Latin American films are reaching screens around the world, you're right. The region's audiovisual production has been making its mark through streaming services, major festivals, and even the Academy Awards. This year, Brazil set a record with 19 films at Germany's Berlinale—one of the largest festivals worldwide, which is also featuring cinema from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay this year. Brazil’s booming industry has been growing exponentially in the last decade, from 30 films released in 2001 to 185 in 2018.

But Brazil’s government film agency, Ancine, faces an uncertain future under the Bolsonaro government, which slashed its budget by more than 40 percent. More than 400 projects funded by the agency are frozen. The audiovisual fund has been crucial to make independent productions and documentaries in the country viable. "I think there are almost no indie or documentary films that are being made without Ancine’s money,” explains Ela Bittencourt, a São Paulo-based film critic and writer who reviews productions from across Latin America but also brings Brazilian films to New York screens, including the series Visions of Resistance: Recent Films by Brazilian Women Directors she curated for New York’s Museum of the Moving Image.

We’re in an age of instability. For documentary filmmaking, there’s just a lot to explore.” 

Bittencourt spoke with AS/COA Online’s Luisa Leme about how the booming Brazilian film industry is facing economic and political hardships, and why, still, filmmaking from Latin America has reached a point of no return in terms of creativity and presence in international markets. “Latin American cinema is often fighting to not have to explain everything [and] being able to bring a local story that isn’t entirely translatable,” she says. 

She also talks about the impact of South Korea’s Parasite taking the Academy Awards’ top prize this year, saying the win proves the point of investing in filmmaking as a strategy to showcase a country’s culture to the world. “I feel like the Brazilian film industry and, I think, the Latin American film industry as well, looks to the win of a film like Parasite to say ‘If we want to be able to celebrate these kinds of wins and bring our culture to a broader audience, then we ought to think about the sustainability of the sector’.”

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