The revolution will not be on celluloid

  • Datum 14-04-2011
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In a most unlikely place, digital filmmaking and social networking have created a new kind of independent cinema, inspired by the Philippine new wave. Eva Sancho Rodriguez took a closer look at where it’s happening: on the Pacific coast of South America.

By now, we must all be tired of hearing how new technology is changing everything. The good news is that thanks to digital cameras, dvd’s, internet and file-sharing, access to film production and distribution is easier than ever before. But sounds of optimism are inevitably countered by warnings: about loss of owner’s rights, or diminished value of films, or lack of consensus over where cinema is heading. In the meantime, despite this rampant confusion, a new generation is coming of age. And to these digital natives, who have grown up on new technology, all these problems are foreign.
So maybe it’s time to stop worrying and look towards a place where the future is already happening. It may be somewhere you least expect it. Because Chile — that long, narrow country on the Pacific coast of South America — is not a place known for cinema (well not that much, so please take a look at the page of this Filmkrant where Pamela Biénzobas Saffie evaluates the work of Chilean film maker José Luis Torres Leiva). Nevertheless it is there, in the capital Santiago de Chile, that a film festival called Cine//B has embraced digital film, taken it into theatres and found an audience for it. An audience that is growing fast.
To say that the festival has embraced ’the digital’ is probably too mild a description. The Cine//B Festival is advocating digital cinema passionately, to the extent that it will not include in its programme any film shot or finished on 35mm celluloid. The festival wants to discover and celebrate precisely those films that are excluded everywhere else. Digital films are usually not allowed into competitions at national film festivals, and until now major theatre chains will not show them. Apparently, in Chile alone, dozens of films were being made and denied a screen. Quite a surprising amount for a country that produces only a handful of films a year officially.

For these reasons Antonino Ballestrazzi, a charismatic young film producer, organized the first Cine//B Festival in 2008. It premiered over one hundred films — half of them features þ selected from an Open Call on Facebook. The festival uses this social networking site for most of its PR and communication, letting word of mouth do the rest. By the second edition in 2009 the festival turned international and showed independent and/or digital films from Latin America, the USA, Europe and the Philippines, plus retrospectives of independent cinema.
The third edition in November 2010 will be held in four Chilean cities simultaneously. Ballestrazzi is planning to give the festival a Creative Commons license, so that people anywhere in Latin America cities can organize their own festival. Lima, Peru will be the first to do so. Local festivals will showcase films from their region and a Cine//B selection from Santiago.

Nom de guerre
Cine//B has named their films ‘B-movies’ and in the process has cleverly subverted and reinvented the term. Originally, B-movies were films paired together with an A-movie in a Hollywood double-bill; they usually had small budgets and no major stars. But this model isn’t what Cine//B has in mind. They want to turn a pejorative label into an honorary title for digital, independently made films. A kind of nom de guerre for a new type of film that is going to have to fight for its place on the big screen.
What Cine//B is trying to introduce to its audience is, in fact, what we would call ‘independent cinema.’ An essay from the 2009 festival catalogue entitled ‘On Independence’ identifies the ideals of Cine//B with those of the New American Cinema Group of the 1960’s. Independent filmmakers driven by experimentation and freedom, risk-taking and rough edges, their slogan was: "We don’t want rosy films — we want them the colour of blood."
But Cine//B probably had more reasons for marking them out as inspirations. They famously worked together to distribute their own films when the establishment wouldn’t let them in. They also published a kind of manifesto, which is another thing Cine//B seems to be admiring: filmmakers with manifestos.
The writer of the essay, Rául Camargo Bórquez — a programmer and film historian — elaborated on the necessity of explaining independent cinema to Chilean audiences: "You have to understand that historically, Chile’s film culture has been relatively limited. There is a Hollywood monopoly on the screens and Chile has never produced many films. Because we have a small film industry, state funding favours movies with bigger productions and conventional narratives. To apply for support a film has to be shot on 35mm and have a crew of 50 people, there is literally only one kind of application form to fill out. If you wanted something more experimental and only needed a smaller budget, you were stuck."

Postcard image
Digital has completely changed this situation, says festival director Antonino Ballestrazzi. "In the 80’s and 90’s cinema was seen as this big, inaccessible thing. People complained about how they had good ideas, but that they weren’t suitable for funding. Now we have filmmakers, without resources, bringing new ideas into movies. It’s opened up access to film and also — which I think is most important — taken away excuses for not making films. Now you can produce and distribute it yourself, so aspiring filmmakers can’t hide behind excuses anymore. If you have an idea for a film, make the film!"
This is also one of the reasons why the festival showcased international, independent films, demonstrating how alternative ways of making films can rise up anywhere, from the USA to the Philippines.
Camargo Bórquez selected these films because they exemplified independence in attitude and approach, even when made on 35mm with help from international funds. "I don’t have anything against international funds that give money to filmmakers in developing countries. But they can be a double-edged sword. Some funds want projects to conform to the postcard image of Latin America, films like la teta asustada (Claudia Llosa’s the milk of sorrow) or los viajes del viento (the wind journeys, Columbian Ciro Guerra’s IFFR ‘preview film’), complete with folklore and music. They’re interested in typical subjects, like the tension between tradition and modernity, or the countryside versus the city, but only as seen from outside Latin America, not from within. When you get away from films with this Europeanized view, you get closer to our contemporary reality. They are about what we used to be, but no longer are. Latin America has changed and we no longer live in this postcard image."
"huacho [the 2009 Cine//B opening film, ESR] shows you that. Director Alejandro Fernández knows how life in the countryside has changed, because he grew up there. He made it the way he wanted to, although he applied for funding with a different plan."
"Independence is, above all, an attitude. I want people to see films by directors who started out small and went on to bigger projects, but kept their independent vision. Like Philippine Raya Martin’s independencia (2009), which I think is the best film of the year."

Illegal dvd boom
Peruvian filmmaker Juan Daniel Fernández (22) programmed the super-hip Philippine independent cinema. Which was easy to organize, as he was ‘Friends’ with the directors on Facebook. He has grown up watching Asian cinema: "The dvd’s just cross the Pacific. Peru had an illegal dvd boom in the last decade, when the most interesting cinema came from Asia. We no longer rely on Europe or the USA to curate what films we see. But what really inspired me to make films independently was discovering the DIY films from the USA. I couldn’t believe that people from rich First World countries were making films this way and we, when we had no other options, were not. It was absurd."
What the festival seems to be constantly aware of is that they are reaching a young audience. One of the biggest hits of the last festival was te cries la más linda, pero erís la mas puta, directed by Ché Sandoval. Inspired by Andrew Bujalski’s funny ha ha, it is one of those brazenly adolescent films, about a group of Santiago hipsters. It doesn’t pretend to aspire to cinematic greatness, yet emerges with confidence and bravado. One of the film’s funniest dialogues reveals today’s worst insult to be: a ‘postmo’. So if nothing is worse than being called ‘post-modern’ and that era belongs to the past, what is going to replace it?
"This new generation is inherently different", says thirtysomething Ballestrazzi. "My generation defined itself in relation to the past. We advanced by looking backwards. Today’s kids aren’t like that. They just want to make their films, show themselves. If it isn’t perfect, they move forward. They’re fearless. I think that’s why they were open to a different kind of cinema and the Cine//B Festival."
Ballestrazzi is obviously savvy about how to reach the Web 2.0 kids. By putting digital films in theatres he has created something they want: physical events, where you can rally a community together to experience something interesting. But the good thing is that he’s been able to combine the open-source, network mentality with old-fashioned concepts like cinema heritage, tradition and professionalism. And that sounds like something even a fervent digital critic like Andrew Keen could live with.

Eva Sancho Rodriguez

Eva Sancho Rodriguez is Spanish, Salvadorian and Dutch. She is currently writing an MA thesis on philosopher Stanley Cavell’s The world viewed.

Juan Daniel Fernández will be video blogging about the festival for the IFFR Trainee Project and is part of the Break Even concept store, showcasing Cine//B films. His first feature reminiscencias will screen on February 1 (as a work in progress).

More on Cine//B at or the Facebook Group Festival Cine//B