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12 Dec

A view on Latin American cinema

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Latin American cinema has really come of age since about the turn of the millennium, though its origins go back to the 1940s and 1950s, the so-called Golden Age of the medium.  The centres of production have predominantly been in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Cuba. 


When sound was introduced into the movies, the influence of US films declined due to the language barrier, and it was then that Latin American cinema really came into its own south of the border.

In the 1940s and 1950s film production in Latin America was comparable to that of Hollywood during the same period, The centres of production have predominantly been in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Cubatheir products spread into Europe as well as to all corners of Latin America, and won many international awards.  The Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1944 was won by Emilio Fernandez’s Candelaria, and the cinema in Argentina especially flourished in the first half of the twentieth century.

Third Cinema, an ideological stance against commercial trends and a self-conscious promotion of independent productions, emerged in the 1960s and was led by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, two independent Argentine filmmakers.  At the same time in Brazil, the Cinema Novo movement placed emphasis on intellectual screenplays and a critical, political message.  Photography in Cinema Novo was characterized by naturalistic renderings of tropical scenery and clear light.

The Caliwood movement in Colombia, led by Carlos Mayolo and Luis Ospina, pioneered the new cinema of Latin America into the 1970s with critically acclaimed productions such as Oiga, Pura Sangre and Agarrando pueblo.

Cuban cinema has had the advantage of financial government support and advertising since the revolution, and has nurtured such luminaries as Tomas Gutierrez Alea.

Cinema in Argentina has re-emerged in recent years, in the aftermath of a string of military coups that negatively affected the industry mainly through In 1985, Best Foreign Language Film award: The Official Storyheavy censorship, and since the early 1980s it has grown into a force to be reckoned with.  In 1985 Argentina was one of only two Latin American countries to win the Best Foreign Language Film award with The Official Story.  In subsequent years there have been five nominees for the same award, with The Secret in Their Eyes winning in 2009.


New Latin American Cinema as a label has resurfaced again to be used for the stream of quality independent movies that have been issuing from the area since the late 1980s.  Mexico, in particular, has made a great contribution here with such critically acclaimed masterpieces as Cronos in 1993, Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006 and Babel in the same year, and these and others have picked up a string of awards at the Cannes Film Festival and other international awards.

The film industry in Argentina suffered in the depression of the late 1990s and early 2000s, but despite or maybe even because of this some of the productions that trickled out during these years received international plaudits, such as Roma in 2004 and the influential Nueve Reinas in 2000, which in 2004 was remade in the US as Criminal.

Latin America, in cinematic terms, taken as a whole is a creative dynamo that has produced in recent years a string of top directors and other creative talents, which has not gone unnoticed by Hollywood.  Film buffs across the world are familiar with the names of Alfonso Cuaron, Fernando Meirelles and Guillermo del Toro, just three of the Latin American directors who started out in art-house productions and went on to achieve success with mainstream commercial hits.

There is a definite spirit of cooperation amongst directors in Latin American cinema, in which it seems they inspire each other to ever-greater heights of creativity and invention.  This may have something to do with a sensation of catching-up and a newfound confidence in their abilities, and the critical successes that have been achieved, especially at major European festivals like Cannes.

The proximity of the all-powerful United States with its Hollywood dream factory only seems to spur on the Latin American directors to create films characterized by style, insight and political awareness, as if in deliberate defiance of the accepted Hollywood blockbuster norms and their inevitable reduction of humans into stereotypes rather than rounded characters in difficult circumstances.

There is a freshness about the emerging cinemas of places like Turkey and Latin America that has generated a devoted following across the world in its insistence that cinema is an art form worthy of as much study and attention as painting and sculpture, with the power to change lives through altering attitudes to familiar psychological states and life circumstances.  Following the recent popular successes of the award-winning Pan’s Labyrinth and The Secret in their Eyes, Latin American cinema looks set to continue going from strength to strength, with a seemingly unlimited number of new ways to make cinema a unique means of looking at our world from fresh perspectives and with new insights. 

Andre Joshua

Andre Joshua

Andre is a freelance journalist and writer mostly interested on the impact of the film trends and industry on Latin American societies.

1 Comment

  • Angela O.

    Hi Andre, this is a nice, concise and clear overview. Would love to see something similar for Caribbean cinema. I know it is far from being as developed, but it would be good to know what's going on there...

    Angela O. Thursday, 02 June 2011 08:01 Comment Link

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