Since the 1970s and 1980s with the arrival on the international scene of such notable filmmakers as Sara Gómez (Cuba), María Luisa Bemberg (Argentina), Lourdes Portillo (Mexico) and Maryse Sistach (Mexico), there has been a growing interest in Latin American Women Filmmakers. More recently, there has been a further increase with the international success of a younger generation who appeal to a global audience, such as Lucrecia Martel (Argentina) and Claudia Llosa (Peru). This is evidenced in the recent publication, Hispanic and Lusophone Hispanic and Lusophone Women Filmmakers: Theory, practice and difference edited by Parvati Nair and Julián Daniel Gutiérrez-Albila (Manchester University Press, 2013), as well as other books considering women filmmakers in a national context, such as Elisa J. Rashkin’s 2001 Women Filmmakers in Mexico: The Country of Which We Dream (University of Texas Press), events such as, Mulheres da retomada: Women Filmmakers in Contemporary Brazilian Cinema, which took place in Tulane University in 2010, and, of course, this one day symposium at the University of Portsmouth, Latin American Women Filmmakers on the Global Stage.
Having travelled from near and far, after coffee, greetings and some catch up, the event began at 11am. Unusually, I didn’t live tweet the event because we were in a basement room with no 3G and I haven’t yet signed up for the Eduroam setting on my phone. So, this is a reflection of my impressions and summaries based on paper notes taken on the day.
The first paper by Deborah Shaw, the local organiser who had gathered us together and provided us with excellent hospitality, “Sex, texts and money, funding and Latin American queer cinema: the cases of Martel’s La niña santaand Puenzo’s XXY”, considered the complex transnational funding arrangements which have led to the current boom in filmmaking by Latin American women. Reflecting on the new queer, post-feminist protagonists with a defiant and troublesome gaze that is evident in films by many internationally successful women filmmakers, she particularly focused on La niña santa (Lucrecia Martel, 2004) and XXY (Lucía Puenzo, 2007). Mapping out the money trail, Shaw reflected on whether the funding sources could be encouraging certain types of filmmaking with queer perspectives or if this is simply a local development, or, indeed, a complex combination of both factors.
Marvin D’Lugo, Clark University, continued the financial theme through an examination of “Bertha Navarro and the Revamping of Latin American Cinema, Markets, Aesthetics”. From Mexico, Navarro is a reknowned producer who started in the marginal independent sector and has gradually gained a considerable reputation as a “boutique producer”. Through her company, Tequila Gang, and her Sundance Festival-supported Talleres [workshops], which help first-time scriptwriters hone their projects, Navarro has proved a formidable presence in the development and international success of Latin American cinema. Taking as examples her first film, Reed, México insurgente (Paul Leduc, 1971) and the more recent, Cosas insignificantes (Andrea Martínez Crowther, 2008), D’Lugo traced auteurist patterns in the films that Navarro produces, including showing communal history in human rather than epic terms, the use of indistinct or porous borders, and making films that naturalize real-world media cartographies. Interestingly, Cosas insignificantes is the first time she has produced a film directed by a woman.
Following on from D’Lugo’s consideration of Navarro as producer-auteur, Catherine Grant, University of Sussex, looked at a fellow female producer, Lita Stantic, “The Cultural Salience of an Argentine Female Producer”. This paper was flagged as a future video essay for REFRAME. Grant examines Stantic’s career through her recent recognition as “personalidad destacada” [outstanding personality] in Argentina, and homages and tributes from other festivals around the world. Drawing on the architectural term, salience, meaning outstanding, Grant explores how Stantic has created a star text or brand that she performs consistently in public interviews. Stantic describes her role as producer to be that of the father, while the director is the mother of the film. Grant considered the signatorial practices in the texts that can be traced back to Stantic’s own directorial opera prima, Un muro de silencio [Black Flowers: A Wall of Silence] (1992). She is an avowed feminist and “Indy producer”, and has produced 23 features since 1978, 12 of these by women directors. She made her name in her work with Bemberg, and has had continued successful collaborations on Martel’s first two features.
A break and tasty spread was followed by a further three papers on women directors. I gave the first, “Marcela Fernández Violante: Pioneer. Mentor. Forgotten?”, which considered the director Fernández Violante, a complicated case. For many years she was the only member of the directors’ union in Mexico, was head of one of the largest film schools, yet, because her films defy categorization or international appeal few have made it to the global stage. I called for her work to be reconsidered and placed alongside that of her male contemporaries with whom she has much in common, in particular Leduc. Teasing out a complex figuration of Fernández Violante’s public persona in her interviews, chimed with ideas of the performance of a self that Grant suggested through her study of Stantic.
Next up was Debbie Martin, University College London, who is working on a monograph on Martel, spoke about “Compartir la duda: perception, sensation, uncertainty and the uncanny in Lucrecia Martel”. Martin considered how each of Martel’s films in the Salta trilogy is a meditation on perception which is educated and habitual. Through the use of “perceptual impediments”, such as sunglasses, screens, and car windows, Martel suggests at an uncertainty around the subject’s boundaries and creates an uncanny closeness for the audience. Sensations such as touch, sound, and haptic looking are all foregrounded in her films through a variety techniques including some drawn from horror.
Rounding off the consideration of this trio of directors in her paper, “Claudia Llosa: Re-inventing Peru Through Film”, Sarah Barrow, University of Lincoln, returned to the earlier theme of funding, and considered the controversies that have surrounded Llosa’s two features, Madeinusa (2006) and La teta asustada [The Milk of Sorrow] (2009), in Peru and on the global stage. Performing successfully on the festival circuit and nominated for an Oscar, La teta asustada was also a box office hit in Peru. Despite this it was subject to much disquiet, and in many cases vilification, in Peruvian newspapers and on the blogosphere. Llosa is Peruvian born and based in Barcelona, she obtained funding from national and transnational sources, all of which have their own ramifications and tensions when the films are reviewed and received both at home and abroad, as Barrow deftly explored.
From these three approaches and distinct case studies, it is evident that women filmmakers have much to say that is worthwhile examining from multiple perspectives.
The day ended with a roundtable. Marvin D’Lugo, Stephanie Dennison, University of Leeds and Nuria Triána Toribio, University of Kent (as chair), drew on the themes of the day with a lively discussion and contributions from the audience. This was filmed and will be available shortly. Some of the issues that emerged were: the need to study practitioners other than just the director when talking about women filmmakers; whether there is a boom; how commercially successful genre films are often ignored; whether what is being considered by international scholars reflects what is being watched in local cinemas in Latin America; the significance of the arthouse circuit and funding regimes on what is being made and consumed; how teaching needs (availability of films, subtitling, etc) can determine what is studied; and so on. A point of considerable debate was the validity or necessity of looking at women filmmakers separate to their male contemporaries. There is the danger of ghettoising women’s films and thereby marginalising them. But, there is also a recognition that there is a need to reflect on the particularities of being a woman that can determine access to funding, material, technology, education and networks, until there is a level playing field for all irrespective of gender.
In all it was a very convivial and stimulating day with lively discussions after each session and a considerably diverse offering. There were interesting themes and some commonalities in the scholarly concerns, as well as divergent approaches. It demonstrated that the growing academic interest in Latin American women filmmakers has far from exhausted itself.
If you wish to access some films by Latin American women filmmakers try this link as a useful starting point.