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Modern-day production in Argentina lifted off from its new Argentine Cinema, born over 1991-95, in Brazil with Walter Salles’ 1998 “Central Station,” in Mexico from Carlos Reygadas’ 2002 “Japón.”
Now, Latin America is seeing second-phase expansion based out of smaller markets, driven by the energies of forward-thinking production companies determined to not just build slates but their national film industries.
In line with the massive new talent focus of many of Locarno’s industry programs – this year’s Germany First Look with five feature debuts, the Match Me! emerging producer springboard – Open Doors will focus on Latin America’s most under-represented territories and the Caribbean, where production companies have sprung up after national cinema lift-off in more major countries in the region.
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Bolivia’s Empatía Cinema, for example, was founded in 2007, but most key companies at Locarno launched significantly later: YPR Films in 2010, La Linterna Films in 2011, Paraguay’s Asociación Cultural Arraigo in 2014, Haiti’s Muska Films in 2015 and Boton Films in 2019.
Six of the eight titles at Open Doors Projects Hub are debuts.
Producing out of smaller territories in Latin America and the Caribbean is a tall order. Some countries – El Salvador, Haiti – have no production funds nor film schools to drive development. But some directors and producers have already won their spurs. “Los invisibles” is set up at Guatemala’s La Danta Films, whose partners include Cannes 2019 Camera d’Or winner César Díaz (“Our Mothers”).
Yanillys Pérez’s documentary “Jeffrey” scooped a Discovery Award at the Toronto Festival. Michael Labarca won third prize at the Cannes’ Festival’s Cinéfondation film school shorts competition in 2016.
“Sopor and Bird” is from Ana Cristina Barragán, whose 2016 debut feature “Alba” showcased at the Cannes Film Market, premiered at the Rotterdam Festival and received a special mention at San Sebastián.
Co-written and produced by Mirambeau Jr., Bruno Mourral’s medium feature “Kafou” won the Indie Spirit Special Recognition Award at the 2017 Boston Film Festival.
Talent clusters are now emerging around some of these production houses, driven by their creative producers. Director Joe Houlberg (“Ozogoche”) at Ecuador’s Botón Films, is behind two upcoming Barragán features: “Ivy,” with Karla Souza, co-star of “How to Get Away With Murder,” and “Sopor and Bird,” featured at Locarno.
At Costa Rica’s La Linterna Films, Alexandra Latishev produced her own feature debut, 2017’s “Medea,” but also Carolina Arias’ one-hour doc “Objetos rebeldes” and now Federico Montero’s Locarno-featured “Men Die Sooner.”
In Guatemala, the production credits of La Danta, also headed by Mauricio Escobar, take in Justin Lerner’s admired “Cadejo Blanco” and “Fidelidad,” the upcoming second feature from Díaz.
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Many stories are anti-establishment, whether that’s big business agriculture (“Kokue”) or ingrained patriarchy (“Diamond,” “Men Die Sooner”).
On the upside, in artistic terms at least, there’s so much to say. These are heartfelt, personal tales and for that reason carry a sense of imperative urgency. Pérez’s mother worked at a mine in Venezuela; Agüero was brought up by his grandmother in Paraguayan countryside, leaving her to become ultimately a filmmaker. “Kidnapping Inc.” is set against Hait’s emergence by 2021 as the country with the highest kidnapping rate in the world. Three crew members were kidnapped during its shoot. “Moa” is inspired by director Marcel Beltrán walking on a dry, polluted lake in his hometown, Moa, in Cuba. It will shoot there, secondary characters played by his residents, he says.
In one building production trend, “Diamond,” “Ñusta,” “Neón” and “Men Die Sooner” are all LGBTQ movies, as LGBTQ universes in conservative bastions – such as rural or more backward Latin America or traditional Indigenous communities – consolidate as a haven of freedom for establishment-questioning rebels.
Following, short profiles of the eight titles at Open Doors Projects’ Hub and one prime project from each of the nine producers at the year’s Producers’ Lab:
Open Doors Projects’ Hub:
“Diamond,” (“Diamante,” Yashira Jordán, Bolivia)
Petra, a rebellious Quechua trap singer escapes her traditional community in Bolivia to find her father, who makes her realize the vital power of transformation. Fusing the “magic realism and rawness of my Bolivian culture,” says Jordan, a potentially powerful mix of gender themes and an Andean queer universe which won a Sanfic Industry Award at Malaga’s MAFF. Backed by Bolivia’s Empatía Cinema, behind Martin Boulocq’s Tribeca selected “The Visitor.”
“Kids Swimming in the Lake,” (“Muchachos bañándose en el lago,” Michael Labarca, Venezuela, Chile, France)
During a long blackout, Dayana, 11, plays with her younger siblings, dreams of reuniting with her father, who has abandoned Venezuela. A meditation on emigration, viewed by a child who has to stay behind, from Venezuela’s Michael Labarca, whose short, “La culpa, probablemente” won third prize at the Cannes Festival’s 2016 Cinéfondation.
“Los invisibles,” (Andrés Rodríguez, Guatemala)
A social realist tale plumbing domestic migration in Guatemala. Alejandro, 17, an Indigenous cell-phone street vendor in Guatemala City where “he continuously confronts racism in a city that refuses to see him,” says Rodríguez. He travels back to his hometown to aid his AIDs-ill mother access state health care as “this invisible person seeks to find his place in a society that excludes him,” Rodriguez adds. A triple winner at Guadalajara’s 2021 Co-Production Meetings.
“Kokue,” (Miguel Agüero, Paraguay)
With agrochemical soya cultivation devastating life in a remote town in Paraguay, Leonardo tries to persuade his grandmother to emigrate to Argentina. As the town’s last midwife and traditional healer, however, she is unwilling to leave her farm, culture and dead husband’s grave. Co-produced by Paraguay’s Asociación Cultural Arraigo, dedicated to Guaraní-language works, and Chile’s Cyan Prods.
“Men Die Sooner,” (“Los hombres morimos antes,” Federico Montero, Costa Rica, Uruguay)
Fernando, a gay dancer, returns to his upper-class horse breeding farm and begins to tend a horse, defying the power dynamics of his upbringing. A “Western, surrealistic drama with hints of comedy,” says Montero, “Men Die Sooner” is “an attempt to translate into images the questions of how we’ve been taught to be men in Costa Rica and Central America,” he tells Variety.
“Moa,” (Marcel Beltrán, Cuba, Brazil)
A scientist writing a report on the impact of pollution in her hometown, Moa, is fired from her job, falls victim to a sense of desolation. Produced by Brazil’s Paula Gastaud, the first fiction feature from Cuba’s Beltrán whose second doc feature, “La opción zero,” world premiered at IDFA and won best feature at MiradasDoc.
“Sopor and Bird,” (“Sopor y Ave,” Ana Cristina Barragán, Ecuador, Argentina, Spain)
A group of adolescent girls rescued from sex trafficking live temporarily in a shelter. The film follows Abigail, 14, as she goes back home, where nothing seems the same. “The trafficking of adolescent women is not talked about much,” says Houlberg. When it is, “it is the moment or the act of abuse.” “Sopor and Bird” seeks “to talk about the moment after.”
“When Rain Falls,” (“Cuando Cae la Lluvia,” Yanillys Pérez, Dominican Republic.
Marta, a single mother, works at a mine, selling products and food, leaving Resistencia, 9, to parent Esperanza (7) and Mía, 5. A humble broken family portrait, set against a spectacular landscape, and laced with characters’ fantasies. Toronto winner Pérez directs.
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Open Doors Producers’ Lab
“Black Madonna,”(Prod. Michelle Sérieux, Imagine Caribbean, Saint Lucia)
Based out of Saint Lucia, Serieux, a former Columbia U. alum, oversees Imagine Caribbean, a boutique production house focused on unique screen stories about the Caribbean and global south, primarily on those tackling social injustice issues. “Black Madonna” is a supernatural thriller.
“Diogenes,” (Prod: Illari Orccotoma, Peru)
Orccottoma is attending Open Doors with “4eber,” from Peru’s Ximena Valdivia (“Lima Screams”), a portrait of new dance movements connecting to ancient Indigenous culture. Film’s first draft is being co-written with Costa Rica’s Luisa Mora Fernández, a co-scribe on Mexican Kim Torres’ Cannes Festival selected short “Luz Nocturna.”
Another Locarno priority remains to secure distribution outlets for Leonardo Barbuy’s B&W, Quechua-spoken “Diogenes,” a standout at Ventana Sur’s 2021 Primer Corte. In post, the portrait of an high Andes Indigenous family living in ancestral isolation was lensed by DP Mateo Guzmán whose credits include César Acevedo’s 2015 Cannes Critics’ Week and Camera d’Or winner “Land and Shade.”
“Kidnapping Inc.,” (“Malatchong,” Prod: Gilbert Mirambeau Jr., Haiti)
Shot naturally enough in Haitian Creole and French, the first fiction feature from go-ahead Haitian-born writer-producer Mirambeau Jr. at Haiti-based Muska Films is directed by long term partner Bruno Mourral. Described by Mirambeau as a darkly comedic political drama-thriller, it turns on two hapless kidnappers who end up in the middle of a political conspiracy. Tapping into an impressive network of international partners as Muska brings something fresh to the French-speaking market.
“Laura and the Dungeons,” (Prod-Director :Ricardo B’atz, Cayagunaca Films, El Salvador)
Lead-produced by the Blatz-founded Cayaguanca Films in El Salvador, a magical realist animated feature turning on Laura, a 10-year-old Nahua, who learns to transform into a jaguar to survive the massacres of the civil war in El Salvador. Animation will combine rotoscoping, 2D and embroidery, B’atz told Variety.
“Fallen Angel and Devil Concubine,” (Nadean Rawlins, RAW Management, Jamaica)
A winner of the Toronto Festival’s Caribbean Tales The Big Pitch audience choice with feature film project “Traytown,” based on her first short, Rawlins will be talking up at Locarno “Fallen Angel and Devil Concubine,” a feature project based on a stage play which she will direct.
“Neon,” (Prod: María Félix Morales Lotz, Asertiva, Nicaragua)
Morales Lotz’s first feature as a producer, a queer film set in Asunción, Paraguay, directed by Angel Molina, who presented the project at Berlinale Talents. Morales Lotz is the producer of human rights tales such as doc “Sueños de Birrete” and TV film “La Casa Estrellada.”
“Ñusta,” (Prod: Daniela Fuentes Moncada, Ecuador)
At the Inti Raymi – Winter Solstice – celebrations in the Ecuador’s Andes, Kallpa, 12, an Indigenous boy, reveals to family and community his desire to become a woman. He’s expelled from his village, befriends two trans women, and suffers constant sexual abuse in a transformation that promises not be easy. The feature debut of Christian Rojas, set up at Epopeya, whose Fuentes Moncada, producer of Gabriela Calvache’s “La Mala Noche,” believes that in cinema, “we have a tool to transform the world one viewer at a time.”
“Song of the Flower,” (Prod: Camila Urrutia, Cameleon Films, Guatemala)
A pioneering Guatemalan producer-director, Urrutia’s 2019 debut film feature “Gunpowder Heart,” produced by Spain’s Curuxa Cinema, saw a healthy festival run. Currently developing “Song of the Flower” – a working title – her second fiction feature, now with her own label, Camaléon Films. “Song” continues Urrutia’s exploration of women’s lives in Guatemala, this time with a more mature approach on queer women and maternity, a subject still taboo in her country, Urrutia observes.
“Space is a Monstrous Animal,” (Prod: Karolina Hernández Chaves, Dos Sentidos, Costa Rica)
But the title is also an upbeat hybrid doc feature. It is first set in 1986, capturing a rural kid, a young U.S. migrant and Costa Rica’s first astronaut in space. Decades later, the trio are at the head of the country’s space program. The doc’s “fictional tools (real action and animation) contrast their inner world with the media attention and the glamor of becoming an astronaut in a country as small as Costa Rica,” says director Natalia Solórzano. Part of an adventurous slate at Dos Sentidos which takes in Iván Porras’ “El baile de la gacela,” a 2018 Montreal Fest best first feature, and 2019 anthology “Dias de Luz,” the first co-production involving all six countries in Central America.
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