Ana Rodart ︎

Image: Reproduction.  

Frames from our people: forces and works for a new global south cinema

Driven by new foster policies and a focus on plurality, southern global cinema stands out on festival circuits and streaming platforms. But the new generation of directors still has a lot of fighting to do.

When the south korean director Bong Joon Ho and your translator, Sharon Choi, got on the Beverly Hilton stage to thank the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, they gave a little tip so that cinema lovers here in this side of things will once again marvel at the screens: "Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films." Google Translate, lesgo: in addition to the revival of terror, the post #MeToo and the new South Korean wave, cinema has been driven by a growing interest in the narratives and accents of the global south.

And we don’t give out tips without proper reference. Check this out: in the last edition of the Berlin Film Festival, the 70ª Berlinale, the Latin American cinema stood out with 19 world premieres, with productions from Chile, Cuba, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina and Brasil. Exploring thematics such as migration, queer identities and the conflicts faced by indigenous communities, the films showed the power of countries that have been facing actions to dismantle the cinema they produce. At Sundance 2021, Brasil took a chance on the sci-fi thriller “The Pink Cloud” (Iuli Gerbase, 2021), catalyzing accidentally on purpose the post-apocalyptic feelings we have been experiencing. In the 2020 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, “Memory House'', the first feature film by Brasilian filmmaker João Paulo Miranda Maria, represented Latin America in the official selection of the event.

“The independent production of Latin America has been presenting a very high technical quality, connected to everyday thematics. It’s powerful to see issues of macro politics being represented in people's daily lives”, says the young director and screenwriter Pedro Estrada, one of the curators at the latest edition of the Lumiar Interamerican Festival of University Cinema, aimed at short films.

The growing interest in Latin American production has also come from its own people, who have had greater access to local independent productions. After all, to ensure everyone's safety in recent months, film festivals ended up transferring their programming to virtual platforms. The Minas Gerais director, Marco Antônio Pereira, born and raised in Cordisburgo (Minas Gerais), has been following the public reception around his films with excitement: “People in my city started to understand that someone from there was making films. That it wasn't just someone who came and then left. With online festivals, people are having access to their landscapes, simple stories and its signals - which often only the people from there will understand. ”

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Across the ocean, the power of the African diaspora has instigated investments in streaming platforms to democratize access to cinema produced in Africa. Netflix, for example, has been distributing and investing in its own productions, such as the South African police series “Queen Sono” (Kagiso Lediga and Pearl Thusi, 2020), the documentary “My Octopus Teacher” (James Reed and Pippa Ehrlich, 2020 ) and the teenager “Blood & Water” (Nosipho Dumisa, Daryne Joshua and Travis Taute, 2020). The initiative was announced in the video "From Africa to the World", released in June last year, and is part of a strategy of the company to maintain its dominance in the global market in the face of the arrival of competitors such as Disney + and HBO Max.

Not that things weren’t promising for cinema produced on the continent. To give you an idea, in the global context, Nigeria ranks second in terms of production volume - there are about 2,500 films a year - staying only behind the Indian industry. The country became known for its comedies and dramas, among which stand out productions like Lionheart (Genevieve Nnaji, 2019). Today, it also excels in more diverse genres, such as horror, musicals and animations. Let it be said the short “Lizard”, by Akinola Davies Jr, who won the 2021 Sundance Jury Grand Prix.

But calm down, sir. Reed Hastings, we do have some scores. As the author Ana Camila Esteves shared, in an attempt to communicate with global audiences, the plots supported by the streaming platform have been reproducing codes of genres already established in American and European cinema. In addition, Netflix has invested massively in films from South Africa and Nigeria, which already have consolidated audiovisual industries and are able to produce films and series at low cost. Even so, African productions from outside this circuit have also been on the spotlight, as is the case with the controversial Cuties, by the Franco-Senegalese Maimouna Coucoré. The film, which caused a stir for discussing the hypersexualization of teenagers, premiered at Sundance in 2020 and was acquired exclusively by the streaming service.

Still with these stimulus, young filmmakers from the continent face challenges to put their projects on track. In an interview with Times Live, Zimbabwean director Tomas Brickhill - responsible for the romantic comedy Cook Off (2020) - said that in most countries on the African continent, there is no film industry or support funds to support independent production. He believes that the key element to solving this equation lies in the distribution: “People want content and filmmakers want to produce content, but what is missing is people with the business mindset who work on monetizing the final product and transforming demand into an opportunity for investors”.

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In Brasil, the cinema industry is still very dependent on the State - that are currently, under Bolsonaro’s influence, working to dismantle the cinematography production in the country. “All the films I’ve produced are financed with municipal funds, because at a federal level there is absolutely nothing else going on [for filmmakers]. Bolsonaro really managed to stop the national cinema. (...) He just froze everything, making the cinema industry unable to move”, shares Pedro Estrada.

Just to have some perspective, the Fundo Setorial de Audiovisual (FSA) budget, responsible for funding films in Brasil, had a cut of 43% in 2020. The plot doesn't even relate to the economy; after all, the sector employs more than 300 thousand people and handles approximately 25 billion BRL per year. In reality, the National Agency of Cinema (Ancine), which is in charge of financing and regulating Brasilian cinematographic productions, has suffered from attacks and relocation of positions. It is because Jair Bolsonaro, as usual, wants the agency to only approve productions in line with his ideologies. Along the same lines of thought, the Cinemateca Brasileira, responsible for preserving films and with the largest audiovisual collection in Latin America, is also without resources to operate. We don't even have to go that far to say how much all this threatens the diversity of our cultural and audiovisual expressions, right?

Director Marco Antônio Pereira, who is currently distributing his short film “4 bilhões de infinitos”, sees on the proposals of a shared economy a possible solution:” In this kind of arrangement, everyone would earn a bit less. (...) And if the movie gets a prize, I distribute the bonus”.

With screenings at film festivals in Berlin, Hong Kong, Gramado and Tiradentes, Marco is one of the founders of Abdução Films, a production company from Minas Gerais, whose headquarters are in the Aglomerado da Serra, in Belo Horizonte. For him, the audiovisual promotion policies prior to Bolsonaro's government brought important benefits to national cinema, but, at the same time, distributed a lot of money to a few filmmakers, which did not contribute to the birth of a proper film industry in the country. The director also points out that, in addition to this lack of support at the federal level, young filmmakers from small cities have also felt obliged to change their location to raise funds, since only large cities have been financing audiovisual production.

Pedro Estrada, who besides distributing the short film “Grand Canyon”, is producing two shorts and planning his first feature film, is in line with Marco's thought process. Like other young filmmakers in the country, for years, he took money out of his own pocket and with a lot of helping hands managed to get the projects off the paper, which accentuates inequality of access and opportunities in the industry. For Pedro, what is lacking is support from educational and promotion institutions, since, according to him, even the country's film colleges are suffering from precariousness: “We are doing everything out of love, out of a desire to exist. (...) We need a greater participation of the institutions to support our teachers and the State in the promotion of public funds. ”

Despite all complications, the independent Brasilian cinema still has hope. As Maco Antônio says, the increasing access to high resolution cameras and editing softwares has allowed a new generation of young directors to create low-cost films. Mentioning the success of the production company Filmes de Plastico (Contagem, metropolitan area of Belo Horizonte), Marco shares that, with the support of investors, the knowledge about promotion mechanisms and the belief in the power of realization coming from the suburbs, the Brazilian audiovisual can be strengthened and stand out anywhere: “Put a camera in the hands of a person from the countryside or suburbs that you will see the power of cinema being born!”.