LUCES! CAMARA! ACCION!
15 Jul, 2011 | Emma Hall
Browsing the countless pirate DVD shops, stalls and recycled tarpaulin mats in La Paz, it would be easy to assume that such a thing as a Bolivian film industry does not exist, and that the Bolivian population are more than content to watch endless blockbusters churned out by Hollywood (circa 1992) and nothing more. A request for 'peliculas bolivianos' will all too often be received with bemused stares and swift declinations, unless one copy of 'Cementerio de Elefantes' can be dug out (the one Bolivian film which seems to have slipped into the Spielberg-clad and DiCaprio-laden catalogues of DVDs in flimsy plastic cases).
But beneath the pirated veneer of Bolivia's cinematic identity one occasionally finds dazzling creations of narrative brilliance and cinematic sparkle, built upon foundations painstakingly laid out over the past thirty years. In the early Eighties Bolivian cinema found itself in a dire state of affairs; the cost and sporadic availability of celluloid film made it almost impossible for directors to transfer their ideas to the big screen for sheer lack of raw materials - as shown by the measly figure of eight (8, ocho, huit) feature length films to be scraped together in the Eighties, in comparison to the twenty-eight produced in Bolivia between 2003 and 2008 alone. This dramatic growth can no doubt be partially explained by the advent of digital photography, which helped to democratise and secularise film-making. Scavenge a camcorder from the Barrio Chino or Mercado Negro in the Graneros, and pay 8.5Bs for a pirated copy of Adobe Premier Editing Suite and you're well on your way to competing with the most renowned Bolivian film-makers out there.
With this shrinking issue of material start-up costs, both 1995 and 2006 saw booms in the film industry in terms of quantity and arguably inspiration. Where film had before been seen as little more than a political tool, in 1995 directors suddenly looked again to the simple task of telling a story, and in doing so produced unrefined yet (as a result) lucid portrayals of Bolivia and its people. Central to these explorations was the figure of the 'cholo', sometimes portrayed more sympathetically than at others. Fast forward to 2006, and celluloid seemingly goes out of the window through an unspoken abolition, being all but replaced by digital production, which was used to create every single film premiered in that year.
As well as contributing to the ever-expanding array of domestic film today, the annual Santa Cruz Film Festival now brings the hint of a promise to put Bolivia on the map as centre of independent production for the whole of Latin-America. However, burgeoning Bolivian director Yashira Jordan sees a lot of work still needing to be done for this celebration to reach its full potential: 'Despite there being so many fantastic films produced in South America this year (2010), the Santa Cruz festival lacked the necessary organisation, circulation and audiences to allow these works the appreciation they warranted.' She sees brighter horizons for PIDCA - ('Plataforma de Coproduccion Iberoamericana') - a series of conferences which ran parallel to the Film Festival, taking six films at different stages of their production and working to ensure that the directors could best achieve the realisation of their vision. Jordan's latest project - the documentary Durazno - featured on last year's agenda. It tracks the story of a person embarking upon a journey to find their true father, and with the publicity and expertise provided by PIDCA promises to be a moving account of events as they unfold.
Of her films, Yashira asserts 'they certainly contain much of Bolivia, but I don't think they are typically Bolivian, I don't think you can categorise a film with this term.' The question of the identity of Bolivian cinema is a difficult one to address. Certainly particular pioneering works have shaped the nature of Bolivian film - most recently, 2003's 1 ‘Dependencia Sexual' springs to mind. This film pioneered the use of a complex split-screen technique in South American cinema and proved to be a suitably chaotic artifice to narrate five Bolivian and American teenagers' overlapping experiences of their newlyfound sexuality. Other Bolivian directors have since responded to Rodrigo Bellot's ambitious methods by pushing their own technical boundaries. However, the diversity of Bolivian output remains, in both theme and execution, about as easy to categorise as the landscape from which it comes. With its erratic past, and a present so hard to pin down, second-guessing the next destination of Bolivian film is no easy task either. The next generation of filmmakers are to be found dotted around Bolivia in small hubs of activity, holding festivals, sharing their expertise and fusing ideas; rendering it safe to say there is no shortage of cinematic fuel in the nation to propel the industry forward. Naturally, all would-be Tarantinos and Polanskis face a struggle akin to Mt lllimani -it's as steep as it is ridged. Through legitimate outlets of distribution, Hollywood concoctions suffocate home grown products, leaving Bolivian directors stuck in the middle between overwhelming foreign influence and rampant, ungoverned piracy. This complex landscape stacks all odds against talented film-makers succeeding in creating financially viable careers in a nonexistent industry. And preoccupied as it is with more pressing concerns than the country's cinematic situation, the government has little motive or resources to prop up Bolivia's filmmakers.
Such hurdles could be seen as a filter, albeit a crude one, which ensures that for the recognition they so crave, Bolivians with ambition must be prepared to stray far outside the box in order to put their dreams to memory card-working with the mountainous problems faced by the industry, and not against it. Perhaps counter-intuitively, Victor Rivera (a La Paz-based director) argues that piracy 'is an extremely important alternative channel of distribution, which you have to learn to manage and regulate, sure, but by and large it has been more productive than destructive.' As regards the ways of combating the unhealthy national tendency to go straight for the Hollywood fare over the domestic, Yashira Jordan simply declares 'Make good films'. It is this no-nonsense yet optimistic attitude which stands the Bolivian directors in good stead for the coming years. Combine their unflinching determination with the landscape and people they have to work with (the producers of the last instalment in the James Bond saga, 'Quantum of Solace', certainly were drawn in by the rich natural resources of breathtaking film sets kept secret in Bolivia), and we surely have a recipe for future productions to conjure up levels of magic to rival Disney. And now all that remains is one task: you, reader, take off your Avatar glasses and take a real look around you; get your hands on a local film (by whatever means necessary), and press play.
A few classics and classics-to-be to get you started:
•Mi Socio - Paulo Agazzi
•La Nacion Clandestina - Jorge Sanjines
•Cuestion de fe - Marcos Loayza
•Jonas у la Ballena Rosada -Juan Carlos Valdivia
•Dependencia Sexual - Rodrigo Bellott
•Quien mato a la Llamita Blanca? - Rodrigo Bellott
•Zona Sur- Juan Carlos Valdivia
•Cementerio de Elefantes - Tonchi Antezana
•American Visa - Juan Carlos Valdivia