Cine a Lo Chileno: The Challenges of Production in a Fledgling Market. (Features: Chile)

Article excerpt

Hasn't anyone told you that the Chilean film industry doesn't exist?" Daniel Henriquez, president of the Chilean Association of Short Film Producers (ACORCH), asked me when I explained to him that I was researching the "renovation" of the Chilean film industry in the 1990s.

We were standing in a classroom of ARCIS University, the openly left-wing private higher-education institution in Santiago de Chile that also serves as one of the main loci of film production in the country. Henriquez looked like many of the students: His hair was long and unkempt, his T-shirt emblazoned with the punk group The Clash, and he spoke so intensely that he might as well have been talking about political agitation instead of cinema.

I asked Henriquez how it could be that a film industry didn't exist in the country if film production did? After all, Chile had produced exactly zero feature films in the 1980s, but in the period 1998-2000 alone, 20 had been released nationally. Several of these films had even gone on to win international film festival awards and many had reaped substantial profits at the Chilean box office. Henriquez began to explain the dizzying array of private, governmental and transnational mechanisms that exist for financing national films in Chile. But I prefer the answer that Jorge Olguin, director of Angel negro, Chile's first horror film, gave me when I asked him how he had gotten his movie made and distributed to theatres nationally: `A lo chileno"--Chilean-style.

So what is the Chilean style of making films? And how did the country manage to increase film production in the 1990s without the aid of any formal institution, either something like Hollywood or a state-funded organization, as in many other Latin American countries?

Chilean Cinema in the Age of Globalization

Several historical events transformed Chilean cinema in the 1990s and brought it from a moribund state to outright revitalization. In 1990, Patricio Aylwin took office as the first democratically elected president since the Pinochet-led military junta toppled the Allende administration in 1973. During the Pinochet dictatorship, only one film was produced nationally. The most important cinematic work was done clandestinely by networks of activists documenting the regime's human rights abuses. The democratic transition allowed for increased freedom of expression in the arts as well as politically, setting the stage for a revival of Chilean culture and artistic expression.

With these changes, two generations of Chilean filmmakers carne together for the first time. Exiled filmmakers with experience gained abroad began trickling back into the country. They brought with them much needed experience and professionalism, as well as the desire to produce films locally. And a younger generation of filmmakers began telling stories that reflected the everyday lives of Chileans, as in the case of El chacotero sentimental (1999), based on a popular radio talk show. "This gave impetus for many people who hadn't ever watched national films to go out and see them and to get interested in them," asserts Alejandra Cillero, of the Cultural Affairs Division of the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Perhaps more important, Latin American governments in the 1990s began to see cinema as a means to rebrand and revitalize the way that the world and their own citizens perceived their nations. A widespread sense that an inundation of cultural products from the United States was, if not deleterious, then certainly disconcerting, helped foment public policies to nurture national film production: According to a March 2001 issue of Pulso latinoamericano, the average Latin American teenager might watch 12 movies over the span of one month in a theatre, on television or on cable. Nine or 10 of the 12 would undoubtedly have originated in the United States.

The problem, according to Silvio Caiozzi, director of the internationally acclaimed Chilean film Coronacion (1999), is the way Latin Americans perceive the role of film in their culture, in contrast to the United States. …