Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Half a Century of Film Archives in Latin America

Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Half a Century of Film Archives in Latin America

Article excerpt

In the very beginning of the history of the cinematheques, five years after the creation of FlAF, there originated in Latin America the first film archives of the continent: first in Montevideo - Cine Arte del Sodre -, a state service for film diffusion (after Archive Nacional de la Imagen), some time later the Cinemateca Brasileira in Sâo Paulo and the Cinemateca Argentina in Buenos Aires. In 1952, in Montevideo again, Cinemateca Uruguaya is created. These four cinemateques enter FIAF at that time, foster the creation of other institutions in the region, organize the Latin American Section of FIAF with seat in Montevideo, and give from the start a vocational drive linked to the action of some pioneers: Danilo Trelles in Cine Arte (presently living in Madrid), Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes in Sâo Paulo (deceased), Rolando Fustiñana - Roland - in Buenos Aires (presiding up to this day the Cinemateca Argentina), Walther Dassori in Montevideo (deceased).

Three of the four cinematheques are private institutions, created around film clubs: Cine Club Sâo Paulo, Club Gente de Cine in Buenos Aires and Cine Club and Cine Universitario in Montevideo. Within a few years other film archives are created in the region, whether linked to the universities in Lima, Santiago, Mexico and Guatemala, or linked again to film clubs in Bogotá, Asunción and La Habana, or to other institutes like in Caracas and Rio de Janeiro. Other pioneers work there, like Manuel González Casanova (Mexico). Of this second group only those in Mexico (Filmoteca de la UNAM), Caracas (Cinemateca Nacional) and Rio de Janeiro (Cinemateca do Museu de Arte Moderna) subsist till today.

The convulsed, contradictory and controversial sixties in Latin America and the Caribbean provoke conflicts between those who consider the cinematheques as mere vehicles for ideologically engaged diffusion and those who give priority to the recovery of films, their preservation and restoration. The movement is fractured, there appear cinematheques that are not really ones. But, at the same time, others come to life, mainly the Cinemateca de Cuba at the beginning of the decade, and the Cineteca Nacional de México thereafter. During more than ten years of authoritarian dictatorships up to the middle eighties, several archives disappear, other merge, new ones consolidate in La Paz, Quito, Managua, Lima and Bogotá. But what becomes absolutely clear is that film in these countries is not recovered nor preserved by anyone except the film archives in each country, that the savage circulation of unique non preserved copies is the surest and most practical way of destroying film, one's own and one another's, that the utopies of political action did not lead to any concrete result. And one learns that film preservation and recovery is much more difficult than one thought twenty years ago.

Latin American profile at the present time

In spite of more or less extended history, the Latin American cinematheques have had a rather troubled development and difficulties in achieving their aims. Only a small part of these countries' films has been preserved, and an even smaller part has been restored. The film memory of the continent is in the process of disappearing and in most of the countries the cinematheques are impotent to save thousands of meters of old and new movies. The lack of resources, the generalized lack of understanding or the lack of interest of the governments, the legal unprotection, even the hostility, the periodical crises that affect most of the archives - a consequence of the scarce support they find in their medium or abroad -, are facts that determine the difficult development of the institutions and their characteristics, cultural policies and organizing structures.

Five regional cinematheques are private and only exceptionally receive help from their governments, being obliged to count on their own economies coming from their audience. Three of them depend on municipal governments. …

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