South of the Future: An Overview of Latin American Science Fiction Cinema

By Paz, Mariano | Science Fiction Film and Television, April 2008 | Go to article overview

South of the Future: An Overview of Latin American Science Fiction Cinema


Paz, Mariano, Science Fiction Film and Television


Sf cinema is undeniably dominated by the American film industry, at least in Western countries and since the end of World War II. Not only are the majority of sf films released each year produced in the US, but many of them are Hollywood blockbusters made with the biggest of budgets, while nations with very rich cinematic histories, such as France and Italy, have made comparatively few contributions to the genre. There is, however, a not-insignificant corpus of sf cinema produced in Latin America. These films have mostly been ignored by critics and academics, both nationally and internationally, and only in the past few years have they begun to show signs of being rediscovered. This article will offer an outline of Latin American sf film, providing a brief historical and textual analysis so as to help stimulate further and broader engagement with its subject. Following a historical overview of sf cinema in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, it will discuss in greater detail a film from each of these countries and then consider the defining features of Latin American sf cinema. The existence of this kind of film in a peripheral1 region such as Latin America may show that Hollywood sf cinema, despite its global market hegemony, is only one of the ways in which the genre can be expressed in film.

Before proceeding, four points need to be made. First, this article focuses on films from Mexico, Brazil and Argentina because these countries possess the largest film industries in Latin America, accounting for 90% of the approximately 12,500 films produced in the entire region between 1930 and 2000 (Getino 53). Second, while my analysis is limited to feature films, there is also, at least in these three countries, a small number of sf animated and short films. Third, among the most serious obstacles to researching this topic are the almost complete absence of filmographies and the difficulty in obtaining copies of the films, particularly those made more than three or four decades ago. Although in recent years Latin American sf literature has experienced an increase in academic interest (see Bell and Molina-Gavilán; Cano; Haywood-Ferreira, Emergence and 'First Wave'; Reati), the critical attention given to sf cinema is minimal. Fourth, while this is not the place to discuss the definition of sf, it is important to stress that I use the term in a strict way, involving the now traditional categories of estrangement and cognition (see Suvin). Thus, it is important to separate sf works from those corresponding to magic realism, the aesthetic movement most often associated, internationally, with Latin America. With its supernatural and fantastic elements, magic realism lacks the cognitive (i.e. rational, logical) dimension necessary to sf in this sense. While many Latin American sf films deal with speculation and anticipation without necessarily representing science or portraying new technologies, they still propose alternative realities ('novums', in Suvinian terminology) based on cognition and therefore can be considered part of the genre.

Origins of Latin American sf film

Sf is not absent from the imagination of Latin American artists. Indeed, a rich tradition of sf literature can be traced back to the second half of the nineteenth century without major interruption (see Haywood-Ferreira, Emergence and 'First Wave'; Causo; López Castro). Thus, when filmmakers approached the genre, it was not something totally disconnected from the field of cultural production. Although the transition of sf to the screen was not immediate, the first such ventures did not take too long to arrive either.2 It is almost impossible to establish an exact chronology of the early sf films, in particular those of the silent era: the lack of public and private investment in the protection of cultural heritage has resulted in a disregard for the conservation of prints and the loss of a large number of films. However, it is less difficult to identify pioneering works, in each of the three countries discussed, after the advent of sound. …

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