October 27, 2007
Exploring "Cine Latino" (2 of 2)

In my previous post, I detailed some thoughts about my introduction to the Latin-American filmmaking community through a recent panel called "Challenges for Latinas in the Media and Cross-Cultural Filmmaking" at the Boston Latino International Film Festival last week. In this post, I wanted to provide some more thoughts I had coming out of the festival.

One thing I became more aware of during the panel was that Latina filmmakers here also encounter the challenge of working in cross-cultural environments.

The panelists indicated that language was one of their main concerns in this respect. As a Latin-American spectator, I feel very frustrated when I see Spanish-speaking actors being forced to talk to one another in English with very heavy accents. Of course I understand the marketing implications that these choices entail, but I can't help but feel put off by the lack of respect and verisimilitude.

For documentary directors, as two of the panelists were, this becomes and even greater dilemma, when they are faced with the decision of conducting stifled interviews in English but with a "wider audience appeal," or more natural ones in Spanish, which will have too undergo subtitling for an American audience.

I was surprised to realize that documentary filmmaking is still very much a grant-driven sector in the U.S. I've always felt that grants can be a double-edged sword; on one side, they allow the creators more independence from market impositions. On the other, they tend to impose other types of agendas, as well as relieving the author of the pressure of actually reaching wider audiences, which eventually reinforces the lack of documentaries in theatrical distribution.

This, of course, is not true for all cases, but there are implicit risks that tend to be less obvious than with straightforward business transactions. I would also like to point out that the scarcity of documentaries in mainstream theatrical distribution responds to a much more complex set of variables than what we've talked about here.

As the panel closed, I was interested in finding out what the challenges are for Latina fiction filmmakers. Is the playing field is different for them? Do they encounter different financing and distribution opportunities? What are the challenges they face?

Further down the line, and hopefully after receiving some feedback from this first post, I'd like to look into these issues, and some even trickier ones, such as the relation between Latino production and Latin American production:

Do these industries compete, complement, or ignore each other? What is there to gain and what is there to lose in these interactions? And what role is Puerto Rico playing in this complex dynamic?

What are your thoughts?