A Distorted Lens?
Have you ever seen an Argentinean movie? Despite numerous Oscar nominations and its status as the only Latin American country and one of two Spanish-speaking nations to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Argentina’s film industry is declining due to limited distribution, low national viewing rates and small profits.
In an attempt to generate revenue and protect national filmmakers, the Argentinean Film Institute implemented a protectionist act that sets fines on foreign films. The tax, which can be as high as roughly $95,000, is intended to help the 80 to 90 domestically-produced films that struggle to find theaters to screen their productions because they must compete against the more popular Hollywood blockbusters.
However, this tax will also impact the showing of smaller independent films from other countries by making it too expensive for these films to be put in Argentinean theaters. Since the law does not emphasize restricting the number of screens that imported films can be shown on, in the end it may not even help the national filmmakers trying to contend with American-made films.
The act is part of Argentina’s greater protectionist policies that have been levied in an effort to make the number of goods and services imported match the number of those exported. Many Argentinean filmmakers, such as Maxi Dubois, the creative force behind the newly released film Güelcom, are in support of the act as a way to balance the “unfair fight” between Argentinean films and Hollywood productions like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Kung Fu Panda 2, which sold over 500 copies to Argentinean theaters.
Yet others, like Julio Raffo, a prominent Argentinean filmmaker and a professor at Cuba’s esteemed International Cinema and Television School, think that the government measures will have an adverse effect by “mixing a revenue-raising policy with a protectionist policy.”
Since there is no guarantee that the act will increase attendance at showings of domestic films, Raffo believes that it will “help raise more money for the Institute, but it won’t help national cinema.”
Argentina’s film protectionist act could also limit the continuance of culturally enriching events, like Arab Cinema Week, which took place in Buenos Aires this past June. The event was intended to foster “cultural exchange and increasing understanding” and was the first time that
Argentinean audiences could experience an all-Arab film showcase. In addition to the film showings, the event included co-production forums and networking workshops geared toward facilitating industry relationships and future collaboration efforts. Argentinean film producers were also able to present and share co-production and sustainable filmmaking techniques with their Middle Eastern colleagues.
The positive impact of showing smaller independent and foreign films is exemplified by the popularity of the Sundance Film Festival and similar events. Also in this vein is the annual Maui Film Festival, which focuses on increasing understanding of native island culture by dedicating a portion of the films to ones with indigenous Hawaiian themes. These events have provided an audience for many influential and entertaining films that otherwise may have been lost among mainstream blockbusters.
“I think that college campuses, especially those as diverse and tolerant as the 5Cs, can be true breeding grounds for independent films,” commented Daniel LaPook PO ‘12. A Media Studies major and resident of the Oldenborg Center for Modern Languages and International Relations, LaPook describes himself as a film enthusiast.
“It’s of course fun to see those entertaining Hollywood hits,” LaPook said, “but the great thing about film is that you can immerse yourself in a world that is completely different from your own and learn about different cultures in a way that you wouldn’t get from something like Transformers or The Hangover.”
The Oldenborg Center is one of many ways that students at the Claremont Colleges can experience other cultures. The center requires students living there to attend certain cultural events each semester, a dimension that LaPook has enjoyed so far. “We just watched Aparte last week and it opened me up to some of the hardships in Uruguay that I would have never otherwise have had a perspective on. I also liked that it was in the native language because it created a level of authenticity and really made me focus on the high quality of the film.”
Argentina is not the only country attempting to use protectionist policies to promote local film production. Both South Korea and China have implemented similar taxes and quotas on foreign films which have benefited their national film industries not only economically, but also creatively by improving the quality of film production.
Additionally, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is in the process of ratifying an international treaty that will establish trade laws intended to protect indigenous films. The treaty has met much controversy over the economic and social implications of legal measures that could both foster and limit cultural exposure.
Timothy Craddock, the United Kingdom Ambassador to UNESCO and an advocate of the treaty, stated, “this convention is to…help countries promote their own culture and creative industries in a way that’s set down in law for the first time.”
National Public Radio correspondent Elizabeth Blair further explained that the treaty “codifies on an international level a belief that culture is not only about economics, but also about international identity.” Nevertheless, Blair went on to say that “culture and commerce are intertwined.”
While it is essential for filmmakers to be able to relate their stories to the nations that they are connected to, it is also important to give people the opportunity to learn about and gain an understanding of other cultures through a medium as strongly influential as film. Steve Solot, the head of the Latin America branch of the Motion Picture Association, argues that “entertainment product must be…diversified” and international partnerships are key in achieving such goals.
Thus, aside from their economic effects, the film protectionist acts in Argentina and the UNESCO treaty on indigenous films raise broader questions about the value of cultural awareness. These policies greatly affect the role of film in providing viewers with new insights on alternate lifestyles, such as what we experience here at cultural events at the Claremont Colleges.
Frances Kyl PO ‘14, newly elected Pomona College Sophomore Class President and an avid Spanish film fan, thinks that students are receptive to other cultures but still wants to incorporate more foreign events to the 5C social scene.
“I find a lot of value in foreign films,” Kyl said, “After seeing Pan’s Labyrinth, I became really interested in Spanish films, especially those of Pedro Almodóvar. From
there, I started getting into other foreign films that have a niche in American indie culture, like Amelie, and I was opened up to a whole network of new movies and cultures.”
Kyl has found that there is a divide among students at the Claremont Colleges regarding foreign films. There are many students, she said, who are willing to put the effort into finding and watching foreign features, but many students are also discouraged by the assumption that these films are harder to enjoy because of sub- titles or a slower pace.
“As sophomore class president, I am definitely interested in promoting greater cultural awareness through media at Pomona and at the 5Cs as a whole,” Kyl went on to say. She emphasized the need to build a foundational desire to see non-American productions by first showing more foreign films with greater recognition, like Oscar-winners.
Overall, Kyl argued that “if there’s a strong desire for more foreign films to be shown on campus, students can absolutely work with ASPC, or their respective Senates, to make that happen.” Efforts to expose students to other ways of life are undoubtedly taking place across the Claremont Colleges. With Pomona’s International Relations Colloquium, Pitzer College’s Spanish Language Film Series, Claremont McKenna’s Athenaeum speakers and the International Place banquet at the end of each year, it is clear that opportunities to learn about different cultures exists. But we can always do more.
Foreign films allow viewers to expand their knowledge and reassess the conditions of their lives. Hopefully, the Argentinean film protectionist acts will succeed at preserving a national film identity without undercutting the understanding of other cultures that can be forged through film.