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The European connection in Buenos Aires

Films from the European Union and the former East are a major component of the 7th edition of the BUENOS AIRES INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF INDEPENDENT CINEMA. Nearly one third of the program, over one hundred films, is devoted to European works, which makes it the most represented region of all the films including films from Latin America.

Buenos Aires, which is often referred to as the Paris of the South, is itself a mix of Latin American and European influences. The city has a strong connection to Spain, of course, but also with France, Italy and the UK. Local newspapers in English, French, German and Italian are on display everywhere, and the film, music and art culture from those countries is exhibited at cultural venues around town.

The European presence is so strong here at the Festival that the pan European film promotion body, European Film Promotion (EFP), which represents all the film promotion boards in the EU, has a major presence at the event. Best known for its Shooting Stars initiative at the Berlin Film Festival (which presents new actors from participating countries in a major publicity blitz), EFP is here in force.

“This is the third year that EFP is in Buenos Aires”, Juliette Duret, the Manager of Belgian Wallonie Bruxelles Images explained. “We see South America, and Argentina in particular, as a very important market for auteur cinema from Europe, and we want to support the efforts of the Festival in highlighting films from our countries.”

Duret is joined here by EFP Project Manager Andreas Struck, a German filmmaker and programmer with Berlin’s Panorama section, who organized the EFP activities here. “We are here not only to support the European filmmakers whose films are shown in the various sections of the Festival, but also to a few Sales Agents”, Struck explained. “EFP has a new promotion initiative called Film Sales Support, where we provide the means for European sales agents to attend important film festivals and markets in order to promote sales of their films.” In Buenos Aires, German sales agent Media Luna and French sales company Wide are represented.

A highlight of EFP activities was the annual Press Conference, featuring several of the European directors present, held in the Festival’s Meeting Point in the Abasto Shopping Center. The Press Conference included Mercedes Alvarez, the Spanish director of Competition film El Cielo Gira/The Sky Turns; Fred Keleman, the German auteur of Krisana/Fallen; Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovsky (4); UK director Andy Kimpton-Nye, the director of a documentary portrait of legendary British film pioneer Derek Jarman; Thorsten Trimpop and Eva Lobau, respectively the German director and lead actress of the Competition film The Forest For The Trees and Hubert Sauper, the director of Austria’s Darwin’s Nighmare.

The panelists articulated their own creative processes in making their films and expressed frequent surprise that their films were so widely appreciated by the Buenos Aires film audiences. “I am convinced that cinema can reach beyond borders”, German director Thorsten Trimpop proclaimed. “I thought that my film would only appeal to local German audiences, but people here have really understood my inspirations and motivations.”

Hubert Sauper, the director of the existentalist film Darwin’s Nightmare, expressed the thought that “film creates an x ray of our times”. Although his film, which explores the excesses of modern civilization, might be described by some as pessimistic, he expressed that “since it is done with alot of passion, there is a curiosity to explore it, even if the vision is a bit dark.”

Inevitably, the discussion moved to the subject of film financing and the difficulties of finding a marketplace for challenging, individualistic works. “In the UK, there is now a crisis for funding arthouse cinema”, director Andy Kimpton Nye expressed. “Arthouse cinema is the true cinema of the culture, since it strives to find a voice different from that of the Hollywood mainstream film. I am hopeful that new technologies will allow more filmmakers to make their films their way without a great reliance on government support.”

However, since most European films are made through a raft of subsidy systems, both local and pan European, the filmmakers’ reliance on this system of subsidies remains strong. “I feel that since I have received public monies, I have an obligation to have my film widely seen”, Spanish director Mercedes Alvarez said. “This remains a challenge in Spain and in other countries, where most of the screens are filled not only with big Hollywood blockbusters but also with more commercial cinema from my own country. It is hard to compete.”

While everyone on the panel agreed that the times are challenging for the kind of films that they are committed to making, there is a lot of hope that festivals such as this one in Buenos Aires, which is devoted exclusively to independent cinema, will expand the audience awareness and curiosity. The packed houses this week are a testament to the success of the Festival’s ambitious slate of European films.

Sandy Mandelberger
Industry Editor

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