foreign films

Living the dream: A new generation of Central American filmmakers are lighting up the screen

Feature films and documentaries from the region are increasingly screened, and awarded, at international film festivals.

Central America was united as one nation for a brief and volatile period in the mid-19th century following independence from Spain, and the Honduran hero who served as president of the Federal Republic of Central America is the center of a historical biopic filmed in his homeland of Honduras by a local production company. Francisco Morazán’s name is often conjured up when discussing the one-time union of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica – and Morazán became the first Honduran film to be considered for an Academy Award.

Globalization is contributing to a new era of cinematic production in Central America due to new technologies and lower costs, GDP growth exceeding 3% in four of the five Central American nations, reduced fragmentation in regional film distribution, and increased sponsorship and interest from afar, not to mention that Spanish is second only to Chinese as the world’s most widely used language. Central American productions have a limited life span that starts with release in local theaters. With luck, some are picked by Latin American cable channels like Cine Latino. Increasingly, feature films and documentaries from the region are screened at international film festivals near and far from home, from Cuba to Germany, and receive prizes.

The production of Morazán, directed by Hispano Durón, was not without hiccups – the most notorious was the casting of a Colombian actor to play the lead title role. Despite initial reservations, critics and audiences flocked to the theaters and made the film a certifiable hit in Honduras. The film centers on the last week in Morazán’s life, culminating with his execution in San José, Costa Rica. By request, Morazán commanded the firing squad that shot him.

Finding sucess

The movie Morazán was the most successful among more than a dozen other films produced in Honduras that had their turn at local theaters in 2017 with various box office results. Themes of the movies varied from the comedy Cuatro Catrachos en Apuros, or Four Hondurans in Trouble, to historical biopics like Morazán. It’s nothing short of an industry boom for Honduras, where less than a decade ago, only one film emerged every two or three years.

Honduran director Tomas Chi credits technology. He has averaged a film per year since 2014, including 11 Cipotes (11 Kids), Fuerza de Honor (Honor Force), and just in time for the 2017 holiday season, Y Los Tamales? (Where Are My Tamales?) He explains that making a motion picture was once an onerous venture, with thousands of dollars needed just for production of film reels and processing for cinemascope in local theaters. The arrival of digital technology, both for camera equipment as well as projectors, reduced these costs to near zero. Suddenly, the production of a motion picture was within the grasp of dreaming young filmmakers. And they have embraced new technologies. During production, Chi explains how the director relies on devices like tablets to record rehearsals and provide feedback to the actors.

The film industry in Central America has no direct ties with the likes of big studio production companies in Hollywood and remains the stuff of dreams for many, with the most adventurous investing their own money to achieve those dreams. Most productions require sponsorship from companies in the private sector and, in most cases, the government as well. The region’s banks do not consider filmmaking a viable investment, at least not yet.

A distinctive film industry is emerging in each Central American country based on their previous success. For instance, Nicaragua has not produced a fiction film since 2014 with La Pantalla Desnuda, or The Naked Screen. Instead, the local producers have focused on documentaries that have been well received at international film festivals in Costa Rica and Cuba. Two documentaries by local producers opened in December: Las Mujeres de Wangki, or Wangki’s Women, by Rossana Lacayo, and Heredera del Viento, or Wind’s Heir, by Gloria Carrión.

The future of film production in the country looks bright with its acceptance to Ibermedia in 2017, according to Karly Gaitán Morales, Nicaraguan film historian and journalist. Ibermedia launched in 1998 and has since sponsored more than 600 projects, many of them lauded at international film festivals like San Sebastian or Sundance and even with a handful of Academy Award nominations. The programme currently has 21 members: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Spain, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Perú, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Gaining prestige

Costa Rica has become a beacon for Central American cinema with the Costa Rica Festival Internacional de Cine, sponsored by the Costa Rican Center for Film Production, or Centro de Cine, a branch of the country’s Ministry of Culture and Youth. The sixth annual festival closed in December with 10 days of more than 70 feature films, documentaries and short films in 18 languages shown in theaters throughout the city of San José. Their awards, including three specifically for Central American films, are coveted prizes, and the festival received productions from 35 countries this year.

The film industry in Honduras is young, but growing with increasingly ambitious productions and young players. In 2017, producer and director Juan Carlos Fancony of Honduras released Un Lugar en el Caribe, or Somewhere in the Caribbean, with international actors and international filming locations from Los Angeles to the Bay Islands. After its run in theaters, the movie received airtime on HBO Latino, a channel offered throughout Latin and South America, part of the competition for broadcasting market share in fast-growing emerging economies that also provides entertainment for the US Latino market in the United States, about 60 million people, or 18% of the population. Latinos represent about half of US population growth since 2000, according to the Pew Research Center.

Jurek Jablonicky likewise is leaving his mark on the industry. A Honduran producer of Czech heritage on his father’s side, he studied business administration in Boston, cinema studies in Bilbao and global filmmaking in Madrid, Spain. Upon his return to Honduras, he was aghast to discover that Honduras lacked a selection committee for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He quickly got to work and started a year-long process of accreditation with the Academy. After filling out paperwork and forming the committee, he issued an invitation for national filmmakers to submit their work. Under Academy rules, only the most recent films could be considered and, in total, 10 films were produced during the eligible cycle and only three submissions qualified. After the committee’s review and a blind vote, Morazán won unanimously. The committee’s announcement boosted Morazán’s run in theaters.

Much like the ephemeral dream of a united Central America during the 19th century, the thrill of the nomination for Morazán was short-lived – the film did not make the cut into the nine finalists for best foreign film announced by the Academy in December. However, the committee is in place and the road paved for consideration of future films. Jablonicky and audiences throughout Central America anticipate more and better submissions in the years to come.

This article first appeared on YaleGlobal Online

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.