Editor’s Letter: Film in Latin America

by | Nov 26, 2009

For me, movies are magic. And movie going is an emotional experience or maybe I should say, two types of emotional experience. I love to go to a film by myself, curl up in the seat and lose myself in the darkness to the big screen. I also delight in going with friends, passing the popcorn and engaging in the lively debate of a shared experience afterwards. Both experiences are a form of transformation, whether collective or personal, even if I’ve seen the film several times before.

So I was kind of surprised when I had relative difficulty getting people to write short blurbs about their favorite film—essays you will find scattered throughout this issue. Of course, people are busy, but the reaction seemed to extend beyond the fact of hectic lives. “Let me think about it,” “But I’m not a film expert…” “Just one?” were some of the answers.

So I decided to try the exercise on myself.

In the process of developing this issue on film, we—myself and my guiding lights Harvard Film Archive Director Haden Guest and Harvard Romance Languages and Literatures Professor Brad Epps—had decided to limit the issue to film in Latin America, rather than including film from Spain and Latino films (a good excuse for another film issue!) That made choosing a lot more difficult.

I reread my own little query to my readers. It included films that make us see Latin America in a different light, even if they are not Latin American or about Latin America. And I realized that the two most important films for me in that sense fell into that category. The first was the 1952 Mexican Bus Ride, Subida al Cielo, directed by Luis Buñuel, a Spanish-born filmmaker. I was surprised just now on researching the film that it is billed as a comedy, because I remembered it as a tragedy, as a young man on his wedding night who is prevented by Mexico’s rickety buses and accompanying mishaps from reaching his mother’s deathbed.

The other film has everything and nothing to do with Latin America. The 1966 movie Battle of Algiers, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, takes place in North Africa and depicts the Algerian War against French colonial rule. I’ve seen the film at least a dozen times, and it helped me understand the wars I covered in Central America—both the liberation struggles and the counterinsurgency.

But then I began to fret about my two choices. I try to remember all those magical moments, second guess my decision; my lists grow longer and longer. Indeed, this entire issue of ReVista—not just the personal blurbs about film—has been an exercise in limitation. We’ve chosen here to focus on five countries: Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Cuba. Again, a delightful excuse for another film issue!

This issue has blended perspectives from filmmakers and film-goers, Latin Americans and Latin Americanists, providing glimpses of film trends past and present. But as I write this letter, I’m reminded of the moment when one leaves the theatre and the reality of harsh daylight or blaring car horns shatters the mood.

One of the reasons we struggled so hard to limit the scope of this issue was to ensure that we could keep publishing ReVista this academic year, business as usual. But despite our efforts and your generous donations, we will only publish twice in 2009-10 because of the current economic situation. We hope this is a temporary measure.

Meanwhile, use the new comment function on the online verison of ReVista to let ReVista readers know more about the Latin American films that have had an impact on your life.

See you at the movies!

June Carolyn Erlick

Fall 2009, Volume VIII, Number 3

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