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CULTURE | 22-05-2024 15:26

Argentine cinema raises its voice at Cannes against Milei’s cutbacks

Creators of award-winning Argentine productions use their international platform at prestigious French film festival to vocalise anger at industry cutbacks and Milei government’s austerity measures.

Argentine filmmakers appearing at the Cannes Film Festival have criticised spending cutbacks on the culture industry by President Javier Milei, criticising the libertarian leader’s “crusade” and warning of its impact on national cinema.

Highlighting the success of national productions, Simón de la montaña (“Simon of the mountain”), the debut feature by director Federico Luis, won the Grand Prix at Critics' Week, a parallel section dedicated to new talent, on Wednesday.

Luis' debut feature, about a friendship between a boy and a group of mentally handicapped people, is one of the seven Argentine titles that aired at Cannes this week, making it the most important Latin American contingent this year.

Yet the success comes at a difficult moment for Argentina, which is immersed in a serious economic crisis which Milei's government wants to tackle by reducing public spending.

Focusing on film, strong cutbacks have been imposed on the institution which fosters it, the INCAA national film institute. Assistance and state funding have been cut, over a quarter of the body’s employees have been laid off and projects have been suspended for 90 days.

“The government has undertaken a crusade against culture, science and education,” said Argentine film professionals present at Cannes last Sunday at an event, during which they unfurled a giant flag bearing the slogan: “Cine Argentino Unido” (“United Argentine Cinema").

“On the understanding that it is not just an economic matter – given the minimum importance of the numbers in public finances from the suggested cutbacks – the only thing left to think is that these actions are an ideological attack,” said the demonstrators.

Even the organisers of the prestigious French festival have criticised the cutbacks and backed the criticism from Argentine film industry veterans. 

The festival’s director Thierry Frémaux defended film as a “patriotic weapon” which can bring value to a country’s culture and compared “the difficult situation” facing the film industry in Argentina with the upward trend of Brazil.

One stream of Cannes programming, the ‘director’s fortnight’ – a parallel section focusing on new talent – also highlighting Argentine filmmaking, which “today is in danger, although overflowing with singular and fascinating filmmakers.” 

Among the films included was Algo viejo, algo nuevo, algo prestado (“Something old, something new, something borrowed”), a film by Hernán Rosselli that won critical acclaim.

“We’re proud of how the Film Law works and how it is fostered in Argentina, which is truly unique in Latin America,” said the director.

“Both public education and the functioning of the Film Law make it possible to have a very diverse cinema in Argentina – a middle-class, a working-class cinema,” Rosselli said. 

He argued that Chile, Brazil and Mexico, generally “access to film is more elitist.”

Professionals from the sector insist that the film industry is a source of employment for many people. They are equally critical of the government’s discourse which, according to them, dismisses artists as “parasites of the State,” as recently denounced by acclaimed actress Cecilia Roth.

“The first thing they decide to cut back on has to do with culture, and culture represents a country, culture is also an industry, and there is a cultural industry which gives work and provides for entire families,”said Iair Said, whose film Los domingos mueren más personas (”On Sundays more people die”) was shown in Cannes’ ACID independent film section.

Milei’s measures will have a great impact on the country’s future film production, warn artists.

The rest of 2024 “is a lost year for Argentine film because, the whole first half of the year, the INCAA was completely paralysed,” Rosselli explained.

“The films will continue to be made with much effort, because filmmakers will not stop filming, but the film industry and film work will feel the effects a lot,” he repeated.

“It’s very likely that film festivals over the next few years will have little or no Argentine representation,” said the professionals demonstrating at Cannes in their statement.

“This is a crucial time when we have to lift our heads up high and fight with twice as much hope, because with a big enemy ahead, the will to fight becomes bigger,” said actor Lorenzo Ferro, the star of Simón de la montaña.

by Esther Sánchez, AFP

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