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CULTURE | 20-04-2024 07:39

Like a bad movie: Argentina's culture industry suffers under Milei

President Javier Milei's 'chainsaw' cutbacks are threatening Argentina's Oscar-winning film scene, publishing industry and music industry.

An “insane” and a “dangerous” future – from actor Ricardo Darín to pianist Martha Argerich, Argentina's internationally renowned artists are accusing President Javier Milei of undermining the nation's cultural industries.

Milei's "chainsaw" approach to budget cuts have not only caused deep financial pain to many citizens, it is also threatening the country's Oscar-winning culture scene, industry players say.

At home and abroad, actors, directors and musicians accuse the self-declared "anarcho-capitalist" leader of showing disdain towards their industry as he slashes funding and rails against those who question him.

Milei himself has said the government must choose between "funding movies that nobody watches" and "feeding people."

He has denounced at least one artist criticizing his funding cuts as a "parasite" living off taxpayer money at the expense of hungry kids.

The cultural industry in Argentina, the birthplace of tango, is responsible for some 300,000 formal jobs.

But under Milei, "they are dismantling everything related to culture in general and cinema in particular," award-winning Argentine actress Cecilia Roth, who has played in several movies by Spain's Pedro Almodovar, said at a press conference in Mexico on Friday.

On top of losses in direct state support, the industry is also reeling from the average Argentine having much less money to spend on such luxuries as films or plays as disposable income has shrunk and poverty levels have risen to 60 percent.


 'Little hope'

Argentine film, music and literature is renowned worldwide. But Milei's efforts to tame 288-percent inflation has led to the halting of cultural programmes and institutions.

The INCAA national film institute has dismissed 170 of its 645 employees in recent months, suspended overtime payments and is not accepting any new projects for a period of 90 days.

INCAA is financed mainly by taxes on ticket sales and 25 percent of the revenues of the National Communications Agency, which co-finances dozens of films every year, including eight Oscar nominees and two winners: La historia oficial ("The Official Story") and Los secretos en sus ojos ("The Secret in Their Eyes)."

Darín, the star of the latter, told the local press about the systemic crisis in Argentina recently and was dismissive of Milei: “Believing that what is happening in our country … depends on one sector, and that is the artistic sector, is insane."

Paula Orlando, an audiovisual producer and director who has been working in the sector for 12 years, said that “every day the panorama is darker."

"I am considering leaving the country," added the 31-year-old, who has 12 years of experience in the industry.

"The hopes for the sector in Argentina are slim”, the filmmaker told AFP.

Iconic TV host and actress Mirtha Legrand called the INCAA situation “terrible.”

“It feels like a grudge, like not loving Argentine cinema, not valuing it," she said.


'Strong bias' 

Voices of concern have also been raised abroad, from directors such as Almodovar himself, and Finland's Aki Kaurismaki.

Earlier this month, Belgian film-making siblings Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, France's Claire Denis and US actor Viggo Mortensen penned an article in which they said Argentina’s cinema industry was "on the brink."

Music and literature, too, have suffered the effects of Milei's cost-cutting measures, including the repeal of a law protecting independent book stores from being undercut by large chains.

In January, musicians Charly García and Fito Páez were among the thousands of artists who signed a letter to reject Milei’s so-called 'omnibus' bill, which in its initial version sought to close cultural bodies and repealed a law which defended the publishing industry. 

Such actions go to show that Milei and his government carry "a strong bias against cultural industries," according to Martin Gremmelspacher, president of the Argentine Book Chamber (Camara del Libro).

Book sales, he said, fell 30 percent in both January and February from a year earlier.


'Dangerous' future

Luis Sanjurjo, a professor of cultural policies at the University of Buenos Aires, said it was wrong to think that "the market can replace the state."

"The big trap is to believe that the market is replacing the State – in no serious capitalist country in the world is there an absence of the state" in the development of culture, he told AFP.

Cultural industries create at least 300,000 formal jobs, although informal ones makes the industry's full dimension hard to measure, said Sanjurjo.

He formerly headed an arts and culture industry sub-division in the now-defunct culture ministry, which was scrapped by Milei.

Sanjurjo said it appeared the ultra-liberal Milei government was "bitter" towards the industry amid the global culture wars increasingly pitting people against each other on issues such as gay rights, abortion, religion, women's rights and even political correctness.

Milei's administration is "taking it out on culture because it understands it’s one of the factors that threatens what they have achieved after the circulation of certain discourses on social networks."

In February, Milei had posted a statement that declared it was time for the “disarming the cultural Gramsci,” slamming the "cultural architecture designed to support the model that benefits politicians."

Last week, renowned Argentine concert pianist Martha Argerich published an open letter lamenting the government's decision to stop the issuing of grants to impoverished artists under a scholarship named after her.

Culture Secretary Leonardo Cifelli later said the decision was merely the temporary result of an "administrative transition," without saying when the grants would be resumed.

"I myself received the support of the Argentine State as a young girl," Argerich wrote. 

"If the state does not support and contribute to culture, the future is really dangerous."

by Tomás Viola, AFP


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