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Films beyond Hollywood

There are many films from Latin America to be seen at the Berlinale this year. Exciting productions from Mexico and Costa Rica often come from women. The Dominican Republic is taking part for the first time.

Anne Demmer

Even though filmmakers have come to appreciate the setting of the Dominican Republic because of the mountains, the beaches, the nature, it is relatively unknown as an original film destination. With the essay film “Pepe” by Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias, the Caribbean country is now represented in the Berlinale competition for the first time. A quite bizarre film about a dead hippopotamus, whose ghost guides the film.

Tanya Valette and Pablo Lozano produced the film together with the director. The film was shot with wild hippos in Namibia, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. A very complex production, but its budget was very limited at just one million dollars.

Research grants instead of Production support

Instead of production funding, the filmmakers initially started with scientific research grants: “The traditional film funders slammed the door in our faces because the idea seemed too crazy to them,” says Lozano. In the end, an international co-production was created between Namibia, Germany, France and the Dominican Republic. The production company Pandora Film is involved on the German side.

In countries with small film industries, international co-productions are often the only way to realize ambitious projects. This also increases the chances of international visibility.

Costa Rica – small film market with a female perspective

Central America only has a small film market, but in Costa Rica it has grown steadily over the past 20 years and so has the quality of the films, says Raciel del Toro, director of the National Film Institute and the International Film Festival in Costa Rica. Many filmmakers attended the renowned Escuela Internacional de Cine, the International Film School in Cuba, or the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica (CCC) in Mexico, before returning home.

In Costa Rica it is mainly young women who deal with socio-political issues that affect them in their films – such as religion, identity and gender issues. Also the film by Antonella Sudasassi, “Memorias de un cuerpo que arde” (Memories of a Burning Body). It is the 38-year-old's second feature film to be shown in the Panorama section of the Berlinale this year – a film about sexuality in the different phases of life.

Even though the budgets are small and the competition is great, there are a lot of female directors who take advantage of their opportunities, says Sudasassi: “Maybe it has to do with the fact that the film industry in Costa Rica is still very young. In this respect, it has the development of a very male gaze, this hegemony of men in the film world. A lot of new voices are emerging and many of them are from women.”

Mexican filmmakers more productive than ever

Mexican film productions are now a constant at festivals like Berlin and Cannes. And it's no longer the old guard like Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu who are represented here. Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios is in competition for the third time with his film “Cocina” about undocumented migrants in New York.

In recent years, it has been primarily Mexican women who have presented their work at the Berlinale. Lila Avilés with “Tótem”, Natalia López Gallardo with “Manto de Gemas” and Tatiana Huezo with “El Eco” and “La Tempestad” – political author films with a very unique style.

Mexican filmmakers are more productive than ever – according to figures from the Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía (IMCINE), a total of 258 film projects were realized in 2022. Mexico is a film destination that is attractive to many US and European production companies. You will find excellent production conditions with well-trained staff at all levels.

Films are not seen at home

“A big problem is that Mexican films are hardly seen in our own homeland,” criticizes director Alejandro Guzmán Alvarez, who also teaches at the Mexican film school CCC. His two films “Distancias cortas” and “Estanislao” were shown successfully at regional and international festivals, but in the end they were only shown in cinemas for a very limited time.

He is working on his third feature film about “desaparición forzada” – about the enforced disappearance of people in Mexico. An urgent issue in a country where more than 100,000 people are believed to have disappeared. In Mexico, such films were only shown in arthouse cinemas and not in commercial chains. “With streaming services, distribution has changed,” says Guzmán.

Selling to platforms like Netflix and Amazon is a way to reach more viewers, even if it is of course still best to see your film on the big screen in the cinema. It's a good thing that in Berlin you can watch a concentration of cinema from all over Latin America.

ARD Mexico City, tagesschau, February 22, 2024 6:10 p.m

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