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News > Culture

Ecuador Brings Fringe Films Center Stage with Massive Festival

  • Luis Ospina in interview with teleSUR

    Luis Ospina in interview with teleSUR | Photo: El Telegrafo / Carina Acosta

Published 31 May 2016

The international guests, Luis Ospina from Colombia and Joao Moreira Salles, shared their thoughts with teleSUR on the ethical boundaries and shape of documentary film.

It's been said that Colombian cinema can't be studied without filmmaker Luis Ospina, but Ospina still considers himself an outsider.

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“My cinema has always been a cinema of resistance,” said Ospina in an interview with teleSUR, speaking at a major retrospective hosted at Ecuador’s largest annual film festival. “My cinema doesn’t try to capture audiences, but instead to create an audience” — by moving rather than “conquering” viewers.

After 45 years of production and dozens of prizes under his belt, Ospina said he did not expect to snatch the prize awarded by popular vote at the Cartagena Film Festival for his latest movie, "Todo comenzo por el fin." He finally has the following he's worked for.

And yet, Ospina said he still sits proudly on the fringe of the hegemonic Hollywood-telenovela marriage that has “deformed” much of Colombia’s movie-going public.

The EDOC festival, which features over 300 documentaries in Ecuador’s two largest cities, has the same aspirations: its abbreviation stands for, "Encounters with the Other Cinema." Tapping into a quietly blooming documentary movement in the small Andean country, the festival continues into its 15th year with the aim of fomenting “biological interaction” between moviegoers and filmmakers, Alfredo Mora Manzano, assistant director of the festival, told teleSUR. Independent documentaries fit better than fictional blockbusters in the country’s cultural catalogue because, “We like nonfiction — we live in fictitious times.”

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The organizers curate a program based on a handful of themes and invite international guests, a formula for “building our collective imagination,” said Manzano.

This year, Ospina — icon of experimentation and political parody in Colombia — showed a wide gamut of his films, from a fake biopic of a communist collage pioneer ("Un tigre de papel"), to a tribute to the "Cali group" made up of him and two of his late creative partners ("Todo comenzo por el fin"), to a short satirizing filmmakers’ fascination with Third World poverty ("Agarrando pueblo").

Some of his films date back decades, but the subject matter — narco spectacle, intellectual aspirations, broken official narratives — spoke loudly to today’s audience.

In "Agarrando pueblo," Ospina and co-director Carlos Mayolo prey on Cali’s destitute for a sellable shot—a chilling preview of the media’s approach to, among many issues, refugees. Ospina said that he's often uncomfortable with the lack of ethical backbone in coverage of migration and indigenous communities, but that “it’s tough to tell the limits.”

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In his case, “we used the weapons of the enemy to speak of the enemy.” He said the end — pinpointing the harm in “pornomiseria,” a term for the hype around misery he helped coin — justified the means: goggling at and ordering around the poor on the streets of Cali.

The film festival spotlights refugees as one of its themes, but more by coincidence than anything: Manzano said there was an overrepresentation of the topic among documentaries this year. The inaugural event, which coincided with a 6.8-magnitude earthquake that postponed the opening by a week, opened with the Italian "Fuocoammare" about refugees on Lampedusa, the first documentary to win the highest prize at the Berlin Film International Festival.

Not all entries were political: many were selected because they played with a narrative, had a strong author’s voice or showcased Ecuador’s best. This year, the festival presented a record number of Ecuadorean documentaries — 17 — higher than its country in focus, Argentina. Manzano said that while he cannot attribute the growth to the festival, it may have played a part in the rise in quality.

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Besides offering a packed program, which last year received over 17,000 viewers, the festival also holds talks, workshops and special events to encourage audiences to delve past the movie. Joao Moreira Salles, one of the big names in Brazilian documentary film, was this year’s highlighted guest.

Speaking after showing his own movie, "Santiago," and the movie by the late Brazilian legend Eduardo Coutinho that he completed, "Ultimas conversas," Moreira Salles said that documentaries are always manipulations, and that the form, therefore, exists as a central character in his films. He comes from Brazil’s richest family, but the subject matter of ‘Santiago’ is his enchantment with, and unbreakable distance from, his butler — the attention more on him as a young filmmaker than on the butler, Santiago.

The festival was low on funds this year because of cuts the public budget, but Manzano said it did not sacrifice in content. Programming of documentaries, especially Ecuadorean, are sparse or non-existent during the year, so the country still relies on the event for its annual diet. Now that the public has had its intake of local and international documentaries, Ecuadorean filmmakers move onto New York, which is holding the Ecuadorian Film Festival this weekend, June 2 to 5.

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