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News > Latin America

Latin American Cinema in First Decade of the 20th Century

  • Cinema in Latin America. Feb. 29, 2024.

    Cinema in Latin America. Feb. 29, 2024. | Photo: X/@tusbuenas

Published 29 February 2024

In the 20th century, the dissemination of this art increased, especially in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.

Cinema in Latin America resembles its peoples, representing, at least potentially, a very propitious space for the development of audiovisual industries worthy of enriching the identity processes and imaginaries of each people.

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However, it is often neglected by the authorities in charge of its promotion and by governments that do not encourage strategies aimed at a growing, albeit still unsatisfactory, integration of regional cinema.

This is one of the main artistic and cultural expressions of the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as a powerful means of mass communication. Its characteristics make it a primary source of interest for the study of political projects and collective imaginaries within different communities and in specific historical periods.

A Bit of History

The film industry arrived in Latin America in 1896, after the first exhibition of the Lumiére brothers in 1895 in the city of Paris. From then on, filming and projection equipment and professionals arrived, which led to the beginning of the development of productions in that region.

In the 20th century, the dissemination of this art increased, especially in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, and from the 1930s onwards, Latin America aroused the curiosity and interest of many foreign filmmakers who sought landscapes, luminosities and "exotic" themes for their films. This is the case of Serguei Eisenstein who films ¡Qué Viva México! Film production companies also emerged, some with state support, such as Mexico Films, and others on the initiative of private entrepreneurs, such as Pecusa (Películas Cubanas S.A.). Most of the films of the time purported to show a Latin America attractive to foreigners, with lush landscapes and beautiful women.

The 1940s saw the rise of the "cinema of tears" and the production of many comedies such as Mexican rancheras, which showed life in the countryside and disseminated a nationalist discourse.  In Brazil, that decade and the 1950s are considered the "golden phase" for studios such as Atlântida (RJ) and Vera Cruz (SP), which produced melodramas and mainly comedies, known as "chanchadas."

During the so-called golden age of Mexican and Brazilian cinema, Latin American companies such as Mexico's Estudios Churubusco and Argentina's Sono Films, which had a large infrastructure and their own "stars-system," also stood out. These competed for the hegemony of Latin American audiences on the continent, including populations in the southern United States. Latin American audiences cultivated, along with Hollywood icons, their own local stars and "divas" such as María Félix, Ninón Sevilla, Rita Montaner, Dolores del Río, and leading men such as Pedro Armendáriz, Fernando Soler, Jorge Negrete, Arturo de Córdova and Pedro Infante.

Likewise, with the advent of sound films, an important musical film movement was forged, with the participation of great composers of the time such as Agustín Lara, Pedro Vargas, Ernesto Lecuona, Benny Moré, Pérez Prado, Carlos Gardel and many other famous names of Latin American music. Their rumbas, mambos, tangos, zarzuelas, valsinhas and all the wide range of urban music genres popularized by the radio stood out.Radio was the main promoter of radio soap operas and musicals that were later adapted to the movies.

In short, these were the first 50 years of cinema in Latin America, whose panorama would change substantially after the 60's with the advent of other forms of filmmaking. A more social cinema that would begin to show the life and roles of the common citizen was beginning to take shape.


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