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South American Cinema

South American Cinema
A Critical Filmography, 1915-1994

A distinguished team of contributors has compiled entries on 140 significant South American feature films from the silent era until 1994.

January 1999
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
426 pages | 6 x 9 | 2 b&w illus. |

Originally issued in hardcover in 1996 by Garland Publishing, this important reference work is now available in paperback for a wider audience. A distinguished team of contributors has compiled entries on 140 significant South American feature films from the silent era until 1994. The entries discuss each film's subject matter, critical reception, and social and political contexts, as well as its production, distribution, and exhibition history, including technical credits. The entries are grouped by country and arranged chronologically. Both fiction and documentary films (some no longer in existence) are included, as well as extensive title, name, and subject indexes and glossaries of film and foreign terms.

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Argentina (edited by Timothy Barnard)
  • Bolivia (edited by Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron)
  • Brazil (edited by Ana López and Peter Rist)
  • Chile (edited by Timothy Barnard and Peter Rist)
  • Colombia (edited by Paul Lenti)
  • Ecuador (edited by Timothy Barnard)
  • Paraguay (edited by Peter Rist)
  • Peru (edited by Isaac León Frías)
  • Uruguay (edited by Timothy Barnard)
  • Venezuela (edited by Timothy Barnard, Mitch Parry, and Peter Rist)
  • Table of Films
  • Original-language Film Title Index
  • English-language Film Title Index
  • Film Directors Index
  • Contributors Index
  • Name and Title Index
  • Subject Index: South American Cinema
  • Subject Index: South American Society
  • Glossary of Brazilian Terms
  • Glossary of Film Terms
  • Works Consulted
  • Notes on Contributors

Timothy Barnard is a writer and translator who has written on Latin American, French, and early cinema. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature at the University of Chicago. Peter Rist is Chair of the Department of Cinema at Concordia University in Montreal.


This project began a long time ago, in 1980, when João Luiz Vieira—one of my fellow graduate students—and I were studying for the first Ph.D. comprehensive exam in Third World Cinema at New York University. For the benefit of future candidates, we compiled an "essential" filmography, bearing in mind the availability of films through U.S. distributors. We were appalled when the prestigious two-volume Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, edited by Richard Roud, appeared that same year, containing only four entries on filmmakers from outside Europe, Japan, and North America: chapters were included on Hong Kong cinema and three directors—Satyajit Ray, Leopoldo Torre Nilsson and Glauber Rocha. It was obvious to us that the continuing dominance of Euro-American cinemas in reference literature was doing a huge injustice to cinemas of the developing world. Indeed, this condition has persisted with the appearance over the last few years of other dictionaries, film guides, and surveys.

I continued to develop the filmography, using it in a "World Cinema" course I was teaching at the University of Western Ontario, to give students a checklist in the event that any "Third World" films showed up locally. I then began to realise that hardly any of the films on the list were available, in any format, in Canada. I consequently conducted an extensive search and printed an availability list in the newsletter I was then editing for the Film Studies Association of Canada in order to help other film educators locate the few titles available for rental in Canada.

Timothy Barnard and I met in 1987 while working on a "Third Cinema Festival" in Ontario and we agreed to produce a critical filmography of approximately 250 "Third World" films. Our book was to function as a corrective to the sort of film dictionaries, like the Roud volumes mentioned above, which usually contain entries on just a few "Third World" "masterworks": typically one or two films by the Indian director Satyajit Ray and perhaps a film by the Senegalese auteur Ousmane Sembène are provided as token representation. The most extensive of these encyclopaedias, the multi-volume Magill's Survey of Cinema: Foreign Language Films (1985), contains articles on well over 200 French films, but only 20 from India (including 10 by Ray). Since Western film critics and scholars dominate the field, it is natural that films from North America and Europe should be favoured. As well, the European festival network of Cannes/Berlin/Venice continues to be regarded as the showcase for film "art," while everyone looks to Hollywood for entertainment. And yet, Indian film production has led the world (by far) over the last three decades and many other "Third World" film industries have rivalled Hollywood numerically. For example, films made in tiny Hong Kong are invariably more popular than their U.S. counterparts with audiences in many parts of the world. Also, since the advent of Cinema Nôvo in Brazil in the 1960s, many important and provocative "new waves" have sprung up all over the "Third World," from the Senegalese cinema of the 1970s to the remarkably beautiful and challenging 1980s works of the Xi'an provincial studio in the People's Republic of China. Indeed we—Tim and I—are of the opinion that the most significant new film movements are to be found in post-colonial, "Third World" countries.

We initially planned to write some 250 entries on silent, classic sound, and contemporary films from Africa, Asia, and Latin America in a single volume. Each entry would provide a definitive capsule description and analysis of the film and situate it in the social and artistic contexts of its production. We planned to provide extensive technical and production data and use my research to include a guide to print sources in North America. With the advent of video and a continued decline in the availability of films through distributors in Canada and the U.S., we eventually abandoned this idea (acknowledging also that we weren't targeting a specifically North American readership). When our Canadian publisher changed its publishing program after a change in ownership, we rethought the project, realising that we would have far too much material for one book and deciding to deal with each region in turn in greater depth. Susan Ryan in New York City joined us and secured a contract with Garland Publishing for the first volume; other commitments unfortunately prevented her from remaining with the project as a coeditor. But I am hopeful that Susan will be able to co-edit a companion volume on films from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean (areas to which she has devoted her research and teaching).

We elected to omit Guyana, Surinam, and French Guiana, even though they are South American countries, because their colonial experience is more recent, and because their historical and cultural development is very closely related to that of the Caribbean region. However, we cover film production in all other South American countries in this volume. My one regret is that I was unable to obtain an internal university grant that would have allowed me to travel to Brazil and view many of the key films that cannot normally be seen. As it stands, I consider myself to be much more an enthusiastic student of South American cinema (and Brazilian cinema in particular) than an "expert." I trust that I will be able to expand my viewing experience in the future, and I welcome any comments that could lead us to produce an additional volume and/or an improved edition of this filmography.

[acknowledgements omitted from this excerpt]

Montréal, 1995

When the itinerant Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens, who filmed the Spanish Civil War, the Chinese Revolution, the war in Vietnam, and numerous other social movements and conflicts around the world over a period of nearly 60 years, visited Cuba in 1960 and 1961, his task was two-fold. One project was to train military camera operators. The authorities wanted to be able to document the U.S. invasion they foresaw, correctly, as imminent. Working with wooden models because of a lack of real cameras, asking students to imagine what they filmed rather than showing them rushes, in two months he trained 50 or 60 peasants and workers for the task of military filming.

He also shot two films of his own: Carnet de viaje (1960) and Cuba, pueblo armado (1961). Here, his young Cuban apprentices had other ambitions. Two aspiring cinematographers, Jorge Herrera and Ramón Suárez, and two assistant directors, Jorge Fraga and José Massip, worked on Carnet de viaje. Herrera went on to become one of Cuba's most influential and distinctive directors of photography before his death in 1981. To him we owe the cinematography on Lucía (1968), La primera carga del machete (1969), and other landmark films. Suárez, before he left the country, worked as director of photography on two of Cuba's most enduring films, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's La muerte de un burócrata (1966) and Memorias del subdesarrollo (1968). Fraga, a co-founder of the Cuban film institute ICAIC after the country's revolution in 1959, went on to a career as a director, critic, and teacher. His feature La odisea del General José (1968), a film largely unknown outside Cuba, is an exemplary, intimate study of the interplay between nature and human activity.

The director, historian, author, and ICAIC cofounder Massip, with Fraga one of the most promising and today least known of the early ICAIC directors, kept a journal during his work with Ivens. "Th[e] green [of the Cuban countryside] which is so beautiful to the human eye," he wrote, "is not so to the mechanical eye of the photographic lens. With black-and-white film, the different shades of green are lost in a dark and undifferentiated mass.... The solution to this problem probably consists in finding an appropriate relationship between the landscape and the sky. Cuba's sky could be the salvation of its countryside. Ivens could not remember a sky to compare with it. Its astonishingly rich plasticity comes not only from the marvellous shade of blue but above all from the extraordinarily varied shapes of its clouds."

There is something just and compelling about Ivens' dual legacy in Cuba. In fact, it is not a duality at all but an expression of the organic unity of art and militancy in Ivens' work and in the early Cuban cinema he helped to inspire. In the following pages, the product of several years' work, the contributors to this volume—some of us, like Ivens, cultural outsiders—have, I believe, strived to attain a similar unity. We have tried to shine light on areas in Latin American film history which until now have unfortunately been viewed as an undifferentiated mass, to recover those different shades of green. We have strived to document and understand melodrama and "guerrilla cinema," cinema d'auteur and a cinema of the people. We have tried to see, and convey, both the wooden cameras deployed in defence of nation and culture and the astonishingly rich plasticity of the Latin American sky and how it may be the salvation of its often-troubled countryside.

The Lumière cinématographe arrived in South America in the first months of 1896, and it is perhaps fitting that this book is appearing in the year of that event's centenary. In addition to offering appraisals, and sometimes reappraisals, of the much-studied New Latin American Cinema (c. 1955-1975), we introduce English-language readers to the subject of silent cinema and pre-1955 sound cinema in the region, topics given only a cursory glance in the existing literature. The tragedy, to recall Georges Sadoul's comment about being able to watch the earliest surviving films in an afternoon, is that little remains of Latin America's earliest films. Even sound films have been lost, and films continue to be lost because of poor storage conditions and adverse climates, theft and neglect, and social upheaval and natural catastrophe. While I was in Argentina in 1991-92 carrying out research for this book, the building housing the archives of the Cinemateca Argentina collapsed because of negligence at a construction site next door; screenings were cancelled as a years-long clean-up operation began. The present volume is by necessity, then, an imaginary cinémathèque, as some of its treasures cannot be seen on celluloid.

And yet, as Peter Rist and I propose with this volume, it is through the close study of the films themselves, in tandem with an understanding of their social and political context, the industrial terrain of their production and the individual ambitions of their makers, and their cultural and artistic milieux, that insights into cinema's place in Latin American society lie. Writing such detailed entries has been a great joy and luxury.

A word on the entries themselves and how they are organised and presented. Technical credits are given at the beginning of each entry. At times we were faced with the dilemma of conflicting sources, especially concerning running times, so much so that we often wondered if it was possible for so many different versions of a film actually to exist and leaving us with the task of determining which version is the most prevalent or "correct." Occasionally we privileged some sources over others and hoped for the best, rather than reporting three or four possible running times, for example, in an entry.

On the question of a film's date, two schools of thought exist, that of year of production and that of year of release. The decision of how to date a film is not an easy one, as strong arguments and practical considerations exist for each choice. The year of production is the year of legal copyright and arguably the year of artistic conception, although this is more often than not untrue, considering the gestation period of films today. Choosing to date films this way allows the historian to ignore with a clear conscience all the messy issues around release delays, censorship, etc. On the other hand, this method denies the contradiction of dating a work of art to a time before it was unveiled in public. While this may be justifiable and indeed necessary for any work of art not unveiled in public, in all other cases the link between the work of art and its critical and public reception is fundamental. The French film historian Georges Sadoul explained his preference for the latter system in the following way: "The date of a film is in principle that of the first public screening, not of its conception, beginning or end of production, or private screening. In this we have followed the historians of literature who use the date of the first edition, of a book's release to the public, as the identifying one" (Dictionary of Film Makers). Curiously, Sadoul's posthumous translator and editor Peter Morris chose not to observe this system in Sadoul's Dictionary of Films, arguing that it was less logical and led to "absurdities," for example, when film releases come as much as a decade after production.

In the present volume, the date of a film is its release date. In this way, dates may vary slightly from other literature on South American film. In order to avoid the "absurdities" warned of by Morris, we have given the date of production with the year of domestic release in parentheses in the case of films which experienced lengthy delays before their domestic release, in South America often occasioned by censorship. We do not indicate abnormally long production periods in the technical credits because it is impossible to do so consistently and accurately but have discussed these, when pertinent, in the body of the entry.

With regard to film titles and their English translation, we have in all cases provided the original title as the main reference for each film, and these are indexed at the back of the book, alphabetically and chronologically by country (that is, in the order they appear in the book). An English title of some sort is also provided, unless translation is unnecessary, and indexed. In many cases, the film is universally known by this title in the English-speaking world. In other cases, different commercial release titles exist for different markets, and these have been indicated when known. Occasionally, titles differ within the existing English-language literature or between this literature and what has been given on the film print itself by the film's subtitler. In these cases we have provided all titles that we have encountered and which seem to be still in use, although we have privileged one and put the others in parentheses, with the modest hope that our preference will now become universal. Finally, some films, for example Barravento, Macunaíma, and Malayunta, have, in our view, been unnecessarily burdened with English titles. Many of these, for example Bad Company (Malayunta), Jungle Freaks (Macunaíma) and Tempest (Barravento) are by turns awkward, offensive, or misleading. We have given such titles in parentheses in the heading of the entry and crossindexed them to the original title in the English-language title index in order to discourage their future use.

Because of the many film and foreign-language terms used in the book, we provide glossaries of film and Brazilian terms. Spanish terms are defined where they appear in the text. The names of institutions have generally been translated into English, except for those common in the English-language literature, such as the Centro Sperimentale in Rome. The original-language name of each institution can be found in the Name and Title Index followingthe English name assigned to it; the original-language name is also cross-indexed in the same index. The exception to this system, and to our goal of strictly observing institutional names in English and the original language, is that of film festivals. Festivals' actual names can be frustrating to outsiders searching for them in indexes (Montréal's festival is the "Festival des films du monde/World Film Festival") and they have been standardised in this book to the name of the city in which they take place ("Montréal film festival"). Similarly, these festivals' myriad prizes have all been rendered as "Best Film," "Second Prize," etc.

The editors and publisher decided, as this is a reference work which freely borrows—and sometimes presents copious quantities of—factual material from other sources, to limit footnotes to instances where an original idea or original research has been borrowed or directly cited and to which the author is indebted for something more than factual information. To have footnoted more than this would have meant more pages of notes than there are devoted to the films themselves. At the same time, we gladly acknowledge our debt to those South American film historians cited in the Works Consulted who have painstakingly documented the region's film history, occasionally in the face of indifference.

At the end of the book a list of works consulted appears. This list is limited to film books and articles consulted in the course of preparing the present book, and should not be mistaken for a bibliography, which would be a major undertaking in its own right. In the process of synthesizing information obtained from these and other sources (interviews, newspaper clippings, reference works on South American society and culture, etc.), and in our close screenings of the films themselves, we have striven to verify factual information about the films discussed. The present volume, while we hope it will be found to be generally reliable, will not of course be without error, and for this we alone are to blame.

[acknowledgements omitted from this excerpt]

Nobleza gaucha (Gaucho Nobility)

Argentina, 1915, 60' (at 16 fps), b+w, silent

Dir Eduardo Martinez de la Pera, Ernesto Gunche, and Humberto Cairo
Scr Cairo
Intertit José González Castillo, adapted from the poems Martín Fierro by José Hernandez (1872) and Santos Vega by Rafael Obligado (1885)
Cinematog Martinez de la Pera and Gunche
Act Orfilia Rico, Celestino Petray, Maria Padín, Arturo Mario

Following early forays into short actuality films from 1897 and into fiction films from 1908, Argentina produced its first feature film, Amalia, in 1914. Nobleza gaucha, made the following year, was the country's second feature. Coming at a time when the 1914-18 war had idled European studios and created new opportunities in world markets and before the post-war advance of U.S. cinema smothered Latin American production, Nobleza gaucha was a phenomenal success, creating foreign markets overnight for Argentine film and returning 600,000 pesos (despite widespread film piracy) on a 20,000-peso investment. Suddenly the new art had commercial promise, and a brief five-year period of growing production fuelled by foreign sales was inaugurated. Largely in the hands of recent southern European immigrant entrepreneurs, the fledgling industry hoped to take its place alongside the European industries, maintaining high levels of production despite the small domestic market (15 million in 1915; over half of them first-generation immigrants) through extensive foreign sales.

A collaboration between two accomplished still photographers (Eduardo Martínez de la Pera and Ernesto Gunche), Nobleza gaucha has been praised by Argentine film historians for its essentially cinematic, not theatrical or literary, treatment. The lead actors were borrowed from the theatre, but Martínez de la Pera and Gunche filmed on location in city and country, providing street-level images of the city through the use of travelling shots from streetcars and trains. The film recounts the kidnapping of a young woman from the rural estancia where she works by a lecherous rural landowner, who imprisons her in his Buenos Aires mansion. A gaucho from the estancia comes to her rescue, vanquishing the villain and returning with her to the country. In a politically significant coda, the landowner later uses his influence to falsely accuse the gaucho of cattle rustling, but the gaucho defends his honour and the landowner dies in a final chase on horseback. The film's depiction of Argentina's dual reality, countryside and burgeoning city, thus articulates a cultural and political conflict which has deep roots in Argentine society. Seen by the nineteenth-century ruling elite as a battle between "civilisation and barbarism" (Domingo F. Sarmiento), the conflict has been recast by national-popular elements as one between foreign domination and patriotic valour. Reworkings of the mythology can be found in many subsequent Argentine films, including La guerra gaucha (1942, q.v.), Juan Moreira (1973, q.v.), and La Patagonia rebelde (1974, q.v.).

One of the seminal texts of this movement to valorise the gaucho and the national traditions he represents was Jose Hernández' epic poem Martín Fierro. After a disastrous initial release, reportedly due to terrible intertitles, Nobleza gaucha was given new intertitles based on Martín Fierro and another national literary classic, Santos Vega, before achieving the success it did. The man who substituted the prosaic titles with evocative excerpts from these classic poems was José González Castillo, an early collaborator of Argentine filmmakers, a later member of the leftist "Boedo" literary group, and a poet-playwright whose 1914 play about homosexuality, Los invertidos, had shocked Buenos Aires. In 1919, González Castillo was to script another important early Argentine film, Juan sin ropa, by Camila and Héctor Quiroga. Based on his book, La lucha por la villa, it was a fictional reenactment of the repression that year of the country's anarcho-syndicalist movement and also received widespread foreign release. A sound version of Nobleza gaucha was released in 1932, prepared by Francisco Mugica, who directed the country's first optical sound feature, Tango!, in 1933.

—Timothy Barnard


“This is a key reference text that should have a prominent place in the library of anyone interested in Latin American cinema. . . . Highly synthetic essays dedicated to individual films carefully situate each work in both historical and cinematic terms. In the best of cases, this method models an alternative writing of national film history through individual essays on outstanding films contextualized within their maker's career and the contemporaneous profile of national film culture. . . . An ambitious and valuable volume.”
Julianne Burton-Carvajal, Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz