Latin America in Co-Production
Author: Libia Villzana
Latin America in Co-production is the practical component of my practice-led PhD research in Film Studies. The research focuses on the unfolding causes and effects of the mechanisms of international film co-production, especially those organised between Spain and Latin American countries since the 1980s. In doing so, it discusses the hegemonic position of Spain in these collaborations, and the neo-colonial discourses embedded within those negotiations. Spain has become one of the most successful foreign investors in the cinema of Latin America through the ratification of the Ibero American Aid Fund, Ibermedia, in 1997. Based on my fieldwork in Peru, the documentary centres predominantly on the Peruvian experience of co-production with Spain, examining parallels with similar practices of film production collaborations in other countries within Latin America.
Given that there is scanty literature currently available on the topic, the most effective way I found to study the ‘behind the scenes’ negotiations embracing film co-productions was to embark myself on a co-production project. A case study was then necessary to dig into the dynamic interplays embedded in this practice. Thus, I decided I should participate in a co-production between a Latin American country and Spain, which receives financial support from Ibermedia. In this way I would be able to access to first hand information pertaining to those co-production negotiations. But in order to do this, I needed to achieve a legitimate participation in a film of this type; in other words, I needed somehow to become part of the production crew. And that was exactly what I did. I was initially the Assistant of the ‘making of’ and latter became the director of the ‘behind the scenes’ of Mariposa Negra/Black Butterfly (Francisco Lombardi 2006); a film co-produced between Peru and Spain, which received US$110,000 from Ibermedia within the co-production category. Latin America in Co-production resulted from this fieldwork experience.
To be able to ‘take active part in the creation of the history of the world’ (Gramsci 1971: 323-324) subsumes and includes the ability to speak, even if this entails only a temporary fracture in the culturally constructed world. The pleas such as ‘Don’t film me please’ and ‘Don’t disseminate this information’, which I received from the Spaniard director Pedro Perez-Rosado and the former director of the Peruvian Film Institute, Javier Protzel while filming Latin America in Co-production, display first, the uncovering of a particular knowledge; second, the difficulty of speaking so as to take part in a historical process; and third, the complexities of subverting by public utterance the historical taxonomy of the constructed world. When Perez-Rosado turned to me and demanded emphatically, ‘Don’t film me please’, his intention – as he explained to me later – was to avoid filming the disclosure of his complaint regarding the shortage of support for filming co-productions offered by the Department of Cultural and Scientific Relations of the Spanish Foreign Office. Perez-Rosado’s request is included in the very beginning of my documentary. I did this as a way to stress that the locus of this film’s content is within a ‘behind the scenes’ experience, and that the information embedded in it concerns the subordinated subject. Equally, the reason behind Protzel’s ‘Don’t disseminate this information’ is his obvious significant concern about the information he was providing me with.
I have decided to exclude Protzel’s anecdote from the documentary, so as to avoid compromising him. However, by debarring this information from the documentary, I am silencing or consenting to the need to maintain the silence of a subordinated/subaltern subject; what is more, I am silencing myself. The recovery of the subaltern voice, together with the imperative need to actively participate in the construction of a historiography of the subaltern subject, within the domain of the film industry, greatly occupies the content of my documentary.
Historically, the imposed (and self-imposed) voiceless condition has become the ‘common sense’ of imperial powers. As common sense is ‘a product of history and a part of the historical process’ (1971: 325), the construction of the historical palimpsestic narratives of the ‘common sense’ by which the subaltern groups cannot speak cannot be taken for granted. Language then plays a deterministic role here inasmuch as it is the sedimentation of language and all its containments, the key galvanizer of the intermittently hegemonic presence of Spain in Latin America since colonial times. As Gramsci argues, ‘language contains the elements of a conception of the world and of a culture’ (323-325). Language means philosophy (if only at the level of common sense) (349). Language also envelops a multiplicity of metaphors, thus it is not possible to remove from it its extensive meanings (451). The encapsulated tensions resulting from the nuances and transformations of language expounded by the interaction between the (neo)colonised and coloniser are indeed an object of enquiry in my documentary. The poignantly illustrated formulas included in the documentary overtly signal the metaphorical uses and meanings of language in film co-production between Spain and Latin America. In this respect, the devising of the three formulas pertains first, to expose in simple terms for the ‘simple’ – in Gramsci’s sense, the term refers to the masses, the people; a concept that opposes that of the ‘intellectual’ – what has become the ‘common sense’ – or the uncritical perception of a reality – in co-production between Spain and Latin America. Second, the formulas’ appearance in the documentary literally speaking word for word represents foremost a wake-up call which endeavours to contribute to that side of history which is not frequently voiced and thus by being able to speak – even if within the ‘temporality’ that Gramsci remarks – the subaltern keeps on attempting.
Contribution of the Research
The raison d’être of the documentary is to signal the effects of what has become ‘common sense’ in the dealings between Spain and Latin America within the domain of their film industries. By so doing, it proposes a critical dissection of the overtones of common sense. However, this is but a minute section which serves to reflect once more on the consistent and manifold historical dynamics between coloniser and colonised. In this respect, the documentary shows to a great extent what we already know because the imperialistic discourse of aiding and helping the developing nations has become all too common, as it has become all too common to resist that discourse. The contribution of this research nonetheless is first, to expose critically and in detail for the first time via the audiovisual format as well as in writing how the historical coloniser (Spain in our case) attempts to retrieve the colonising phantom via ‘contemporary’ forms of production (that is, cinema in the context of my research). By so doing, this research unveils the obliqueness of the imperial discourses and their operative mechanisms. However, by the same token, this research equally highlights the obliqueness of the subaltern discourses – manifest in the form of either a ‘timid talk’ or an ultimately silent position. Second and most importantly, this research intends to contribute to the critical historiography of the Latin American film co-production, which goes beyond the mere list of organisations, funds and aid schemes offered to co-production. By so doing, this account includes overtly precisely what it has been excluded so far – or timidly presented: a behind the scenes perspective on the specificities of film co-production negotiations conveyed by some Latin American film directors and producers who have spoken.
As my fieldwork involves a participation exercise, it required a particular research method which would enable me to be at the same time both an insider and an outsider within the experience. The method bearing these characteristics and as such most used by anthropologists and ethnographers to study the activities of specific communities is Participant Observation.
The most feasible and effective way to gain access to the production of a film, at least for the length of the shooting period, is to be part of the team. In other words, one has to be a participant in the production crew to be able to observe the unfolding dynamics of the production. By so doing, one is on the one hand doomed to become almost a phantom, a transparent, unnoticeable or diluted entity among the activities of the production crew. On the other hand, one has to play an active role in the production, which is the reason why one is permitted to be in the production in the first place. Thus, my active presence in the film Mariposa Negra needed to be manifest through the work I was asked to perform, but it was inconspicuous at the same time. The difficulty was knowing when to switch roles, from being a participant to an observer.
Participant Observation allowed me to participate in the ‘natural life’ of a film co-production setting between a Latin American country and Spain while making use of direct and indirect observation. As a part of the observed context, I was able to switch from a concealed to a revealed participant observer. Within the first scenario, I could include my informal conversations with some Spanish and Peruvian members of the production crew – during meals, the celebrations every Saturday night of the fact that there was one week less to go in the shooting schedule, and the long waits for the lighting to be in place so as to start the session of the day. These conversations provided me with substantial information that I used to reassess the questions I had prepared for my interviews.
Dream outcome: The ultimate goal of this research is to influence the cinema policy makers to decide on some changes to the Latin American Film Co-production Agreement proposed in my research, for example:
1) To allow Latin American countries to participate more actively within Ibermedia.
2) To stipulate a compulsory share of the Spanish market for Latin American producers to recover costs.
3) To abolish or reduce the compulsory participation of Spanish actors in co-productions.
Outcomes so far:
• Since there is a significant shortage in the film co-production literature in general, the documentary has been used by colleagues in seminars on transnational cinemas, film production, political economy of cinema, film policy and Latin American cinema. The purpose of these screenings has been to illustrate the manifold mechanisms of international film collaborations to students.
• The documentary was screened at the Tate Modern London in November 2007. The screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring academics and highly experienced film producers, including Sandy Lieberson (Chair of Film London), Rosa Bosch (Head of the film, TV and multimedia production activities of World Citcuit Records), Rod Stoneman (Director of the Huston School of Film & Digital Media at the National University of Ireland, Galway), and Elisa Alvares (Senior Executive, Corporate Finance & Production Services, Future Films, London).
This type of screening and debate are rather unusual outside of film market circuits. It is equally unusual to gather together film academics and film producers to discuss the economics and aesthetics of film production. In this respect, the panel members as well as the audience, which included some film industry professionals, academics and students, brought together a variety of views and proposed other potential approaches to co-productions.
The film was invited to be screened by the Tate Modern London as part of the event Film Synergies: Latin American and European co-productions.
Screenings in Film festivals and galleries
• Latin American Film Festival, Lima, Peru. August 2009, Peru (Invited)
• First AVPhD exhibition, London. December 2008 at P3, London (Invited)
• Discovering Latin American Film Festival, London, Nov-Dec 2007 (Invited)
• Latin American Forum, March 2007, Bristol (invited)
• Bristol 2nd Latino Film Festival, December 2006 (documentary was exhibited as a work in progress, many of the audience’s comments were incorporated in the final cut of the film)
Screenings in conferences and seminars
• Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla, Mexico, Transnational Cinema in Globalising Societies: Asia and Latin America, 2008
• University of Bielefeld, Germany. Summer School, 2008
• University of Cambridge, during the symposium Visual Synergies: Fiction and Documentary Film in Latin America, 2006 (Screened as ‘work in progress’)
• University of Bristol, Semana Cultural, 2006 (Screened as ‘work in progress’)
• University of the West of England (UWE), Ethnicity Research Day, 2005 (Screened as ‘work in progress’)
The funding for my PhD fieldwork was awarded by UWE, Bristol Docs, INCACINE Productions (Peru), and Pumpkin TV (UK)
Hoare, Quintin and Nowell Smith, Geoffrey (eds.) (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: Lawrence and Wishart.
Gramsci, Antonio (1977). Selections from political writings 1910-1920. New
York: Lawrence and Wishart.
Villazana Libia (2008) ‘Hegemony conditions in the co-production cinema of Latin America: The role of Spain’,Framework 49-2, pp 65-85.
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows
Review 1: Accept work and statement
In order to make Latin-American Co-Production, Villazana had to become invisibly immersed in the culture of a co-funded feature film, so that she could inconspicuously document the relationship between Latin-American and Spanish stakeholders, and the influences these relationships exerted upon the film’s pre-production and production process. To this end, she was hired as director of the “making of” featurette of Mariposa Negra (Francisco Lombardi, 2006), a role she fulfilled alongside her personal project. This is a beautiful irony, because Latin-American Co-Production is the “making of” featurette that would never be included as an extra in the official DVD release of a cinematic fiction! Like the conventional DVD extra, Villazana’s film reveals what went on “behind the scenes” of the film, but the elided reality that her film seeks to reveal is very different from the technocentric and obsequious hyper-reality normally portrayed in these films!
The thesis of the film is that feature film production and distribution in Latin-America is powerfully defined by the same ¬neo-colonialism that pertains in nearly every field of production throughout Latin and Central America. Villazana demonstrates how, at every stage and at every level of its production, Mariposa Negra and other co-produced movies have been aesthetically and ideologically determined by their relationship with (mostly Spanish) European funders who seek products for (mostly Spanish) European and American audiences. More, she demonstrates that Latin-American partners who make these ideological and aesthetic sacrifices in order to woo foreign investment reduce the domestic appeal (and market value) of the film in the distribution territories which are their usual share in the film, whilst being denied an equitable share of the profits from the wealthy European territories for whom their “product” and production have both been reconfigured.
It is heartening to note that the film has been screened alongside some of the very productions it mentions, at Latin-American film festivals in Peru and the UK. In this context, it might help audiences, especially European audiences, to “reframe” the films which have been produced within the neo-colonial framework, and to perceive the pervasive influence upon content, form and context which the cultural and economic realities of the post-colonial condition exerts upon cultural production in Latin-America, and beyond.