Shortly before a momentous vote takes place in Argentina, Deadline spoke with leading film professionals about how “devastating” reforms could derail the country’s movie sector.
On Wednesday, the country’s new far-right President Javier Milei will try to push through a legislative program in Congress that aims to deregulate industries, expand presidential powers, silence dissenters and reimagine or do away with decades-old institutions.
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Often dubbed “El Loco” (The Madman) by his critics, Milei, a self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalist,” only entered politics in 2021 after a colorful career as an economist and TV pundit. His election win late last year was seen by many as an anti-establishment vote fueled by anger over the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
Argentina’s economy, the second largest in South America, has been in a semi-permanent state of crisis since 2018. The country’s economic woes deepened over the past year, with inflation at a record high and more than 40% of Argentinians now living in poverty. The cultural industry is just one part of Argentinian life that is set for reforms as part of a radical reform package, which Milei believes will in some way rejuvenate the country but, in turn, threaten institutions that have been built over decades.
Milei’s theatrics and aggressive anti-establishment agenda have led many to draw comparisons to Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil — comparisons Milei has routinely welcomed.
“My alignment with Trump and Bolsonaro is almost natural,” Milei told local media during his presidential campaign.
Welcoming Milei’s election in November, Trump posted on Truth Social: “Make Argentina Great Again!”
The most controversial reforms cited in the president’s flagship :Omnibus Bill” — a radical, 664-article legislative proposal — include the disposal of primary elections, large-scale privatization of public companies, six-year prison sentences for citizens who organize protests, and the declaration of a public emergency until the end of 2025 that would allow the country’s executive branch to legislate without the scrutiny of Congress.
In terms of the film sector, the controversial bill aims to gut state support for local films by stripping the National Institute of Film and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA) of most of its funding and eliminating funding to the state-run film school ENERC. The bill also calls for the elimination of a popular screen quota for Argentinian films in local cinemas.
“It would be the end of Argentinian cinema as we know it. It’s as simple as that,” veteran Los Angeles-based Argentinian producer Axel Kuschevatzky (Argentina, 1985) told Deadline of the bill. “Argentina will go from producing about 200 movies a year to producing a handful, and those films will be supported mostly by streamers.”
This week, the international film community has voiced its concern over the proposed sweeping changes. Pedro Almodóvar, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Justine Triet and Isabelle Huppert are among film luminaries who have signed a letter (organized by local film union Cine Argentino Unido) supporting Argentinian filmmakers against the cuts.
What’s At Stake?
State funding for cinema in Argentina is unique. It’s fueled by what locals describe as two “self-funded” cash pots: The first composed of a tax on cinema tickets, followed by cash receipts from a government levy on broadcasting companies. Milei’s bill proposes the elimination of the latter, which funds the bulk of state packages. State awards rarely creep beyond 20% of a local feature’s overall budget, so the bulk of Argentinian projects are typically completed with private money and the help of international co-productions.
This system dates to 1994 and the inception of Argentina’s Cinema Law. Local producers and industry professionals energetically lobbied central government for the legislation following a lengthy period of industry decline; between 1993 and 1994, only seven films were produced locally. The Cinema Law is now widely considered to be the key factor in the growth of national film production, launching the careers of some of the country’s most respected new wave filmmakers such as Lucrecia Martel (La Ciénaga), Bruno Stagnaro (Pizza, Beer, and Cigarettes) and Pablo Trapero (The Quietude).
“The 1994 film law created the film development fund, making state support for film production possible and activating an industrial ecosystem that strengthened over the years,” said Vanessa Ragone, producer of the 2009 Oscar-winning Argentinian hit The Secret in Their Eyes.
“It’s hard to understand why the government wants to disorganize a cultural and economic activity that is functioning very well. I can imagine that it might be due to a certain lack of knowledge about the sector. It’s regrettable that the government has not approached the sector to understand its needs.”
Taking direct aim at Milei, the group’s letter reads: “The mega draft bill implies the destruction of the National Film Institute (INCAA) and with it, the eight branches of the National Film School (ENERC), an institution that provides free high-quality public education in all regions of the country. In this way, the new government, under the pretext of economic efficiency, seeks to deprive society of a vital tool for exercising citizenship: culture.
“Today, the film industry involves tens of thousands of quality jobs and trains professionals who collaborate in co-productions around the world. Year after year, Argentine cinema is present at the Cannes, Berlin, San Sebastián, and Venice festivals, among many others, offering the world our perspective, our stories, and our identity. None of this would have been possible without public policies which promote culture and without the Film Law that provides specific funds for the activity.”
Milei and his government ministers have largely avoided or deflected scrutiny of their bill in both the media and Congress. Speaking at a committee hearing last week, however, culture secretary Leonardo Cifelli said, “There is no money [to spend on film]. It’s not a motto, it’s a reality” when quizzed on the impact cutbacks could have on the future of INCAA, local media reported.
One local filmmaker who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity described Cifelli’s intervention and arguments based around the national purse as lazy distractions from a clear and misguided political attack against the country’s filmmaking community.
“It’s solely political and it’s because this right-wing government thinks all filmmakers are leftist, which, of course, is not true. You have a lot of diversity in every country,” the filmmaker said.
Milei, whose party holds only a tiny minority of seats in Congress, is set to present the bill to legislators today for final approval. To vote on the bill, lawmakers must first agree on a final version of the document — a process that will likely include changes to the original bill. Pressure from opposition benches has already forced the president to row back on plans to privatize the state oil company YPF.
“We still cannot begin to envision the impact these measures will have if the law is approved by parliament. We know it will be devastating, as it will eliminate all predictability for structuring a film project,” Ragone said.
“Unlike most countries with powerful film industries, the activity will be left to the mercy of the market, without screen quotas for Argentinian cinema. This will result in the loss of diversity of voices and make it nearly impossible to finance independent projects that are not funded by major studios, platforms, or private means.”
Another producer said film professionals across the world should take Milei’s bill as a “cautionary tale.”
“It could happen anywhere,” they said. “The money that supports Milei’s ideas fund leaders across the world.”
Here’s the full Cine Argentino Unido letter:
The International Film Community supports Argentine cinema in the face of threats to its industry posed by the far-right government of Javier Milei.
“Argentine cinema is a source of admiration and inspiration worldwide. For the excellence of its directors, its passionate actors, and its exceptional artisans. As Martin Scorsese says, culture is not a commodity, but a necessity. It belongs to a country, not to its political parties. In democratic countries, governments change but support for cultural production remains. All our solidarity, at this moment, goes to INCAA and Argentine cinema.” – Walter Salles
Over 300 directors, producers, actresses, critics, and colleagues from all over the world, from Chile to Romania, including acclaimed director Pedro Almodóvar (winner of two Academy Awards), award-winning director Aki Kaurismäki (Grand Prize of the Cannes Film Festival for “Autumn Leaves”), the celebrated Dardenne Brothers (Palme d’Or winners at the Cannes Film Festival for “Rosetta”), four-time Academy Award winner Alejandro González Iñárritu, actors, directors, and producers Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, followed by renowned directors Olivier Assayas, Kelly Reichardt, Kleber Mendonca Filho, Juan Antonio Bayona, Pedro Costa, Asif Kapadia, Corneliu Porumboiu, Abel Ferrara, Mira Nair, Roger Corman, and Isabel Coixet, among many others figures in the audiovisual community, including directors of the world’s most important festivals, programmers, technicians, express their solidarity with Argentine cinema which is going through an extremely alarming times in the face of the far-right government’s advance. Only one month after taking office, Milei presented a mega draft bill that repeals or modifies over 600 articles, putting an end -among other things- to years of legislation aimed at the protection and promotion of our culture in general and our film industry, in particular.
Argentina has built a vibrant, heterogeneous, and dynamic film industry from its beginnings. Since 1944, the country had state institutions that regulated and promoted film activity using the resources generated by audiovisual exploitation. Today, the film industry involves tens of thousands of quality jobs and trains professionals who collaborate in co-productions around the world. Year after year, Argentine cinema is present at the Cannes, Berlin, San Sebastián, and Venice festivals, among many others, offering the world our perspective, our stories, and our identity. None of this would have been possible without public policies that promote culture and without the Film Law that provides specific funds for the activity.
The mega draft bill implies the destruction of the National Film Institute (INCAA) and with it, the eight branches of the National Film School (ENERC), an institution that provides free high-quality public education in all regions of the country. In this way, the new government, under the pretext of economic efficiency, seeks to deprive society of a vital tool for exercising citizenship: culture. This is not a coincidence. A country without history, without memory, and without identity can be easily dominated and dehumanized. Argentine cinema is a thriving industry that generates thousands of jobs, exports content, and brings foreign investments into the country. The implementation of this bill will have a devastating, incalculable, and irreparable effect on the entire culture and on national sovereignty, especially for workers who depend on cultural industries, resulting in thousands of newly unemployed. Cine Argentino Unido defends the right of everyone to freedom of expression, access to culture, and the possibility for our country to continue supporting one of the most admired and acclaimed film industries in the world, as the reach of this statement demonstrates.
Jean Pierre Dardenne
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Gael García Bernal
Kleber Mendonca Filho
Juan Antonio Bayona
Jose Luis Rebordinos
Isabel Arrate Fernandez
Juan Diego Botto
Nahuel Pérez Viscayart
SRF (société de réalisateurs de filmes)
Marina de Tavira
Anita Rocha da Silveira
Alejandro Díaz Castaño
Carlos F. Heredero
João Rui Guerra da Mata
Joao Pedro Rodrigues
Arauco Hernandez Holtz
JOSE LUIS LOSA
Daniel Giménez Cacho
María Elena Wood
Emad Alebrahim Dekordi
João Nuno Pinto
Samuel M. Delgado
Helena Girón Vázquez
Mariana di Girolamo
Luiz Carlo Barreto
Migue Farias Jr
KAren Castanho Vega
MArcos JErdim Tellechea
Gustavo Rosa de Moura
Leonardo Di Costanzo
José Manuel Zamora
Luis Lopez Carrasco
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