Argentina’s newly elected president Javier Milei is bent on keeping his chainsaw-wielding campaign promise to cut state spending, including scrapping the country’s national film institute (INCAA) and its film schools (ENERC).
His mega draft bill, aimed at reining in Argentina’s hyper-inflation, has prompted more than 300 directors, producers, actors, critics and colleagues from across the world, led by Academy Award winners Pedro Almodóvar, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Cannes winners Aki Kaurismäki (“Autumn Leaves”) and the Dardenne Brothers (“Rosetta”), to sign a communiqué protesting the far-right libertarian’s proposal.
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The other signees include actor-producers Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, Isabelle Huppert, 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 other prominent figures in the global film community.
In a statement, the newly formed coalition Cine Argentino Unido, spearheaded by film director associations, said: “Argentina has built a vibrant, heterogeneous, and dynamic film industry from its beginnings. Since 1944, the country has had state institutions that regulate and promote 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 which promote culture and without the Film Law that provides specific funds for the activity.”
“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 new unemployed,” it continued.
However, there is a glimmer of hope. Argentina’s Congress could throw out parts of the draft law that are highly unpopular and could spark more street protests. “We are in talks with some of the members of Congress,” said filmmaker Celina Murga (“Ana and the Others”).
Milei’s political party, La Libertad Avanza, holds only 40 out of 257 seats in the lower house and seven out of 72 in the senate, posing a challenge for him to pass legislation effectively.
While addressing the committee plenary of the congress this past week, director Lucrecia Martel (“Zama”), observed: “It seems like this draft bill was written by people who are biased against the film industry; we were never even consulted.”
Santiago Mitre, director of the Oscar-nominated “Argentina 1985,” who also spoke to the committee plenary, pointed out that Argentine cinema, aside from having earned the most Oscar nominations in the region, has, in fact, been self-sustaining. “We’re not asking for more funding, we’re asking that the current film law remain in place so that our cinema can continue to sustain itself.”
“Funding from INCAA only covers a small part of a film’s budget and serves primarily to attract funding from other countries,” said Murga whose fifth film, “The Freshly Cut Grass,” executive produced by Martin Scorsese, is now in post and involved producers from Argentina, Mexico, Germany and Uruguay.
With perhaps the exception of the U.S. and South Korea, filmmakers in most other countries count on some state support to finance their films.
INCAA’s depleting film fund now stands at $9 million, half of which is aimed at film development and the other half for overhead costs, its theatre spaces, etc., Murga noted. Nobody is currently at the helm of INCAA as its most recent president, Nicolás Battle, resigned after Milei came into power.
“Argentine cinema is a source of admiration and inspiration worldwide. For the excellence of its directors, its passionate actors, 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,” said Brazil’s Walter Salles (“Central Station”), who added: “In democratic countries, governments change but support for cultural production remains. All our solidarity, at this moment, goes to INCAA and Argentine cinema.”
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