The realm of documentary has produced some of the most creative filmmaking in recent decades, with work coming from Latin America being especially vibrant. This makes Neighboring Scenes: New Latin American Cinema, co-presented by Film at Lincoln Center and Cinema Tropical, a particularly compelling opportunity to catch recent works from the region. Celebrating its fifth year, the collaborative series looks to showcase the different styles and forms of contemporary Latin American documentary and narrative filmmaking alike. This year is notable for its emphasis on the many forms documentary cinema can take, encompassing an array of topics such as war, capitalism, personal history, and folklore.
Opening the series this year is Lemebel (2019), a deeply personal look into the life of gay artist and writer Pedro Lemebel. Directed by Joanna Reposi Garibaldi, the film is simultaneously a look back at the work and life of one of Chile’s most important artistic voices, and his final creation, as Lemebel collaborated with Garibaldi on the production of the film before his death. Chronicling his upbringing, writings, his place in leftist Chilean politics, and his artistic collaborations with Francisco Casa as part of the politically focused artist collective, Las Yeguas Del Apocalipsis (The Mares of the Apocalypse), Lemebel offers a portrait of an artist who always yearned for more from life and his country.
Archives and memories are spotlighted in Andrés Di Tella’s Private Fiction (2019), albeit with very different intentions. Using old photos and enlisting actors (also a couple) to read love letters his Argentine father and Indian mother parents sent one another, Di Tella seeks to —in his own words — “make mum and dad talk. Bring them to life, even though I know it’s impossible. ”. Though his parents have passed away, he attempts to control the way in which he remembers them, be it by directing his actors on how to read his parents’ letters or traveling to sites of significance, such as in his previous film, Fotografias (2007). Each evoke the characterizations of memory found in the works of Chris Marker and recent films by Patricio Guzman.
This blurred contextualization of “the truth” is also seen in Pirotecnia (2019), Federico Atehortúa Arteaga’s haunting essay film which chronicles the birth of cinema in Colombia and its relation to armed struggle in the country. Initially framed through the failed assassination attempt against former Colombian president Rafael Reyes, re-creations of the events for newspapers of the time, and the manner in which this practice has shaped public opinion on the ongoing conflict between government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Pirotecnia juxtaposes to these considerations with the mystery surrounding the filmmaker’s mother, who lost the abilty to speak without reason. Probing this, and the apathetic response of the country to the killing and framing of innocent people as guerrillas, Atehortúa Arteaga asks the question: is there a difference between someone who suffers and someone who pretends to suffer?
In Marcelo Gomes’s Waiting for the Carnival (2019), the village of Toritama sits at the center of another filmic examination, this one focused on the effects of capitalism on small towns throughout Latin America. The denim capital of Brazil, Toritama’s workers toil endlessly to produce jeans, converting their homes into their independent mini factories called “factions.” Gomes illustrates gaps in the means of production, highlighting the many factions that exist in the town, as well as the larger-scale factories that have much more sophisticated machinery. Though never overtly critical, Gomes notes the transformation of his hometown into an extreme example of late stage capitalism under the Bolsonaro government, where even the endless production of denim only ensures residents have enough to enjoy Carnaval for a week
Perhaps the most hypnotic of the films featured in the series is Miguel Hilari’s Compañía (2019), a film built on the premise of a journey from the city to a small village, with dreamlike images and earthly soundscapes commanding the screen. The physical act of the journey is less important to the film than its metaphoric significance, as demonstrated by scenes of Indigenous peoples communing juxtaposed against folk songs about people venturing to the city and never coming back. From its first scene — which documents a trip through the snowy Andean mountains — to its embrace of a non-linear narrative, Compañia highlights the fact that documentary from Latin America need not stick to conventional paths.
Neighboring Scenes: New Latin American Cinema screens February 14–-18 at Film at Lincoln Center (165 West 65th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan). The series was organized by Carlos Gutiérrez and Cecilia Barrionuevo, and is co-presented by Film at Lincoln Center and Cinema Tropical.