As part of the ¡Viva! Weekender, Cornerhouse also offered a ‘One Hour Intro’, ostensibly to complement the screening of María y el Araña but in fact also useful in thinking about the other two Latin American films screening at the weekend as well.
Dr James Scorer, Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester delivered a talk for exactly an hour, showing a multitude of clips and setting out some intriguing arguments in what was an entertaining and informative session.
James began with a statement that certainly made me think. Latin America is now the most urbanised region on the planet with 80% of the population living in cities and surrounding urban areas. Given that for many years the image of Latin America on screen often included the rain forests of Brazil, the Andes, the pampas of Argentina or the varied topography of Mexico, it is certainly worth considering just how many recent films have focused on urban life. James grouped films in terms of how they addressed the problems of rapid urbanisation and how these have produced shanty towns/favelas alongside modernist architecture and gated communities. Inequalities have helped to create criminal gangs and kidnappings. The transport problems and the lack of planning has produced an alienated workforce, broken up traditional communities and traditional communities etc.
Although I had seen several of the films used as examples, there were many others that I’ll certainly try to see. What struck me eventually though was that all of the examples pointed to universal problems with urbanisation. The same issues about crime, health etc. issues in shanty towns can be found in numerous Indian films (or in films set in Kenya or South Africa) and it also struck me that some of the stories were similar to those found in Italian films of the 1950s/60s as well as other European films. There are some specific differences in Latin America of course but the issues of migration, alienation, homelessness, public health etc. are pretty much the same everywhere.
This introduction has provoked me to think in some different ways about Latin American cinema and in the process it’s reminded me of what a rich film culture there is to discover. Roll on ¡Viva!’s Mexican weekender! (By which time it’ll be at HOME!)