Ten notable female directors from Latin America:
1. MARGOT BENACERRAF (VENEZUELA)
Venezuelan director Margot Benacerraf may have only made two films, the 1950s documentaries Reverón and Araya, but her efforts in supporting great Latin American cinema over the past 45 years has made her a national treasure in Venezuela, and in 1990, Araya, depicting the day to day lives of salt miners on a Venezuelan peninsula, had been chosen as one of the five best films in the history of Latin American cinema by the Neighborhood Film/Video Project of Philadelphia. Largely forgotten due to lack of distribution, Araya was stunningly restored for its 50th anniversary, re-released by Milestone films, and enjoying an October run at the IFC Center in NYC. Joining the ranks of other lost documentary classics like I Am Cuba and Killer of Sheep, it is a hidden gem that was not only an early documentary, but subverted its format to be more of a narrative film, to blend reality and drama together, and it was a brilliantly innovative piece of work in 1959, sharing a top prize with Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour at the Cannes Film Festival.
Araya, rather than being a dry documentary, follows the style of poetic realism, using a classic film score, staged scenes, established characters, and a direction to display the rare and beautiful world of Araya, a land on the cusp of industrialization, where families are connected through the many generations who have worked for over 450 years. Benacerraf displays a masterful eye for balancing truth with cinematic narrative, gaining the trust of the island’s families and being receptive to the story she wanted to tell, of a land hard and tough, yet with blinding white beauty in its salt pyramids, the strength and grace in its people’s work routines, and the love and respect shared amongst the families. (ioncinema.com)
2. MARTA RODRÍGUEZ (COLOMBIA)
Marta Rodríguez (born 1933) has never been merely an anthropologist or merely a documentary filmmaker. From her first film, CHIRCALES (THE BRICKMAKERS, 1972), to her present work, Rodríguez has always shown herself to be a politically committed, independent anthropological filmmaker who uses documentary to analyze the living and working conditions and the world view of peasants, native peoples, and workers in her native Colombia. The subjects themselves actively participate in the filmmaking process by critiquing the documentarist’s depiction of their world as the film is being made. Her documentaries typically take several years to produce because of budgetary limitations and the anthropological research required. Rodríguez’ work is not completed when the post-production process is over. Since she is an engaged filmmaker par excellence, she attends to questions of distribution and exhibition so that the documentary is turned back to its subjects, who can then debate the film and better analyze their own situations. Rodríguez, then, like the other members of the New Latin American Cinema movement that arose in the mid-1950s, views cinema as a powerful means to analyze socioeconomic and political reality and as a stimulus to the “lower” classes and marginal groups to better understand and/or to transform their politics and their lives.
By the mid and late 1960s, when work on CHIRCALES was initiated, Colombia seemed on the verge of a sweeping sociopolitical transformation. Several independent guerrilla movements had begun to challenge the traditional power structure, which had long been dominated by the country’s two traditional parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives. A major challenge to the power of the traditional parties was mounted in the mid-60s by the radical Dominican priest and educator, Father Camilo Torres, who came from the country’s upper class. The charismatic Torres in 1965 created Frente Unido (the United Front Movement), which attempted to unite different popular movements in support of a common revolutionary program. When Torres’ Frente Unido effort did not receive the support he had hoped for, he joined the Army of National Liberation, a Guevarist guerrilla movement. He was killed in 1966 in his first armed action. The priest-turned-guerrilla Camilo Torres exerted a powerful influence on Marta Rodríguez — both as educator and as a visionary leftist political leader.
All of Rodríguez’ documentaries have been made in collaboration with her spouse, Jorge Silva, who was best known as a cinematographer, a career he began after having worked as a still photographer. He died in 1987 after twenty years of distinguished work as a committed documentary filmmaker.
A brief descriptive Rodríguez-Silva filmography follows. CHIRCALES examines the hellish life of a family of poorly paid, non-unionized brickmakers on the outskirts of Bogota. PLANAS: TESTIMONIO DE UN ETNOCIDE (PLANAS: TESTIMONY ABOUT ETHNOCIDE, 1970) is an example of denunciatory cinema. The film documents the genocide of an indigenous group and explores the economic and social causes of the slaughter. In CAMPESINOS (PEASANTS, 1974-76), the filmmakers analyze the violence and exploitation long visited on Colombia’s rural population. NUESTRA VOZ DE TIERRA, MEMORIA Y FUTURO (OUR VOICE OF LAND, MEMORY, AND FUTURE, 1973-80) uses fictional elements to explore the magic, myths, and legends of the Indian worldview. AMOR, MUJERES Y FLORES (LOVE, WOMEN AND FLOWERS, 1984-89) exposes the dangerous conditions for women workers in Colombia’s booming cut-flower trade. NACER DE NUEVO (TO BE BORN AGAIN, 1986-87) offers a moving portrait of two indigent seventy-year olds who must somehow get on with their lives after having lost everything in the landslides and floods triggered by the eruption of the Ruiz Volcano in 1985. (ejumpcut.org)
Chircales (The Brickmakers, 1972)
Campesinos (Peasants, 1975)
Nuestra voz de tierra, memoria y futuro (Our Voice of Earth, Memory and Future, 1980)
Amor, mujeres y flores (Love, Women and Flowers, 1989)
Nunca más (Never Again, 2001)
3. SARA GÓMEZ (CUBA)
Sara Gómez could be seen as prototypical of the new Cuban directors. Entering the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) at an early age, she worked as assistant director for various cineastes, including Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, whose influence marked her work as it has so many young directors. During a ten-year period (1964–74) she fulfilled the usual apprenticeship among Cuban cineastes by directing documentary films. Documentaries are seen as an important training ground for Cuban directors because they force them to focus on the material reality of Cuba and thus emphasize the use of cinema as an expression of national culture. As Gutiérrez Alea noted, “the kind of cinema which adapts itself to our interests, fortunately, is a kind of light, agile cinema, one that is very directly founded upon our own reality.” This is precisely the kind of cinema Sara Gómez went on to produce, beginning work on De cierta manera in 1974 and finishing the editing of the film shortly before her death of acute asthma.
Gómez’s early training in documentaries and the influence of Gutiérrez Alea is evident in De cierta manera. The film combines the documentary and fiction forms so inextricably that they are impossible to disentangle. Through this technique, she emphasized the material reality that is at the base of all creative endeavor and the necessity of bringing a critical perspective to all forms of film.
In choosing this style, which I call “dialectical resonance,” Gómez appeared to follow Gutiérrez Alea’s example in the superb Memories of Underdevelopment. But there is a crucial difference between the two films—a difference that might be said to distinguish the generation of directors who came of age before the triumph of the revolution (e.g. Gutiérrez Alea) from those who have grown up within the revolution. In spite of its ultimate commitment to the revolutionary process, Memories remains in some ways the perspective of an “outsider” and might be characterized as “critical bourgeois realism.” However, De cierta manera is a vision wholly from within the revolution, despite the fact that every position in the film is subjected to criticism—including that of the institutionalized revolution, which is presented in the form of an annoyingly pompous omniscient narration. Thus, the perspective of Gomez might be contrasted to that of Memories by calling it “critical socialist realism.” The emphasis on dialectical criticism, struggle, and commitment is equally great in both films, but the experience of having grown up within the revolution created a somewhat different perspective.
Despite its deceptively simple appearance—a result of being shot in 16mm on a very low budget— De cierta manera is the work of an extremely sophisticated filmmaker. Merely one example among many of Gómez’s sophistication is the way in which she combined a broad range of modern distanciation techniques with the uniquely Cuban tropical beat to produce a film that is simultaneously rigorously analytic and powerfully sensuous—as well as perhaps the finest instance to date of a truly dialectical film. Although we are all a little richer for the existence of this work, we remain poorer for the fact that she will make no more films. (John Mraz)
Plaza Vieja; El solar; Historia de la piratería; Solar habanero (1962)
Iré a Santiago (1964)
Excursión a Vueltabajo (1965)
Guanabacoa: Crónica de mi familia (1966)
… Y tenemos sabor (1967)
En la otra isla; Una isla para Miguel (1968)
Isla del tesoro (Treasure Island, 1969)
Poder local, poder popular (1970)
Un documental a propósito del tránsito; De bateyes (1971)
Atención prenatal; Año uno; Mi aporte (1972)
Sobre horas extras y trabajo voluntario (1973)
De cierta manera (One Way or Another, 1977)
4. MARÍA LUISA BEMBERG (ARGENTINA)
María Luisa Bemberg (14 April 1922 – 7 May 1995) was a pioneer feminist, film writer, director and actress born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. One of the first Latin-American women film directors and a powerful presence in the intellectual Argentina of the 1970-1990. In her work, she specialized in portraying famous South American women and the Argentine upper class. The daughter of Otto Eduardo Bemberg and Sofía Bengolea, she was born into one of the most powerful families in Argentina, as her great-grandfather, German Argentine immigrant Otto Bemberg, had established the Quilmes Brewery, Argentina’s largest, in 1888. On October 17, 1945, she married Carlos Miguens. Following their marriage – in the midst of the Perón era – the couple moved to Spain where they had four children before returning to Argentina.
In 1959 she established and managed the Buenos Aires’s Teatro Del Globo with her associated Catalina Wolff. She was one of the founders of the Mar del Plata film festival and the Feminist Union in Argentina. In 1970, she wrote the script for Raul de la Torre “Crónica de una señora”, a successful film on the Argentinean High-class with Graciela Borges and Lautaro Murúa and in 1975 the script for Fernando Ayala’s “Triangle of Four”. She founded her own production company (GEA) with Lita Stantic and directed her first film, “Moments”, in 1981. Among her films, she wrote and directed “Miss Mary” (with Julie Christie, 1984), Nobody’s Wife (1982), Camila (1984), about the persecution and execution of a priest and his lover ordered by Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas (nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film), and Yo, la peor de todas (1990), about the life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz with Dominique Sanda, Hector Alterio and Assumpta Serna.
Her last film was De eso no se habla (1993), starring Marcello Mastroianni. She received Konex Awards in 1984 and 1991 and the Honour Konex in 2001, and multiple awards in international film festivals. She also participated as a jury at the festivals of Cartagena, Berlin, Chicago and Venice. At the end of her life, Bemberg was working on a script, based on the story El impostor by Silvina Ocampo (a distant relative) which was made into a film in 1997 directed by her longtime collaborator Alejandro Maci. She died of cancer in Buenos Aires in 1995, at age 73.
Momentos (Moments, 1981)
Señora de nadie (Nobody’s Wife, 1982)
Camila (Camila, 1984)
Miss Mary (Miss Mary, 1986)
Yo, la peor de todas (I, the Worst of All, 1990)
De eso no se habla (I Don’t Want to Talk About It)
5. VALERIA SARMIENTO (CHILE)
Chilean writer-director and editor who studied philosophy and filmmaking at the University of Chile in the Sixties. Based in Paris since 1974, her documentaries and feature films tend to address Latin American gender politics but she is probably best known as the regular editor and collaborator of husband Raoul Ruiz. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1988 and is often cited alongside Angelina Vásquez and Marilú Mallet as a key woman filmmaker of Chilean exile. A retrospective of her work as director was held at Stanford University in May 2008. In 2010, she shared the Art Critics Circle’s Bicentennial Award for cinema (2010) with Raoul Ruiz. (IMDb.com)
Notre mariage (Our Marriage, 1984)
Amélia Lopes O’Neill (1990)
El planeta de los niños (The Planet of the Children, 1992)
Elle (She, 1995)
L’inconnu de Strasbourg (A Stranger in Strasbourg, 1998)
Rosa la china (2002)
Secretos (Secrets, 2008)
6. LOURDES PORTILLO (MEXICO)
Mexico-born and Chicana identified, Portillo’s films have focused on the search for Latino identity. She has worked in a richly varied range of forms, from television documentary to satirical video-film collage.
Portillo got her first filmmaking experience at the age of twenty-one when a friend in Hollywood asked her to help out on a documentary. Portillo says: " I knew from that moment what I was going to do for the rest of my life. That never changed. It was just a matter of when I was going to do it." Her formal training began several years later. An apprenticeship at the San Francisco NABET (National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians) led to a job as Stephen Lighthill’s first camera assistant on Cine Manifest’s feature Over, Under, Sideways, Down. In 1978, after graduating from The San Francisco Art Institute, Portillo used American Film Institute Independent Filmmaker Award monies to create her internationally praised narrative film After the Earthquake/Despues del Terremoto, about a Nicaraguan refugee living in San Francisco.
The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, the result of a three year collaboration with writer/director Susana Munoz, was a pivotal film in Portillo’s career. Its nomination for the Academy’s Best Documentary in 1985, and the twenty other awards it received internationally earned Portillo the PBS funding she needed for her next film, La Ofrenda :The Days of the Dead. Completed in 1989 and greeted with widespread critical acclaim, La Ofrenda was Portillo’s most serious attempt to date to challenge the notion that as she says “documentary is always associated with injustice.” In it she portrays in loving color a Mexican and Chicano holiday – the celebration of “the days of the dead” – and initiates the dream-like structure that has become a hallmark of her recent work.
A grant from the NEA Inter-Arts program allowed Portillo to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America in her own ironic fashion. Her 1993 film, Columbus on Trial showed at the London and Sundance Film festivals as well and was selected for the 1993 Whitney Museum Biennial. In 1994 she was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in recognition of her contributions to filmmaking. All of her work is widely shown in classrooms and academic circles and integrated into curriculum studies.
Portillo has collaborated extensively with noted directors Susana Muñoz and Nina Serrano and with Academy Award-winning editor Vivien Hillgrove. Working with other women artists has helped Portillo break down the proscriptions of traditional documentary making because “women, and women of color in particular, often come into filmmaking with a different set of objectives than their male counterparts.” Portillo’s films have received high praise at more than ten international women’s film festivals.
In The Devil Never Sleeps, Portillo continues her effort to explore the Mexican psyche, and broaden the spectrum of screen representation of Latinos and Chicanos. Her tireless creative impulses are meanwhile driving her in new directions.
Currently in production is a narrative feature about a modern day Don Quixote: a filmmaker whose life and art become a beautiful hallucination and in her quest for the perfect film she gets lost along the way. The journey itself becomes her redemption and eventually her transformation. Ms. Portillo is also the executive producer for a low-budget comedy set in the urban underworld of cockfighting. (lourdesportillo.com)
La Madres: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (1986)
La ofrenda (The Days of the Dead, 1988)
El diablo nunca duerme (The Devil Never Sleeps, 1994)
Corpus: A Home Movie for Selena (1999)
Señorita extraviada (Missing Young Woman, 2001)
7. SUZANA AMARAL (BRAZIL)
Suzana Amaral was married at age 20, and in the next 10 years had eight children. At 37, she entered the University of Sao Paulo film school, and went on to get a master’s degree in film at New York University. She is now 54, and her first full-length theatrical feature, ‘’The Hour of the Star’’ – a film about the troubled life of a young woman in Sao Paulo that the Brazilian director shot in four weeks for $150,000 – opens Wednesday at Film Forum 1, after having won awards at the Berlin, Brasilia, Havana and International Woman’s Film Festivals and having been selected as Brazil’s official entry for the best foreign-language film Academy Award.
‘’I think that Jung is right,’’ Ms. Amaral says, showing no effects of a nine-and-a-half hour flight from Sao Paulo. ’’It’s in the second half of your life that your real life begins.’’
The diminutive Ms. Amaral – certainly no more than 4 feet 10 or 11 inches tall, certainly nowhere near 100 pounds – smiles with the memories of the first part of her life. ‘’For 10 years I was just a mother,’’ she says. ‘’I was totally dedicated to motherhood. It was sort of a creative time for me, raising all those children. I didn’t have to cook, so I didn’t. My ex-husband was a physician -we’re divorced now – and we were living in the countryside, and we had maids, but I never gave my children to anyone to take care of – I brought them up myself.’’ (nytimes.com)
A Hora da Estrela (The Hour of the Star, 1986)
Uma vida em Secreto (A Life in Secret, 2001)
Hotel Atlântico (2009)
8. SOLVEIG HOOGESTEIJN (VENEZUELA)
Solveig Hoogesteijn, born August 3, 1946 in Sweden, is a noted Venezuelan motion picture writer, producer and director. She wrote, produced and directed Santera (1994); Macu, la Mujer del Policía (1987) (Macu, the Policeman’s Woman); Alemania Puede Ser Muy Bella, a Veces (1982) (Germany can be very beautiful, sometimes); Manoa – Flucht aus der Zeit (1980). The latter film was a made-for-TV movie.) Hoogesteijn co-wrote, produced, and directed El Mar del tiempo perdido (The Sea of Lost Time, 1981) and Manoa (1980). She also co-wrote, directed, and served as executive producer on the film Maroa (2006), which was Venezuela’s Official Selection for the 79th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007.Hoogesteijn is the second daughter of a Dutch father and a German mother who migrated in Venezuela in 1947. For more than 30 years, her father directed a radio program in Caracas, broadcast in German language, called La Hora Alemana (The German Hour) which was amusing because his German had a noticeable Dutch accent.
She studied High School at the Humboldt German School in Caracas. She then went abroad to study filmmaking between 1971 and 1976 in the University of Television and Film Munich. Later, she followed Art and Literature studies in Venezuela’s Central University in Caracas. Hoogesteijn married the talented Venezuelan jazz saxophonist, composer and actor Victor Cuica, who has shared credits in several of her films, in charge of their soundtracks and, in some cases, acting in main roles. They have one son. Hoogesteijn is currently the manager of a cultural film and theater facility in Caracas (since 2002).
Puerto Colombia (1975)
El Mar Del Tiempo Perdido (The Sea Of Lost Time, 1977)
Alemania Puede Ser Muy Bella, a Veces (Germany Can Be Very Beautiful, Sometimes, 1982)
Macu, La Mujer Del Policía (Macu, The Policeman’s Woman, 1987)
9. HEDDY HONIGMANN (PERU)
Heddy Honigmann, a child of Holocaust survivors, was born in 1951 in Lima, Peru, where she studied biology and literature at the University of Lima. She left Peru in 1973, traveled throughout Mexico, Israel, Spain and France, and later studied film at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome. Since 1978 she has been a Dutch citizen and presently lives in Amsterdam, although her filmmaking career has taken her around the world. As the child of exiles, it’s not surprising that the plight of exiles and outsiders is a recurrent theme in her documentaries, as is memory, music and love. Her subjects have included cab drivers in Peru, immigrant musicians on the Paris Metro, senior citizens in Brazil, and Cuban exiles in New Jersey.
In addition to the elegantly composed imagery of her films, Honigmann’s most often recognized talent as a documentary filmmaker is her ability to make an emotional connection with the people she films, an empathetic ability to listen and to elicit surprisingly intimate responses from them. As Honigmann has described her approach, “I don’t do interviews. I make conversation.”
This quality has also been noted by Jytte Jensen, Associate Curator in the Department of Film and Media at the Museum of Modern Art. “An endlessly curious offscreen presence, Honigmann teases out the complex, astonishingly resilient, and often funny aspects of people’s amazing lives. Her questions are direct and compassionate but persistent—like those of an old, dear friend.”
Honigmann’s body of work has been honored with retrospectives at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Cinema Arsenal in Berlin, the Madrid Film Museum, the Pacific Film Archive in San Francisco, and the Paris Film Festival, among many other venues. Her films have won major awards at film festivals around the world, including the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival, the Golden Pigeon at the Leipiz Film Festival, the Grand Prix at the Cinema du Réel in Paris, the Jury Prize at the Montreal World Film Festival, the Dutch Film Critics Award (twice!), and the J. Van Praag Award from The Humanist Association, which recognized her entire body of work, in which “important universal themes such as survival are developed in a unique filmic form.” (icarusfilms.com)
Ghatak (1990) (short film)
Metaal en melancholie/Metal and Melancholy (1994)
O Amor Natural (1996)
Het ondergrondse orkest/The Underground Orchestra (1998)
Good Husband, Dear Son (2001)
Dame la mano/Give Me Your Hand (2004)
El olvido (2008)
10. LUCRECIA MARTEL (ARGENTINA)
Lucrecia Martel’s films occupy an important place in the movement so-called second “New Argentine Cinema” (First one was in the 1960’s with Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, Fernando “Pino” Solanas, Fernando Ayala). In the mid-90s, along with filmmakers such as Martin Reijtman, Esteban Sapir, Adrián Caetano, Bruno Stagnaro and Pablo Trapero among others, a rupture in filmmaking began to take place against the previous generation. Both in the aesthetic and the modes of production, various ideas were rethought, gradually reaching an insertion in the industrial field. Also accompanying the idea of film movement, the new auteurs began to stimulate other areas such as the critical and theoretical discussion on film circuits. In terms of funding, both the private and the public began to support film production through grant funds and investments. This model came into use later in other South American countries (Of course, there have also been generated working models with ultra low budgets).
Lucrecia Martel doesn’t consider it a movement in itself, but rather a shared experience (2).
Martel’s films are composed of several simultaneous actions distributed from defined groups where you can appreciate different behaviors in their daily lives.
Although they might resemble the Cinéma Vérité in some moments where it seems that actions are not designed to twist dramatically, the fact is that each of the gestures, markings and dialogues are carefully scripted and calculated.
Her films focus on the observation of relationships and family moments in which, the established order has been altered in a way barely noticeable and difficult to diagnose.
In The swamp, the accident suffered by Mecha, will serve as a ground for the encounter between two families in the middle of a hot (but not sunny) summer with constant sound of thunder.
In The Holy Girl, Amalia, a 13 years old teen, while watching a musical performance played on the thereminvox (an instrument played without being physically touched) is touched on her buttocks by Dr. Jano, event that changes the course of her life when she realizes that it is a divine sign.
In The Headless woman, Veronica has run over something on the road without stopping to examine what it is. This promotes a series of changes in her personality. The nature of the situation suggests us that she has changed. However we never knew how was really Verónica before. (by Javier Quintero)
Besos rojos (1991)
Rey muerto (1995) (short)
La Ciénaga (2001) aka The Swamp
The Holy Girl (2004), aka La Niña santa (2004)
La mujer sin cabeza (2008), aka The Headless Woman
films by Latin American female directors (on mubi):Les mindre