Since a new generation of filmmakers from Latin America took the international film scene by storm in the late 1990s, Latin American cinema has been undergoing an exposure that it had lacked for years throughout most of the nineties. Specifically in London, in the same period Latin American communities started to achieve greater visibility, which has meant that accessibility to the cinema made in that part of the world has kept momentum, thanks to the initiative of organisations and individuals dedicated to promoting Latin American culture. One of the latest events that took place in the capital was the 4th Discovering Latin American (DLA) film festival, which was held between 24 November and 04 December across several venues. caught up with Yos Rivas, DLA’s film and culture director.

What was the public reception like during the latest edition of the event?

Around 2,600 people attended the 4th DLA Film Festival during the 10 days of the event. We are particularly pleased with these numbers in what could be characterised as a poor week in terms of box office numbers overall. We were particularly pleased with the attendance of our cultural events at the Tate Modern and our gala nights at the Odeon and Ritzy cinemas. What is more interesting and relevant is that Latin cinema is being shown and promoted more than ever. Our festival also came just a week after the Latin American Film Festival organised at the Curzon Soho by Eva Tarr. Broadly at the same time as our festival, Sergio Machado’s Lower City was opening in the UK, the Tate Modern was showing Camus’ Black Orpheus after having shown a magnificent retrospective on Mexican Cinema, Artificial Eye launched Trapero’s Rolling Family (part of the third edition of our festival) and there’s a retrospective on Cuban Cinema at the NFT throughout January. So what more can Latin cinema ask for? We are already making a difference.

What are the criteria for the selection of films?

The criteria for the selection of films for the DLA Film Festival are quality and range. It is very important that we have no constraints on the films that we show in terms of year of production. This gives us a broader set of films from which to choose from. Throughout the years we have built an extensive network among film curators, cultural attachés, academics and filmmakers who help in the selection of the films that participate in the festival. The division of the festival in three standalone sections with their respective directors (features, documentaries and film & culture) is crucial in the pre-selection of a broad range of quality films. The feature films programme has sought to find a selection of contemporary films where quality is more than proven (through international awards), but it also has looked for quality in first-time participants such as Chile, Costa Rica and Venuezuela. The Film & Culture section has researched many ideas and decided to create "Latin America through the lens of European Directors", a section which will continue in future editions given the range of possibilities in this arena. Regarding the Documentaries section, all the material brought this year engulfed the concept of Latin American search for identity (in music, films, heritage, and activism). The ultimate success of our festival is rooted in the character and personality of its programme. We believe we have already developed one which will be successful throughout the coming years.

Are documentaries thriving in Latin America at the moment?

Latin American documentary film of the last ten to fifteen years is almost unknown beyond its native shores. Documentary is thriving nonetheless, which has been the surprise development in cinema worldwide over the past decade. At one of our events at the Tate Modern, Michael Chanan looked at recent films in relation to the contexts and countries in which they were made, including Cuba, Brazil and especially Argentina, where documentary of every kind is enjoying a veritable renaissance. While documentary is still far from enjoying the popularity of feature films, we strongly believe in it as an educational medium that tends to highlight aspects that are generally overlooked by the general public. Our documentary section was put together as a search for different symbols of identity for Latin Americans. This has resulted in a rich and varied documentary programme spanning different countries because not everyone knows that there are so many subcultures within Latin America. We expect the documentary genre to continue to attract more and more people and we want to contribute to reinforcing this trend.

Is international co-production a usual method of financing films across the Latin continent?

Co-production has long been an important model within the Latin American cinema industry. Following the rise of neo-liberal politics and the subsequent crash in state funding in most of its major states, the last decade has seen its main film industries forced to shift towards co-production and private financing. There has been a lot of investment interest from the United States and Europe, especially Spain. For instance, by 2004 Ibermedia had funded 32 co-produced projects and ten projects received support in the areas of distribution and promotion. Some of the films include El Crimen del Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro 2002), distributed by MPA companies Columbia, Buena Vista and Sony, La Cienaga (2000) and En La Puta Vida(Tricky Life, 2001). Ibermedia’s distribution and promotion programme also exhibited two of the most recent films distributed in the UK: Whisky (2004) and La Nina Santa (The Holy Girl, 2004), both distributed by Artificial Eye. Interest has reached the UK where we have seen the first collaboration between Mexico and the UK with the film Conejo en La Luna (2005). It was recently acquired for international distribution by the leading financing and sales company Capitol Films. Four of the films shown at the 4th Discovering Latin American Film Festival were co-produced with Spain: Maroa, Perder es cuestion de Metodo, Nordeste, Hermanas, besides other co-productions. There are also privately financed films such as the controversial Secuestro Express, the first Venezuelan movie ever to be internationally distributed by a Hollywood company and Batalla en el Cielo ( Battle in Heaven), the second feature of the auteur Mexican director Carlos Reygadas, distributed in the UK by Tartan Films.

Why do you think interest in Latin America cinema has grown recently?

The interest in Latin America can be explained by a myriad of elements, but it all bogs down to the richness and diversity of this continent’s culture. The dramatic increase in travel among westerners over the past decade has opened a window on the region, as well as globalisation and migratory movements, no doubt. Cinema is a powerful means to show a different face from the clichés that have inundated Latin America for years. As with all clichés some are good and some are bad, but being able to show a "true" face of Latin American culture through cinema is likely to highlight the "good" clichés and add new dimensions to what people already know about the region.