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City to city on Buenos Aires

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: City to City

Everyone likes a national film movement. Think Italian Neorealism or the French New Wave: They give critics, audiences and distributors an easy category to glom onto. But isn’t there a difference between a country’s capital and its boonies? Does a filmmaker working in Sao Paulo have anything to do with one in Brazil’s northeast?

Toronto’s City to City program — now in its third year — was established, in part, to answer those questions and zero in on the specific cinematic happenings occurring in urban film hotspots around the world.

“One of my peccadilloes is trying to figure out where national cinemas leave off and particular urban contexts click in,” says City to City programmer Kate Lawrie Van de Ven.

This year’s chosen metropolis, Buenos Aires, for example, is very different from the rest of Argentina, argues Van de Ven, and is itself multifaceted, defined by so many different levels and niches and communities and modes of production. “The sheer volume alone was a commanding fact in our decision.”

If the so-called New Argentine Cinema — established by such directors as Lucrecia Martel, Lisandro Alonso and Pablo Trapero — may be the most identifiable source of cinema to spring from the country, Van de Ven sees a whole new generation of Buenos Aires-based filmmakers trying to go beyond that art-cinema label.

“One of the strong things that I saw was a willingness to go back to genre filmmaking,” says Van De Ven, “but a very personal, largely irreverent, no-holds barred take to genre films.”

Fest selections include “Pompeya,” about a novice screenwriter hired to write a gangster movie, and “Vaquero,” a dark comedy centered around a Buenos Aires actor who wants to land a role in a Hollywood Western.

“Pompeya” producer Jimena Monteoliva of Crudo Films says the city’s up-and-coming filmmakers have arrived at a point where they want to differentiate themselves from the previous generation and make different and out-of-the-ordinary pics that are breaking with the established.

Pablo Udenio, an editor of the Argentine film journal Haciendo Cine, describes myriad styles from the emerging filmmakers, with a number of companies — M&S, Sudestada, Habitacion 1520 — balancing arthouse and more commercial projects, with the latter specifically meant to establish their legitimacy and garner “more acceptance, not only by audiences,” he says, “but also by the Incaa” (Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales), which is Argentina’s main film funding body.

But according to Rizoma Films’ Hernan Musaluppi, a producer on City to City selection “A Mysterious World,” Incaa funding is insufficient, and with no private or regional support, established companies need to seek money abroad.

Despite this precarious economy for making movies, Buenos Aires’ filmmakers are persevering, with low budgets, small crews, non-pro actors and digital shots with the Canon D7 camera.

Van de Ven describes what she calls a kind of “punk rock sensibility” to the place. “Buenos Aires is a rocker town,” she says. “It’s a very prominent cultural aesthetic and that seeps into the films, as well.”

That punkish spirit — as opposed a solid institutional or economic foundation — may be the best explanation for the city’s production output.

“Many of the filmmakers will admit that they don’t quite know how they get the films made,” Van de Ven says. “They say, ‘We have no business getting a feature made in this fragile economy,’ but somehow that doesn’t stop them. There’s this crazy optimism that fuels them. And I think that’s key to the amount of production that’s going on down there. They don’t take no for an answer.”

Monteoliva agrees. “There is a sense of possibility here that I don’t think exists anywhere else. If you want to make a film, you just do it — a good one or a bad one, but you do it.”

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