MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — Argentina’s Mar del Plata International Film Festival, which wraps Saturday, not only marks its 29th edition this November but the 60 years since it was first inaugurated in 1954 by then President Juan Domingo Peron. Projected before every screening and on some buildings across the city, an evocative black and white institutional spot by Esteban Sapir captures the history of the festival, with scenes from classics that have played here, including Ingmar Bergman’s “Summer With Monika,” Orson Welles’ “The Trial,” Francois Truffaut’s “Jules et Jim” and Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider.”
What remains Latin America’s sole “A”-grade film festival lured such luminaries as Gina Lollobrigida, Errol Flynn, Mary Pickford and Edward G. Robinson its inaugural year. Argentina’s cinema industry had been fast evolving since 1909, when the very first fiction films by Italian transplant Mario Gallo emerged: “The Shooting of Dorrego” and “The May Revolution.” Public enthusiasm for the new film event was so high that some guest stars arriving by train had to get off at the station before Mar del Plata and continued by car because the “platforms at the terminal were crowded with onlookers,” per Ricardo Garcia Oliveri, in his tome “Argentine Cinema: A Chronicle of 100 Years.”
Other stars lured to the balmy seaside resort in later editions included Jean Paul Belmondo, Sophia Loren, Cantinflas and, in more recent years, Renee Zellweger, Julie Delpy, Susan Sarandon, Kathryn Bigelow and Willem Dafoe, who toplined the 29th edition’s opening-night film, “Pasolini” by Abel Ferrara.
To explain the choice of “Pasolini” for its inaugural night, the festival’s artistic director Fernando Spiner (“Six Shooters”) drew on numbers and the event’s storied history. “In 1970, Pasolini came to Mar del Plata with Maria Callas to present “Medea”; Ferrara was here in 2006 and Dafoe was here in 2011. The sum of these numbers is 5,987. If you add up the four digits, you get 29,” he told a bemused opening-night audience led by Viggo Mortensen, in town to present Lisandro Alonso’s “Jauja.”
Festival stop-started throughout the 60 years, with short-lived transfers to Brazil and Buenos Aires. After Peron launched it in 1954, a military coup the next year canceled the event. “Democracy and cinematographic expression go hand in hand; they are both linked to freedom,” said Spiner. “With every military coup, artistic expression was put on hold,” he said. The festival restarted a few years later but another military coup in 1966 interrupted the event again. It would take decades before it returned in 1996, when the festival entered its second phase: It has kept its annual appointment ever since.
Now Mar del Plata is overrun not only by filmmakers, guests and locals, but by hundreds of students who are bused in from all over Argentina under the Programa Pais (Country Program). This year, package deals for several film schools lured hundreds more. Ticket sales on the Web, introduced last year to reduce the massive lines of past years, have grown exponentially. “I am told that on the first day of the new website last year, we sold 1,200 tickets; this year we sold 10,000 on the first day,” said Spiner.
Fest, which ran November 22-30, expects to easily surpass last year’s admissions total of 120,000. A record 376 pics from 43 countries unspooled.
33 second version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1o360b1ZAQ