Bafici Festival’s Buenos Aires Lab Preps Latin American Cinema’s Next Generation

There are few better snapshots of the energy and new direction of Latin American cinema than Argentina’s Buenos Aires Lab (BAL), which showcases regional films in post-production. The lab, which unspools April 17-19, is a key ingredient of Buenos Aires’ Bafici Festival.

The revolution that lifted off when Pablo Trapero screened his debut, “Crane World,” at the first Bafici in 1999 just hasn’t stopped, notes BAL co-founder/director Ilse Hughan. Indeed, American audiences got a taste of the continuing celluloid revolution with the 2009 foreign-language Oscar winner “The Secret in Their Eyes,” now being remade by Billy Ray with Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and recently with the Oscar-nommed “Wild Tales.”

Launching in 2003 as Latin America’s first works-in-progress showcase, BAL worked very early on with European festivals as a pioneering platform for Latin American cinema, says Hughan. In 2012, it teamed with the Cannes Film Market to launch the Cannes Festival’s first ever films-in-post showcase, BAL Goes to Cannes. Four to five BAL titles will screen there this year.

This year, BAL’s 14 Latin American titles — eclectic in range of budgets, tone and origins — show why local films are sought after on the major festival circuit: First, a generation of Latin American filmmakers that made breakthrough pics in the past decade are now mature artists; second, their local industries are building ever-more reliable financing structures; and third, a wave of new talent is still emerging.

“In Argentina alone, there are 15,000 film school students. There’s a huge cinema culture,” says BAL co-founder/director Violeta Bava. Many Argentine directors don’t use subsidies or await completion finance to shoot what they can, she adds.

Six of BAL’s titles are feature debuts, including the fantasy-laced “Muito Romantico” from Brazilian filmmakers Gustavo Jahn and Melissa Dullius, and two troubled coming-of-age tales, “Alba,” from Ecuador’s Ana Cristina Barragan, and “The Plants,” the directorial debut of Chilean producer Roberto Doveris.

Latin American directors are prepared to work on extremely small budgets and in precarious conditions on not only first but also subsequent films, and approach filmmaking with passion. “Making films is like surviving a car wreck,” says Hernan Rosselli. He snagged rave reviews at last year’s Bafici with “Mauro,” and is back at the lab with “I’m Not a Stranger,” made for just $40,000.

Also at BAL is Gaston Solnicki, who directed “Papirosen,” which will be released in the U.S. via Film Movement. He is screening “Bluebeard’s Castle,” a mix of opera and social critique. Having screened at BAL, he will go back to shoot the film’s second part.

Now north of 40, Latin America’s new generation of a decade ago are getting round to focus on life’s fundamentals: A bevy of projects at BAL note the cycles of birth, courtship, parenthood and death. Which can happen all at once: Argentina’s Federico Godfrid will screen “Pinamar” at BAL. In the film, two brothers meet at Pinamar, a seaside resort, to scatter their mother’s ashes, but meet a girl. “By opening themselves up to adult life, Pinamar will show them endings are always the beginning of something new,” Godfrid says.

Dramedy “My Park Friend,” directed by Ana Katz, spotlights first-time maternity. Set in the 60s and shot in b/w, “Incident Light,” from Ariel Rotter, whose drama “The Other” was a 2007 Berlin Jury Grand Prix winner, pictures a young widow, already courted for second marriage.

Transience tinges many films. Co-directed by Camila Rodriguez Triana, “Errantes,” Hermes Palalluelo’s follow-up to “Not All Is Vigil,” records scenes at a humble hostel in Cali, Colombia, asks what its temporary occupants leave behind.

Some titles note the passing of an age: Aline Portugal and Julia de Simone’s “As Far As the Wind Reaches,” depicts Brazil’s windswept Juaguaribe Valley, far from urban pressures; in “Tormentero,” helmed by Mexico’s Ruben Imaz (“Cephalopod”), an old manlooks back at his life; Chilean Cristian Saldia’s “The Noise of the Trains,” portrays a seen-better-days San Rosendo, once Chile’s splendid and biggest railway hub.

Other pix-in-post explore issues of identity, where directors come from, as in “The Pretty Ones,” director Melisa Liebenthal’s self-portrait, or Aguero’s “Eva Doesn’t Sleep,” a surrealistic true-fact based reimagining of the 25-year odyssey of Eva Peron’s embalmed corpse, where Aguero asks why it sparked such incendiary reactions. The films can be read on multiple levels, Bava said.

BAL takes place just weeks before the Cannes Festival. Some BAL works in progress  wil be slated for the Croisette, for the Cannes Film Market/BAL showcase BAL Goes To Cannes. Meanwhile, other Argentine titles such as Trapero’s “The Clan,” Santiago Mitre’s “La Patota” and Aguero’s “Eva Doesn’t Sleep,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal, may also find their way to the French fest, but as finished films in the festival selection.

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