Sanfic is a showcase for Chile’s cinema as it wins Oscars (“A Fantastic Woman” ), dazzles critics – Variety called Pablo Larrain “the most daring and prodigious political filmmaker of his generation” – and expands in foreign.
No other Latin America cinema, moreover, has crossed over into international filmmaking as much as Chile’s. As this year’s 14th Sanfic bows on Aug. 19, Variety delivers seven takes on now one of Latin America’s premiere fests.
Chile is lightyears from genre parity. But its cinema, made by its often highly-educated liberal left, inevitably captures the zeitgeist. Sanfic’s highest-profile new completed Chilean title, fresh off a best director win at Locarno, Dominga Sotomayor’s sensorial “Too Late to Die Young,” chronicles the coming of age of a 16-year-old girl, more through the accumulation of emotions than classic resolutive drama.
“Dry Martina,” which world premiered at Tribeca, is directed by a man, Che Sandoval, but charts a woman’s journey of self-discovery. Directed by Chile’s Sandra Arriaga, Mexico’s Gigi Saul, and Lisi Kiesling, “28,” a potential Santiago Lab standout, frames five short horror stories made by women about women, “five powerful protagonists that are not the classic Scream Queens or the virginal Final Girls. All are mobilizing agents of the plot,” the synopsis promises. Three Chilean shorts deal with sexual abuse of women, by a movie director (“Danger & Alone”), a cult leader (“The Summer of the Electric Lion”) and a father (“Mas Alla de la Duda”). One Chilean Work in Progress, Nicole Ruiz’s “The Ship of Oblivion,” narrates a 70-year-old rural woman’s discovery of new sexual desire: another. Potential Works In Progress standout “Hra,” from Alejandro Fernández Almendras (“To Kill a Man”), portrays male inadequacy, as a theater director forgets his real priorities in life.
After social minimalism (“Huacho”), a piercing questioning of revenge narratives (2014 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner “To Kill a Man,”) and a searing indictment of social privilege (“Much Ado About Nothing”), Fernández-Almendras unveils in rough cut at Sanfic what seems at once his most personal and most singular movie to date: the Czech-language, B&W “Hra.” Also in Latin American Work in Progress, culture-clash drama “Sirena,” from Bolivia’s Carlos Piñeiro, and Chilean Sebastián Muñoz’s penitentiary-set “The Prince” are sure to attract heat after also being selected for San Sebastian’s Films in Progress, unspooling one month later.
Among shorts, Walt Disney portrait “Waldo’s Dream,” the first venture into animation of Pablo and Juan de Dios Larrain’s Fabula, is a wow, as is the table-turning pedophile’s confession to his priest in “Deliver Us from Evil.” Another Sanfic short, Diego Cespedes’ “The Summer of the Electric Lion,” won First Prize at the Cannes Festival’s 21st Cinéfondation Selection, a global film school shorts competition, beating out 2,400 other entries. “28,” Chilean Claudia Huaiquimilla’s “Riot” and projects from Mexico’s Marco Antonio Salgado (“Lala”) and Oscar Ruíz’s Contravía Films in Colombia’s Calí (“Tell Them Not To Kill Me”) look like potential standouts in Santiago Lab, given their concepts, or caliber of creators or producers.
Nicolas Molina’s “Flow” and Nicolás Lasnibat’s “The Invented Biography” lead a doc-feature presence in Chilean Competition. Beyond Che Sandoval’s “Dry Martina,” a Chilean International Competition frontrunner and Martín Rodríguez Redondo’s “Marilyn,” well-received at Berlin, Chile’s biggest draw among completed features at Sanfic is likely to be Dominga Sotomayor’s “Too Late to Die You,” fresh from Locarno glory, in which the director brings an innovative painterly sensibility to bitter-sweet coming-of-age.
Sanfic ends just a fortnight before the world premiere at the Toronto Festival of the biggest Chilean production of 2018,“Gloria Bell,” directed by Academy Award winner Sebastian Lelio (“A Fantastic Woman”), starring Academy Award winner Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”), produced by Chile’s Fabula and FilmNation Ent. and Fabula’s first full-on U.S. production at its newly-created L.A.-based company.
Produced by Jirafa, another top Chilean production house, “Hra” shot in Czech in the Czech Republic. “Dry Martina,” from the other highest-profile Chilean production house, Forastero, rolled partly in Argentina. Six of Sanfic’s 22 Chilean shorts are all or partly spoken in English. There are very good reasons for Chilean movies to skew international. Chile is a serial big festival prize winner, but has a small domestic market, of a $136.7 million total box office gross in 2017, down on not only Mexico ($853.5 million), Brazil ($851.5 million) and Argentina ($292.5 million) but Colombia ($184.6 million) and Peru ($174.0 million). Money talks. Big Chilean arthouse hits can make seven (“No,” grossing $1.2 million in Chile, $9.1 million outside) or even 10 times (“Gloria”: $797,613, Chile; $8.2 million, intl.) their domestic grosses from foreign markets. Unless low-budget, or ultra-popular, Chilean films need to co-finance via overseas production partners. English, especially for Chile’s youngest generation, is little problem. In fact, it might be an attraction. “Dry Martina,” for example, has a cool French rapper talking in English to the two female leads, who bounce out of English and Spanish. It just the way the young world goes.
4.SANFIC: STILL BUILDING
As soon as Sanfic’s line-up was announced, Chile’s press began listing must-see titles from its selection. Reason? Sanfic 2018 has so many must-see titles on offer, and not all, lamentably, will score domestic distribution in Chile. The 2018 Cannes Festival contributes 14 titles alone, including a slew of Cannes’ biggest hits: Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” reckoned by Variety “a major comeback for Spike Lee”; Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s “Birds of a Passage,” “a south-of-the-border drug epic like you’ve never seen before”; and “Diamantino,” from Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmid: “the freshest blast of gonzo comic energy at this year’s Cannes Film Festival,” Variety opined.
As some festivals in Latin America mark time, or wilt from reduced-funding, Sanfic is still growing, and consolidating as a first post-Cannes pit-stop for Latin American. Several factors are in play. As Chile has grown at the vanguard of world cinema, more fest programmers attend Sanfic to check out and consolidate relations with talent and its producers. Sanfic’s young management – Storyboard Media producers Gabriela Sandoval, Sanfic director of industry, and Carlos Nuñez, its artistic director – have gone out of their way to seal strategic alliances with other festivals. One milestone from this year is an annual Cannes Critics’ Week showcase, bringing five curated titles and Charles Tesson to Santiago de Chile. Above all, perhaps, Sanfic has accepted the new festival eco-system. These days, maybe only seven or so fests – Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, Toronto, Venice, Busan – can pack out their main sections with multiple world premieres. Sanfic also has its exclusive bows, drilling down in depth into national cinema in its Chilean competition. But it’s the industry section for new projects (Santiago Lab) and the Latin American Works in Progress which give Sanfic an ultra-fresh edge. Otherwise, Sanfic celebrates the best of world cinema, often from Cannes or Berlin.
5.NOW THAT CHILE’S WON AN OSCAR, IT CAN CONTINUE BUILDING A REAL INDUSTRY
Sebastian Lelio’s Oscar for “A Fantastic Woman” may mark a crowning achievement for the Novíssimo Cine Chileno, a generation of filmmakers which broke through from the 2005 Valdivia Festival. Now, the next phase in Chilean growth looks likely to be marked by industry consolidation.
Reasons abound, as do signs of that trend at the 14th Sanfic Festival.
“A Fantastic Woman” is currently tracking at $7 million plus at the worldwide box office. Yet it sold just 80,000 cinema tickets in Chile. Chilean films often take 2% to 4% of their national box office, compared to over 13% in Argentina last year.
The industry is, however, reacting. “The major challenge for Chilean movies is not financing, but distribution,” Jirafa head Bruno Bettati told Variety just before Sanfic. Jirafa has moved back into distribution in Chile. Fabula has dipped its tie into animation (Sanfic-showcased “Waldo’s Dream”), will soon announce details of its first major international TV drama series. Others production houses are scaling up. Bowing at Tribeca, “Dry Martina” marks a step-up in scale and move towards international audiences for Che Sandoval, a prior king of Chilean ultra-indie mumble-core. “Too Late to Die Young” returns to some of the focus of “Thursday Through Sunday” – prescient young protagonists sensing the emotional complexities of the adult world – but does so on a far larger canvas, with a plethora of shots, an ensemble cast, and a far-more-evolved mise-en-scène.
Lightning does strike twice. Or more times still. Maribel Verdu, Sanfic’s 2018 special guest, has won few prizes. Yet, since breaking out in Montxo Armendariz’s 1985 youth drama “27 Hours,” with a performance of absolute composure belying her 15 years, over a 35-year career, Spanish actress Verdu has starred in at least four great Spanish-language films of the modern age: Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) Alfonso Cuaron’s “Y tu mamá también” (2001) Fernando Trueba’s “Belle Epoque” (1992) and Vicente Aranda’s “Amantes” (1991). Few actresses show such range in the films they get involved in, whether big Spanish comedies (this year, Santiago Segura’s “Empowered,” Argentina’s 2015 “No Kids”), a B&W Andalusian fairy tale recast (“Snow White,” 2012), women’s dramas (Gracia Querejeta’s “Seven Billiard Tables,” 2007), offbeat social comedy (Juan Cavestany’s 2014 “People in Places”), or even a promising Basque short (Mikel Rueda’s 2016 “Caminan”). And when Verdu boards a film, she will give it her full and unconditional support.
7.MERCEDES MORAN: Few actors in Latin America, and indeed the world, can boast a year like the one Mercedes Morán is having. The actress starred in Luiz Ortega’s “El Angél” which world premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and will open Sanfic; then won best actress at Karlovy Vary for her performance in Ana Katz’ “Sueño Florianópolis;” she stars oposite Ricardo Darín in “An Unexpected Love,” – released earlier this month in Argentina and set to open San Sebastián; and she plays the lead in María Alché’s “A Family Submerged,” which world premiered as part of Locarno’s Filmmakers of the Present section.
“The Cleaners,” (Hans Block, Germany, Brazil)
“Doubtful,” (Eliran Elya, Israel)
“Dovlatov,” (Aleksey German, Rusia)
“Dry Martina,” (Che Sandoval, Chile, Argentina)
“The Heiresses,” (Marcelo Martinessi, Paraguay, Germany, Brazil, Uruguay, Norway, France)
“Marilyn,” (Martín Rodríguez Redondo, Argentina, Chile)
“The Music of the Spheres música de las esferas,” (Marcel Beltrán, Cuba, USA)
“Sauvage,” (Camille Vidal-Naquet, France)
“The Snatch Thief,” (Agustín Toscano, Argentina, Uruguay, France)
“Cielo,” (Alison Mcalpine, Canada, Chile)
“Cola de Mono,” (Alberto Fuguet, Chile)
“The Invented Biography,” (Nicolás Lasnibat, Chile, France, Qatar)
“El tipo que se quebró las uñas (por querer agarrar un corazón dibujado en el pavimento),” (CLASAB, Chile)
“Flow,” (Nicolás Molina, Chile)
“Perkin,” (Roberto Farias, Chile)
“Petit frere,” (Roberto Collio, Rodrigo Robledo, Chile)
“Sobre los muertos,” (Simón Vargas, Chile)
“Trastornos del sueño,” (Sofía Gómez, Camilo Becerra, Chile)