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Punta del Este in Uruguay is set to become a beacon for the arts and a key tourist destination with the inauguration of the coastal resort town’s first contemporary art museum, the stunning Museo Arte Contemporaneo Atchugarry (MACA), on January 8.

The launch of an arts film festival, ARCA, running Jan. 9-14, underscores the museum’s mandate to serve all the arts. Perched on the grounds of the Pablo Atchugarry Foundation, the 75,000 sq. ft. museum designed by architect Carlos Ott overlooks a 62-acre sculpture park and expansive grounds that include a heliport, forests and an outdoor amphitheater. Entrance is completely free of charge.

“When we set up the Pablo Atchugarry Foundation 15 years ago, we conceived it as a meeting place of all the arts with the public. Today we can say that musicians, dancers, writers and visual artists will have passed through here,” said Uruguayan sculptor Pablo Atchugarry whose foundation is the principal sponsor and driving force behind the festival.

“We now have the great opportunity to present the first edition of the ARCA International Film Festival, of which I have the privilege of being your host. I have especially created a sculpture titled ‘Arca’ to present as a grand prize to the winning film,” he continued, adding: “I welcome this festival with the confidence that it will be an extraordinary event for lovers of the seventh art.”

ARCA kicked off with a preview on Jan. 3 at the outdoor amphitheater with “Walking on Water,” Andrei Peounov’s rousing documentary about the late conceptual artists Christo and wife Jeanne-Claude’s The Floating Piers project. “We had arranged seating for 700 but had to set up more seats for a total of 1,200 guests; it was a lovely night,” said ARCA director, Mercedes Sader.

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Museo Arte Contemporaneo Atchugarry (MACA) Courtesy of ARCA

The culmination of the Bulgarian-born artist’s dream to ‘walk on water,’ the Floating Piers project featured two miles of saffron-colored fabric stretched over floating, interlocking cubes that linked two islands on Lake Iseo to the Italian mainland. It is said to have attracted more than a million visitors.

According to Sader, ARCA will be held bi-annually, first in January in Punta de Este, then in December in Miami, where the Pablo Atchugarry Foundation has its U.S. base, during the Art Basel event.

The festival’s inaugural edition features 19 feature film in main competition from just as many countries, said Sader. These films are curated by festival programmer Sergio Fant who also forms part of the selection committee of the Berlinale and has previously programmed such notable festivals as Venice, Helsinki Documentary and Trento, among others. ARCA also includes a Video Art program curated by Laura Bardier of Este Arte and Andrea Bellini of Geneva’s Biennale of Moving Images who will present the best works from the Biennale.

ARCA will tap the outdoor amphitheater, an indoor screen with a 100-seat capacity and a third one exclusively for video art screenings, also situated outdoors. Given current health protocols, these outdoor screens are ideal.

“Uruguay has a 90% vaccination rate and it’s summer here now,” said Sader, who lamented that filmmakers were invited but were wary of changing pandemic-fuelled border restrictions in their respective countries.

A two-day series of conferences launches the industry section of the festival, which ARCA executive directors Andres Varela and Sebastian Bednarik of Uruguay’s CoralCine, along with coordinator Clara Charlo, are overseeing. “We’ve had to focus on what can be done, given the circumstances,” said Varela who added that ARCA was in talks with other festivals, such as Mexico’s Guadalajara and Chile’s Sanfic, to consider forming strategic alliances.

On Jan. 13, Helena Nosei, the Uruguayan rep of Spanish audiovisual producers rights group Egeda, will hold a talk about the industry component of the Premios Platino, Ibero-America’s itinerant annual entertainment awards show, which Egeda supports. This is followed by a presentation from Martin Astesiano, sales development head of platform Qubit.tv, who will discuss the company’s editorial line, and lastly, a talk by Piero Atchugarry, founder of the Pablo Atchugarry Gallery, to deliberate on the growing significance of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) in the art world, especially during the pandemic.

Day two on Jan. 14 will feature two conferences in English, starting with Michael Young, president and CEO of the New York Film Academy, who will discuss the academy’s overseas training programs and the possibilities of alliances within the region.  This is followed by ARCA fest programmer Fant, who will talk about film selection criteria for various festival sections.

The launch of ARCA comes at an opportune time when Uruguay has become a burgeoning production hub with various productions flying in, drawn by its security, political stability and relatively COVID-free environment. A cash rebate of up to 25%, introduced in 2019, has made it even more enticing.

ARCA Intl. Film Festival 2022 Main Competition Lineup: 

“A Machine To Live in,” (Yoni Goldstein, Meredith Zielke, U.S.)

“Así Pasamos,” (Diego Fernández Pujol, Uruguay)

“Banksy Most Wanted,” (Seamus Haley, Aurélia Rouvier, France)

“Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint,” (Halina Dyrschka, Germany, Austria

“Caveman–The Hidden Giant,” (Tommaso Landucci, Italy, Switzerland)

“El Cuadro,” (Andrés Sanz, Spain)

“Helene,” (Antti Jokkinen, Finland)

“Hidden Away,” (Giorgio Diritti, Italy)

“Hugo in Argentina,” (Stefano Knuchel, Switzerland)

“La Intención del Colibri,” (Sergio de León, Uruguay)

“Last and First Men,” (Jóhann Jóhannsson, Iceland)

“Mau,” (Benjamin Bergmann, Jono Bergmann, Austria)

“Paper & Glue,” (JR, U.S.)

“Ruben Brandt, Collector,” (Milorad Krstic, Hungary)

“The Lost Leonardo,” (Andreas Koefoed, Denmark, France)

“The Painter and the Thief,” (Benjamin Ree, Norway)

“The Salt in Our Waters,” (Rezwan Shahriar Sumit, Bangladesh, France)

“Walking on Water,” (Andrey Paounov, U.S., Italy)

“White Cube,” (Renzo Martens, Netherlands, Belgium, Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Video Art Titles

“Nuvem Negra,” (Basil de Cunha, 2014)

“La Disparition des Aitus,” (Pauline Julier, 2014)

“The Challenge,” (Yuri Ancarani, 2016)

“Oscuro Barroco,” (Evangelia Kranioti, 2016)

“Soltar,” (Jenna Hasse, 2016)

“Silent,” (Pauline Boudry, Renate Lorenz, 2016)

“Aria,” (Emilie Jouvet, 2016)

“Duilian,” (Wu Tsang, 2016)

“Parsi,” (Eduardo Williams, Mariano Blatt, 2018)

“Everything but the World,” (DIS, 2021)

“Byron & Shelley: Illuminati Detectives,” (Emily Allan, Leah Hennessey, 2021)