15 June, 2009

Danish cinema: life after Dogma in Buenos Aires

Danish cinema is paying a visit to Buenos Aires, making happy all those Argentineans that really love European movies. The Danish Cinema meeting (Encuentro de Cine DanĂ©s), organized by the Argentinean-Danish Commercial Chamber to show local Dogma fans what’s being produced in Denmark after this so important movement, started on the 5th of June and remains in two cinemas of the city (Leopoldo Lugones and Kino Palais de Glace) until the 22nd, this month.

Lars Andersen, one of the people involved in the organization, answered some question we had about the event, as well as about Danish cinema today and cultural exchanges between Europe and Latin America. Take a look.

What’s the goal behind the Danish film festival that is taking place in Buenos Aires?

Basically we just want to contribute to the cultural life here in Buenos Aires. No big deal. It is good fun doing something that is not that thought out. But then on the other hand, if Danish enterprises can improve their businesses because of this "buena onda", by all means - fine! But there is no cold, cynical strategy behind it all. Just the common notion that culture, the arts, is the backbone of every country’s identity. Once, during the Second World War, the British PM Winston Churchill, was asked by a member of the War Cabinet, if the allocations to the culture should not be reduced in order to strengthen the war effort. Churchill, who by no means was a left wing do-gooder and humanitarian, but a tough, old Conservative, answered: - Gentlemen, if we cut the budget for culture, the arts, then I don’t know what we are fighting for! 

Is it possible to talk about a new Danish film movement or are Danish movies today simply heirs of the Dogma 95 in terms of narration and aesthetics?

Dogma is all over, that is a fact. But of course something still lingers on. The actors, because of Dogma, got so much better for film work, the moving camera, all that shit, just improved their work, they were more free. And I suppose, also, the directors and screenwriters learned that it is possible to take wild chances, that everything does not have to be that so-called perfect or rigid, that everything does not have to be thought out or cost 10 million US-dollars to make a good movie. That’s the good lesson I think. BUT at the moment, NO, there is no new thing going on in the DK. Documentary is very big and very, very good. Fiction is more like normal. People making their movies, maintaining their careers. A wave like Dogma or the new wave in France in the Sixties only happens very seldom. We have to accept that. 

How do you see the presence of the Danish cinema in Argentina, leaving aside some punctual film exhibitions? Is it normally and commercially available?

In general, I think that Danish film is rather strong here in Argentina. Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg and Susanne Bier, they are all sort of big here, at least they are shown in the cinemas, being takled about. BUT as a whole, I don’t know -- I think it goes like the rest of European cinema in Latin America. It’s US blockbusters and Disney all over, strangling European film and basically, in the long run, killing Latin American culture and art and national identity. I am not saying this because I am anti-American, because I am not -- there are a lot of good movies coming out of Hollywood, but there is also coming a lot of crap, and both Europe and Latin America as continents and countries have to stand up for cultural diversity, it will get too God damn boring if it the same Disney birthday party for kids all over the world! 
Generally, I must say, it is difficult to get distribution for European films here. Of course, because of the North American dominance, but also, I think, because that a lot of Europeans think there is no money to be made in Latin America. For them it is just one big Africa. They simply don’t know how diverse Argentina is, how diverse almost every South American country is, they don’t know -- and that should be changed, for the sake of both parts. 

What was the criteria to select the films that integrate this exhibition?

We chose the films from the criteria that they, first, should be representative of the afterlife of Dogma, second, have an artistic vision and/or be provocative and somehow refreshing and groundbreaking.

How is European cinema present in Argentina? Is there a strong interest in European culture? Any bilateral agreements?

Talks, I think, with our Argentinean counterparts will evolve around the imminent fact that European and Latin American culture is under pressure, and that each country/continent, if indeed it is a country and not just a parallel society, must stand up, like France, proudly and defend its culture, art and identity. Film as a popular mass culture pheromone is of course front line number one. 

Concerning the interest for European film here in Argentina, there is quite a lot, but I think that Europeans, especially the Northerners must learn, that there is money to be made, there is a market, there is an educated audience, because they don’t know, they simply don’t know, everybody is looking towards Asia if we are talking about new markets, China, India, you name it. 
When I meet Argentinean directors, they say, if they are not turned towards the US businesswise, that the solution for Argentinean film is to acknowledge that Argentina IS a part of Latin America, that their natural partner is NOT Europe, but, for example, Brazil.
And that is sort of true, there is not a lot of collaboration with Europe at the moment, except for European companies going here to shoot relatively cheap, BUT maybe it could be different, maybe the day, when we realize that Europe and Latin America have more in common than Latin America and the US, is not that far off. Just maybe. The pressure is the same. The loss of identity, the same.

Photo: “Little soldier” (“Lille soldat”; 2008), from Annette K. Olesen, one of the movies in the Danish cinema program.