Nearly a hundred suspended productions, several thousand unemployed workers and not a single cinema open since March 20: this is how the pandemic affects Argentine cinema, one of the most acclaimed in Latin America and that, after several months of quarantine, faces a year full of uncertainty.
“This is very serious. We still cannot finish seeing how serious it is, we are all completely stopped,” Vanessa Ragone, a film producer and president of the Argentine Chamber of Film Industry (CAIC), tells Efe by phone.
At the moment, there are no short-term plans to resume filming, nor to reopen theaters to viewers, just when three and a half months have elapsed since the cinemas are completely closed in Argentina, both in areas with mandatory quarantine – and Buenos Aires and its metropolitan area- as in those that have already made isolation more flexible.
And while it is true that the arrival of COVID-19 has affected all branches of culture equally, the Argentine audiovisual industry has suffered in a particularly cruel way the paralysis of its activities, representing a third of all cultural production and 0.71% of the gross domestic product of the South American country.
A SECTOR THAT WAS ALREADY UNSTABLE
The pandemic broke out at a delicate moment for Argentine cinema, which in 2019 went through a “very complex” year, both due to the loss of screen share among viewers and due to the situation of the national economy, in recession since mid-2018 .
“The inexistence of credits at reasonable rates really complicated the production a lot. It is very difficult to activate a film when one cannot obtain a credit, or the credit has a rate of 60% per year, it is almost impossible”, explains Ragone about the previous situation to the coronavirus.
To this was added in recent years the lack of “soft credits” granted by the National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA) -a public body in charge of granting aid-, as well as the “difficulty” in accessing cinematographic screens .
In fact, INCAA itself, chaired by Oscar winner Luis Puenzo, recalled in his latest management report that “the economic emergency that the audiovisual industry is going through is prior to the expansion of the health emergency.”
AROUND TWENTY CANCELLATION FILMS
Beyond this incipient crisis in the sector, the establishment of the mandatory quarantine forced to suspend some twenty productions in Argentina, projects that “had to cancel their filming without finishing them, which is extremely serious.”
“Thinking that in Argentina more or less 110 films are produced per year, the year was just beginning and there are about twenty stopped films. Quietly there are 80 projects between documentaries and fiction films that are not going to be shot or that are not being able to roll, “says the president of the CAIC.
This diagnosis coincides with that of Guido Valerga, general secretary of the Argentine Cinematographic Industry Union (SICA), which numbers 90% of national projects in which “the paralysis was total.”
The last Argentine feature film to be seen in theaters this year was ‘Ni hero ni traidor’, a drama set in the Falklands War that barely managed to bring 539 viewers to theaters: just one week after its premiere, on 12 March, the Argentine Government decreed the mandatory isolation of the population.
Since then, the only way for producers to release their films is through INCAA, which exceptionally made available the Cine.ar Play platform and the free-to-air television channel Cine.ar to release these projects and incidentally, get some economic return while the health emergency lasts.
AN “INCOMPRENDED” ACTIVITY
This paralysis of the industry brought enormous consequences, with thousands of technicians and artists who do not have easy access to state aid “because it is a very misunderstood activity.”
“Very few Argentine companies have the economic power to survive for too long, we are not recipients of almost none of the aid that the Government has given. Due to the strange characteristic of our work, we do not enter aid very easily,” says Ragone.
Behind all those stars that populate the posters, behind the scenes, in the shade, there is a huge cast of workers who only charge for the tasks they perform and whose only source of income was cut with the interruption of filming.
SICA managed to partially compensate it, through an agreement with the producers so that, at least, they dedicated a small percentage of the salary to these technicians for the projects that remained in the lurch.
A situation that ended up evidencing that “fragility” with which audiovisual workers already lived, forced by the pandemic to request bank loans because state subsidies “do not manage to satisfy the needs with which the cost of living has been brought forward” .
“In the best case, (the exit of the pandemic) will be with a significant number of indebted workers, because with state assistance it is very difficult to address all the expenses you may have,” stresses the head of the SICA.
“WE MUST LOVE PEOPLE AGAIN”
Despite multiple accolades and awards from around the world – including the Oscar for best international film for “The Official Story” (1985) and “The Secret in Their Eyes” (2009) -, the post-pandemic outlook did not It could be more worrying for Argentine cinema.
From the producers’ point of view, social distancing measures will add a “new cost” to the filming, in addition to the enormous difficulty of filling movie theaters in the current context, according to Vanessa Argone.
“You have to see if people will want to go back to the movie theaters, or if the user experience at home is enough for them. I think you have to make people fall in love again on the (cinema) screen. She will want to shut herself up in a cinema, there is a feeling of fear that is still present in society, “acknowledges the president of the CAIC.
Regarding the situation of film technicians, actors and filmmakers, the Argentine Ministry of Culture is working on an aid plan dedicated to the cultural sector as a whole, which will include subsidies different from those that have been granted until now.
All this with a single purpose: to keep afloat a style of cinema unique in Latin America, capable of marveling millions of viewers around the globe in recent decades.