Venezuela's new wave of cinema focuses on gay love and life - and it's subsidised by the revolution

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 September, 2015, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 September, 2015, 11:05pm
AP

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A new wave of cinema is emerging from the chaos and violence of modern Venezuela, focusing on highly personal tales of gay love affairs and little boys who want to wear party dresses.

Following the tradition of 1990s gay Cuban cinema, Venezuelan directors are finding creative ways to produce films that explore and criticise society despite increasing government control of TV and other media. And they're doing it with state funding.

The debut feature From Afar, by a little-known Venezuelan director, won top honours at last month's Venice Film Festival, one of the industry's top events. The film is about an affair between a wealthy middle-aged man and a teenage hustler set against a background of poverty and violence.

Like the prize-winning film Bad Hair, about a poor Venezuelan boy grappling with his sexual identity, and My Straight Son, in which a teenager goes to live with his gay father, From Afar was made possible by government grants.

Venezuela has never had a strong filmmaking tradition, but the South American country's 16-year-old socialist revolution has pushed to create a state-sponsored national cinema like the ones that produced Cuban and Soviet classics.

The National Centre for Cinematography funds projects and sends filmmakers abroad to learn about filmmaking. It also supports a film school run by President Nicolas Maduro's son. The number of films produced in Venezuela has quadrupled since 2005 to about 20 a year, still far short of the average of 50 produced in Argentina.

Venezuela's state-sponsored films avoid overtly political topics, but issues shaping daily life peek through, including poverty and the country's high crime rate.

The young thug in From Afar lives in a grim government apartment complex presumably built under the administration of the late Hugo Chavez. The older man is pulled into his life after being robbed, an increasingly common experience in the city.

Director Lorenzo Vigas finished filming in Caracas' streets in 2014, one week before simmering pressures exploded in violent protests nationwide. "That tension colours the feel of the film," he said before his win at Venice.

The gay themes in Venezuela's cinema renaissance may seem odd given that Maduro is criticised for lobbing anti-gay slurs at opponents. But Vigas says he never experienced any censorship.

Venezuelan filmmakers are following a tradition of using sexual drama to highlight political issues.

Perhaps the best-known example is the 1993 state-sponsored Cuban movie Strawberry and Chocolate, an international hit featuring a gay character. An explosion of gay cinema followed the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, led by director Pedro Almodovar.

While Venezuelan officials seem to welcome the movies' global acclaim, they tolerate filmmakers' independence only up to a point.

Bad Hair director Mariana Rondon angered officialdom when she said her 2013 film about a young boy who wants to tame his curly hair was a critique of the revolution's "with us or against us" attitude.

"I made this film to free myself from the pain of living amid so much intolerance," she said while accepting the highest award at the San Sebastian film festival. "Thinking differently shouldn't be seen as a problem."

Officials said Rondon's career was made possible by the revolution she disavowed.

As My Straight Son triumphed last year at the Goya Awards, Spain's version of the Oscars, Venezuelans were flocking to see The Liberator, a biopic about 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar that broke box office records for a locally produced film.

While The Liberator was shown in commercial theatres, the easiest way to see Venezuela's festival darlings' successes has been to buy them at a pirated-DVD kiosk.

Their invisibility is part of why the government can afford to nurture such relatively subversive films, says David William Foster, who teaches Latin American film at Arizona State University. "If people go to the movies, they go to see Hollywood films. These gay productions are just minor pests," he says.

Associated Press