The Brazilian film critic and researcher also speaks about what she likes about Indian cinema, the similarities and differences between Latin American and the Indian film industries, and the importance of film criticism.
You have to be able to combine method and your own sensibility: Luanda Fernandes on film criticism
Mumbai - 14 Oct 2018 10:00 IST
Film critic and researcher Luanda Fernandes attended the recently concluded 9th Jagran Film Festival in Mumbai. Originally from Brazil, Fernandes has been living in Mumbai for the past one year and following Indian cinema. She has spent most of her time studying contemporary Brazilian and Argentinian cinema and comparative studies.
“Not just in the 1990s, but even before that there are some commonalities in these two film industries. During the 1990s we had some kind of a renovation in these two cinemas, in specific the context. There were some similarities too. They started talking about what was happening more on the streets, the social problems people were facing that time. At the time there was an economic crisis in both the countries and an economic crisis always has an effect on the population. Both these cinemas were trying to understand what was happening in the country, not just the content but also their aesthetics,” said Fernandes, giving a glimpse into the cinema industry of countries in Latin America.
In an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com, Fernandes also spoke about what she likes about Indian cinema, the similarities and differences between Latin American and the Indian film industries and the importance of film criticism. Excerpts:
You have spent some time in India. What brings you to the country?
I have been here for a year now, to be more precise. I came to India because my husband was transferred from his job, so we came together. What I am trying to do here is to promote Argentinian cinema, as well as in Latin America, and understand Indian cinema better because I would love to enable an exchange in both the cinemas, as well as the geographies.
Have you seen any Indian films? What do you like about them?
I try to see films from different industries here — Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, not just Bollywood. I am particularly interested in independent cinema. One of the films I saw that I liked the most was a Marathi film called Court (2015) by Chaitanya Tamhane. It’s interesting because I was able to write a comparative analysis between Court and a Brazilian film called Justice. There were a lot of things I could identify that these films had in common.
What I am trying to find out here is not about one director having an influence on another, but how in different countries sometimes artistes and filmmakers respond in a similar way, or dialogical way, aesthetically and also with the content. For me, Court was interesting how the director uses social realism and extreme naturalism in a combination of fiction and documentary in a humanistic content and approach. I am just a visitor, so I can only talk about what I see in the narratives and aesthetics of the film.
Culturally, what are the prominent similarities or differences you see in Indian and Latin American cinema?
I would start with the differences. Here you have a huge cinema industry. When I talk about an industry, I mean the whole ecosystem — people watching films, marketing, publicity, critics, the experience of watching a film. In our countries [Latin America], we do not have such an established industry. We have what I would like to call ‘cinema’. We depend mostly on government financing. During the 1990s, and this is a common factor for the whole region, filmmakers made a huge and important statement for the necessity of the government supporting the cultural industry and activities, because movies is all about identity. So, you have to protect your cinema production because you are talking about the desires of people, the way that a country projects itself on a global stage.
For example, during the establishment of the European Union, the cinema industry was something that did not enter in the common agreement to circulate the products, or the free flow of products or people. Cinema was kept apart due to its importance for national identity. During the 1990s in Brazil and Argentina, we had laws for financing cinema. They are very different in both countries, but what is interesting is that they try for a solution that is common to require the state to finance the cultural productions. So this is the main difference. There are many others big difference, but this one is explicit between our countries. In Bollywood [Hindi cinema], thousands of movies are made every year, while in our countries the average number of films that are released are 180 films a year.
About the similarities I would say, in our big cities and those on the countryside there are social inequalities that may inspire a specific or particular aesthetic gaze that I identify in filmmakers here and in Latin America, especially now in the 2000s. I say that because now there is more focus on daily life.
How is daily life projected in Latin-American films?
During the late 1990s, we had what is called the Favela movies in Brazil. Favela is Portuguese for slums. It’s a group of films that have shooting in slums, they talk about violence, precarious life of the people in these places. In using codes of entertainment and especially Hollywood action cinema, these became very popular. I wouldn’t call it a movie genre, but I think it’s a sub-genre genre that had a huge influence in all other countries. Even in the film Slumdog Millionaire (2008) by director Danny Boyle, which is not an Indian film, but an interpretation of a specific experience of the reality in this country. Such movies have an appeal.
Mid-2000s onwards the perspective changed. Filmmakers are looking at margins of the city, but not with the same strategy. The strategy they are using now is showing how the body reacts in a more action-oriented context, in small gestures on a daily basis. It is social and political in a different way. It is about how the body experiences the world of poverty, social inequality. This is shown in these films in a more natural, realistic approach. This strategy is [employed] not only in Argentina or Brazil, but also in Thailand, Africa or the suburbs of some European cities. In this kind of cinema, it is more about trying to reproduce the duration of the time we experience in our daily life. So you have long shots, conversations that really do look like real-life conversation, there are known professional actors... this is something that’s happening in different places. it’s like an aesthetic response. It’s happening here [in India], and in many other places too.
We’ve spoken about the 1990s and 2000s. Currently, where does Latin-American cinema stand with respect to technological advancements? What are the changes you expect going forward?
This moment is like a continuation of what was happening in the mid-2000s. Now you have cheaper, lighter cameras, equipment. You can now make films with a lesser budget. I think this will influence a lot the way they produce films and also the aesthetics. Maybe these aesthetics trying to reproduce the duration and experience of time, is a result of the [improving] technical aspects. Something very interesting is happening in Brazil.
Currently, a lot of Brazilian films are being circulated in international film festivals circuit. But the Argentinian films have been projected in international festivals during the 1990s. In the 1990s, we had this conversation that Latin American films were not good enough as Hollywood films. Hollywood films have a huge influence on films in our countries. They have the concentration of the market in our countries. It was a common conversation that ‘the sound is not good, the stories are not good, the quality is not the same’. But this changed a lot. The local audience increased, and the acclaim in international markets also increased.
How is filmmaking as a profession treated in Latin-America? Are parents encouraging of children pursuing filmmaking?
Things are changing a lot and I can say from personal experience. When I was a teenager and I was thinking about getting into university, my parents said you will not study cinema. So I studied journalism. But I tried to channel my studies in film criticism. But for me it was not an option just to try to be a filmmaker. It is very funny, but there is a cliche about film critics that they are frustrated filmmakers. In my case, I would say it is in part true. I discovered that I never wanted to make a film, I wanted to analyse them. For me, cinema experience is completed or achieved when you have three angles — filmmaker’s, audience and critics’ angle. I feel these three complete the experience of cinema. I feel a film is a film when it has an audience. I still feel film criticism plays an interesting role.
You made an interesting point about the importance of film criticism. What is good, bad and ugly about being a film critic?
There’s a lot of ugly, I would say. Some people believe that film criticism is a dying art. For example, during the 1950s the generation of filmmakers were film critics before. Great filmmakers like Francois Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard used to be film critics before they made films. Nowadays we are having a conversation of film criticism in the digital area, especially on websites like Rotten Tomatoes, for example. You have a percentage system, and this is very tricky because I still believe film criticism is first of all, passion for films and second, it’s a method of analysing films. Sometimes this is being forgotten and converted into a product which you should either buy or not buy.
Do you think film criticism can be learnt by reading about and watching films?
It can be learnt for sure. I would define it as someone who can maybe help us understand movies in a better way. Sometimes we go to the theatre because we are interested in some filmmaker or the actors or the film plot or just because we want to forget about our day. But watching films is much more than that. Cinema is an industry and a product, but at the same time it is a form of art. It makes a transit between these two aspects. Not all films will be art, but some films can be a fantastic form of art. Like in any other form of art, criticism can help establish an interesting dialogue with artistes and filmmakers about aesthetics and other aspects which are not always tangible. You have to follow a method, but it is about a sensibility. It is a very subjective perspective. You have to be able to combine the method and your own sensibility.
What do you think is the role of film festivals in promoting good cinema?
I am surprised that here in India you have so many film festivals in Kerala, Delhi, Goa, Pune, Mumbai. This is amazing and I’ve never seen anything like this. In Brazil, we have about four important film festivals. We are a smaller country with respect to population, but I don’t think it’s only about the population difference. This is about the passion for filmmaking in India. India is completely passionate about storytelling, narratives. The Indian epics like the Mahabharata talk about this passion. With Jagran, I have never seen any festival that travels to so many cities. It is about bringing films to where the audience is.