Revolutionizing Cinema in Venezuela: An Interview with Victor Luckert

Filmmakers from all over Latin America converged on the Caribbean island of Margarita last Thursday to mark the inauguration of the 4th edition of Venezuela’s most important cinematic event.

Filmmakers from all over Latin America converged on the Caribbean island of Margarita last Thursday to mark the inauguration of the 4th edition of Venezuela’s most important cinematic event.

The Latin American and Caribbean Film Festival of Margarita, an initiative of the Venezuelan government, has grown steadily over its young existence and is now considered by many in the industry to occupy a privileged place among some of the most notable competitions in the region.

This year’s festival has included the participation of fiction and documentary filmmakers from Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Panama, Brazil as well as national productions that address a range of social, political and cultural issues.

Focusing on the promotion of new talent, the competition has made a special effort to incorporate community projects into its program, providing opportunities for otherwise excluded sectors of the population to learn the art of cinema and democratize what has traditionally been an audio-visual landscape dominated by foreign producers.

Correo del Orinoco International had the chance to converse with the coordinator of the event, Victor Luckert, during the festival’s proceedings in the city of Porlamar where the organizer elaborated on the state of cinema in Latin America and the festival’s commitment to community engagement.

COI: How did the idea of this festival arise?

Luckert: The festival was born as part of the policies of the Ministry of Culture to support our cinematography. Filmmakers were never recognized by the state, so in 2008 we decided to create the first festival which, in that year, only included national productions. After the completion of the first festival, those working in cinema at the state level met and we decided that in agreement with the state’s policies of Latin American integration we should amplify the festival and give it an international character.

We also wanted to give the festival a special niche because there already exist a lot of international festivals in our region. It’s from there that the idea to make the event focused on Operas Primas [First Works] arose, believing that this would be useful because it maintains the idea of integration as well as permitting support for new talent, which has been a priority of the Ministry for Culture. That’s whym the festival is always centered on new artists.

COI: Is this the only festival that contains a category for Opera Prima in documentaries?

Luckert: In principle, it’s the only one in Latin America. Historically, the Opera Primas have only existed for fiction.

COI: What influence has Hollywood had on Latin American cinema and what is the perspective of this festival in that respect?

Luckert: In the 1960s and 1970s, film festivals used to be spaces for reflection and debate. They were political spaces that exhibited films that couldn’t be seen in other places. They were spaces for proposals, policies and actions that used to arise precisely to counteract the influence of Hollywood in our cinema.

Hollywood has been powerful in the sense that it’s the owner of almost all the exhibition spaces, even if it is not the legal proprietor of those spaces. The cinemas may be owned by Venezuelans or Mexicans, etc, but what they show is from Hollywood. They have become the de facto owners of these screens. So, we’ve created the festival in Margarita to renew once again a space for reflectionnand debate. In fact, during this edition of the festival, we had a mock forum to ask permission from Mr. Danger to screen our own films.

COI: And to whom are you referring when you say Mr. Danger?

Luckert: We’re referring to the United States, to Hollywood, to Obama, to the empire. It’s the empire that has dominated the screens. That’s why we gave the forum a provocative name – on the one hand to stimulate the debate but on the other hand to make a statement about reality.

We in Latin America erroneously speak about having quotas of national production in the cinemas but its like asking permission to enter our own homes. If the screens are here, they belong to the nation and we don’t need to ask for quotas from Hollywood to show our films. It should be the other way around.

COI: How are the policies of the Venezuelan government changing this situation?

Luckert: We’re co-signers of international agreements where cultural diversity is guaranteed, for example with UNESCO. We need to use this to combat the counter culture that has invaded us, not only from the point of view of film but in general. Now, when talking about the specific case of President Chavez in Venezuela, we’ve never had so much support from any other government. And I’m not just talking about film but all audio-visual production. We have some extraordinary laws. Even if we have some problems that we still need to deal with in terms of distribution, we’ve had some important advances…and not only from the point of view of financing but also in the creation of the national distributor Amazonia Films and the production company Villa del Cine. We had years in the 1980s and 1990s when there was only 1 national film made each year. This has completely changed. Since 2005, there has been considerable growth in cinematic productions. Now we’re producing between 15 and 20 featurelength films a year and an infinite number of shorts and script projects.

COI: Explain a little about the commitment that the festival has with the community.

Luckert: The festival has had a strong commitment with the community in many ways. We’ve created the competition for Community Video and Film. This competition is fabulous because it gives the opportunity to communities to express their realities through audio-visual projects without limitations… But it’s not only the Community Video and Film competition that is planting the seeds of audio-visual production in the country.

There are so many aspiring talents and for this reason our festival goes into the communities. We don’t have just two or three exhibit spaces. We have spaces distributed throughout the island of Margarita. We’re taking cinema to the people’s houses, we’re in the prisons, and we’re making the festival more and more national every year by screening the winners of the public vote award in public cinemas across the country.