With community film showings and the opening of a new movie theatre, this Monday 28 January Venezuela celebrated its National Day of Cinema.
The day marks 116 years since the first fragments of Venezuelan film were shown in Maracaibo in 1897, and comes as the national film industry is experiencing a renaissance.
According to figures in the Venezuelan film industry, this year between 28 and 30 locally made feature length films will be premiered, an increase on the 20 shown last year and an average of 15 over the last few years.
Jose Antonio Valera, president of the Venezuelan government’s body for the promotion of national cinema, the Villa del Cine Foundation, said on Monday that so many Venezuelan films had never been premiered in one year.
“We can say that from this week every time a Venezuelan goes to the cinema they will have two or three options from national cinema to choose from, apart from the hegemonic options. This is unique and makes us very happy,” he said in an interview with public television VTV.
One of the new Venezuelan movies to be premiered this year is “Breaking the Silence” which deals with structural abuse against disabled people. “The film tries to break the chains of daily abuse,” said director Andres Rodriguez, who added that up to now disabled people hadn’t played an important role in national cinema.
Another of the films, produced by the Anaco Audiovisual Community, will be the first community-made feature length film in Venezuela.
The Fall and Rise of Venezuelan Cinema
The rise in the quantity and profile of Venezuelan films comes after a spectacular collapse in the industry in the 1990s.
In the “golden decade” of the 1980s, a peak was reached in 1986 when over 4 million people went to see nationally produced films.
Yet in the 1990s, according to national cinema spokespersons, a mixture of economic crisis, neoliberal policies and industry instability caused a collapse in Venezuelan cinema. This reached a disastrous low in 1994, when only 77,000 box office seats were filled by national productions.
According to Victor Lucker of the national private distributor Cine Amazonia Films, governments of that period contributed to the decline, as “there weren’t clear policies” towards the industry.
However this trend has been reversed in recent years, in part due to policies adopted by the Chavez government. The reform to the Cinema Law in 2005 and the establishment of the Financing and Promotion of Cinema Fund boosted the increased production of Venezuelan film and gave a concomitant stability to the national industry.
Meanwhile the government founded the Villa del Cine in 2006, complimenting the already existing National Autonomous Centre of Cinematography (CNAC), to support and directly participate in the production of Venezuelan film.
These efforts have played a key role in the industry’s current renaissance. Of the 28 – 30 new Venezuelan movies to be shown this year, 22 enjoy the participation of the Villa del Cine.
Villa del Cine president Valera commented on Monday that “the fruits of a strong, coherent and sustained policy are being harvested, that aims to make Venezuela a player in the cultural and cinematic spheres”.
The Venezuelan government is also in the process of opening a network of new cinemas through which both Venezuelan movies and a range of world film not usually available in commercial cinemas will be shown. Venezuela’s Experimental University of the Arts will participate in both the programming and policies of this alternative cinema network.
Due to greater industry stability and the establishment of a new worker’s fund, film industry workers also enjoy greater labor benefits than before, said Victor Lucker, such as social insurance and vacation plans for kids.
Along with the greater number of movies being produced, box office figures for national cinema have also shown a resurgence. In 2012 over 2 million Venezuelans went to see nationally produced titles, not counting street projections and attendance at community theatres.
As the popularity of Venezuelan cinema seems set to continue rising, government and industry figures are also looking to make a larger regional and global impact.
“We live in a moment of splendor for [Venezuelan] cinema that obliges us to be ever better…and to grow in this sense. We have a great commitment with the audience we’ve recovered,” said Lucker.