A massive utopian project to move the Argentine capital to Patagonia in the 1980s. A renowned, long-haired criminal lawyer defending the country’s legendary rock stars. Real-life porteños engaging in the art of passionate and friendly conversation on dividing issues like Argentine populism vs neoliberalism, soccer, or pyramid schemes.
The Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival (Bafici), which kicks off today, offers more than 250 films from all over the world. But also some local, unorthodox documentaries that can give you a glimpse into some of the most local —and incredible— features of Argentine culture and identity. Here are five documentary films:
(Viedma, la capital que no fue)
Director: Jorge Leandro Colás
Runtime: 78 min.
BAFICI Section: Noches especiales (Special Nights)
In 1986, President Raúl Alfonsín attempted to move the Argentine capital to the small city of Viedma, in Río Negro province, the heart of deserted Patagonia. The project, meant to decentralize the country and shift its demographics, was part of a much more ambitious reform called the “Plan for a Second Republic,” which included a constitutional reform and a new parliamentary system. But the one feature that would be imprinted in Argentine history ended up being the idea of transforming Viedma into the nation’s capital, a brand new city like an Argentine Brasilia. “Grow towards the South, towards the sea, towards the cold,” said Alfonsin.
Through testimonies and unseen archive footage, the film narrates the rise and fall of one of the largest and most extravagant dreams of Argentine history. “The tale of a failure, a film of a fundamental sadness,” according to festival director Javier Porta Fouz.
Director Jorge Leandro Colás also has a film in Bafici’s Argentine Competition section: Nietzsche’s Doctors, a documentary set in a Buenos Aires hospital where Dr. Esteban Rubinstein tackles general medicine from a viewpoint that goes beyond good and bad, the normal and the natural. Basing his practice on Friedrich Nietzsche’s works and together with some of his patients, he creates a space to reflect on the body, health, and sickness.
2. Better Call Joe
(Llamen a Joe)
Director: Hernán Siseles
Runtime: 70 min
Bafici Section: Arts & Crafts
They call him the Rock Lawyer, a title he got in judicial hallways for his work with the Argentine rock music elite, from Charly García and Fito Páez to Luca Prodan, the late lead singer of Sumo. Albino “Joe” Stefanolo has been defending rock stars ever since before the return to democracy. The long-haired legend among local musicians was even responsible for the landmark Bazterrica case, which involved Abuelos de la Nada guitarist Gustavo Bazterrica. The case reached the Supreme Court which ruled that the prosecution of drug possession for personal use was unconstitutional.
“Behind Joe’s impeccable, unusual appearance lies more than a prominent figure of criminal law: a poet, a philosopher. Joe is rock. This documentary serves as irrefutable proof,” according to Mar del Plata festival programmer Pablo Conde.
3. On the Know
Director: Martín Farina
Runtime: 61 min.
Bafici Section: Argentine Official Competition
Passionate conversation can happen anywhere in the world, but there’s something clearly local in the way Argentines debate when they are absolutely convinced that they are in the right. The issue can be anything, from the benefits of “creating your own financial assets” (a euphemism for pyramid schemes), the virtues and dangers of populism and neoliberalism, films, soccer, or even high-school memories of child-molesting priests.
Director Martin Farina has already shown his skillful hand when capturing the essence of friendly conversation in his previous short film El grupo de Whatsapp. In Los convencidos, he crafts a sort of dramedy with a profound humanist perspective with five episodes in which real people engage in seemingly trivial discussions.
“A film about certain forms of civility that appear less and less often these days,” according to festival programmer Agustín Masaedo.
4. Life in the Dark
(La vida a oscuras)
Director: Enrique Bellande
Bafici Section: Argentine Official Competition
Director Enrique Bellande had a hand in some of the most significant local audiovisual hits: he worked in the sound department of the landmark film Pizza, Beer, and Cigarettes (1998), worked as music supervisor for the series Okupas (2000), and directed Ciudad de María, the first winner of Bafici Argentine Competition back in 2002.
The object of his new documentary, film archivist, professor, and cheerful TV host, Fernando Martín Peña, is something of a cinematic landmark himself. A former director of the Bafici and Mar del Plata film festivals, Peña will go down in film history books as one of the people who discovered the long-lost complete version of Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis. A passionate film conservationist and promoter of celluloid films, he currently runs the Buenos Aires Filmotheque, curates the Malba museum’s film theater, and presents films every evening in his cult very-late-night TV show Filmoteca on TV Pública (he once hosted an episode semi-nude). A champion of Argentine film preservation and promotion, his love for cinema is as contagious as his motto: Alegría sin fin!
5. Another Cursed Movie
(Otra película maldita)
Directors: Alberto Andrés Fasce, Mario Varela
Runtime: 120 mins.
Bafici Section: Special Nights
Argentina’s relationship with cinema began as early as 1896, only a few months after the Lumière brothers presented their invention in their famous Paris screening in 1895. In fact, both the world’s first animated film (The Apostle) and the first porn movie (El satario) are allegedly Argentine (it figures — being the first or the best in anything is almost a national sport).
Another Cursed Movie is a history of Argentine horror cinema, from its beginnings in 1934 with Camilo Zaccaría Soprani’s The Beast Man —again, allegedly the first of its kind— to the present day. The documentary jumps from one fact to another, stirring a stew of references and characters from the Argentine horror universe, from Narciso Ibáñez Menta and Emilio Vieyra to the cinephile meetings of the Nocturna film club and Somebody Is Watching You, a fundamental horror film produced after Argentina’s return to democracy.