Santiago Mitre, director of the Oscar nominated film Argentina 1985, appeared before Congress on Monday to speak out against Javier Milei’s “omnibus bill,” which severs public funds for the local film industry.
The bill, which is being debated at full speed in Congress by a plenary meeting of four commissions, targets state support for local films by mostly stripping the National Institute of Film and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA) from some of its funding sources. Said funding doesn’t come from tax-payers money but rather from allocations of audiovisual industry duties. The bill also calls for cutting off funding for state-run film school ENERC, and eliminating the screen quota for Argentine films in multiplex cinemas.
Mitre, who was accompanied by producer Vanessa Ragone, Oscar winner for The Secret in Their Eyes, told Congress that the industry was “not asking for money.” “Argentine cinema is asking to keep the law that allows it to be self-financed,” he said, sparking applause in the plenary commission.
“Argentina is the country with the most Oscar nominations in the region. Why does that happen? Because there is a Film Law that sustains and promotes the existence of Argentine cinema,” said Mitre, referencing a 1994 bill that created the current autarchic structure of government aid for Argentine films.
“Argentine movies are exported all over the world. They bring in foreign currency, create quality jobs, and add value. They spark admiration for our country. Why do we want to destroy that?” he added.
“The last 30 years have been, without a doubt, the best of Argentine cinema in its entire history. The first time Argentine cinema played a major role at an international level. And this is inseparable from a production policy based on an autonomous institute, oblivious to the political whims of the day, and whose budget — despite the insistent falsehoods we hear— is not related to the national budget. It is self-sufficient,” said Mitre.
Culture Secretary Leonardo Cifelli recently targeted the National Film Institute in his brief participation at the plenary meeting last week. “There is no money. It’s not a motto; it’s a reality,” he said, adding that INCAA needs to be urgently modified.
Later on Monday, Argentine producer Axel Kuschevatzky went on C5N channel and also criticized the government’s plans to dry-out the local film industry.
“I can’t understand why someone would want to cut Messi’s legs off. I’m sorry, but I don’t get it,” said Kuschevatzky, who worked with both Mitre and Ragone in their films and currently works from Los Angeles through the US production company Infinity Hill.
Kuschevatzky defended the financial advantages of the Argentine film industry, quoting examples from countries like the UK and France and even several U.S. states, where the public sector actively participates through cash rebates and tax exemptions.
“These are incentive mechanisms for audiovisual production because the industry generates economic activity. The audiovisual sector is actually a great way to bring in dollars,” Kuschevatzky said.
According to the producer, the Argentine audiovisual sector’s participation in the country’s GDP is between 3 and 5%. “It contributes much more than the ENACOM funds that fuel the INCAA,” he said.
“The audiovisual sector provides jobs for 500,000 people in Argentina. We can even stop talking about culture and start to talk about what the film and advertising sectors provide to this country in terms of economic benefits,” he added.
That benefit, he says, is the result of an ecosystem of government promotion and private film companies. And while the impact of public funds on mainstream films is very limited today due to the country’s soaring inflation, that structure is definitely worth keeping.
“What we don’t want to lose is that public-private ecosystem that creates talent. Creative development is a knowledge economy. If we don’t invest in creativity, we will become a country that only has cheap labor. And nothing else.”