Study reveals Latin America’s “Invisible cinema”

A ground-breaking study involving experts from different countries recently revealed the growing importance of community cinema across 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Photo Credit: Fundación del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano

While much has been written about community radio, community cinema in Latin America and the Caribbean “is almost as invisible, as the communities that it represents,” says leading expert Alfonso Gumucio Dagron. He was the coordinator and one of seven researchers who recently completed the first-ever study into the region’s growing community cinema sector.

With advances in technology making it easier for people to create their own audio-visual products, Latin America and the Caribbean has seen community cinema sprout up everywhere. These are driven by groups such as indigenous peoples, women, young people, Afro descendants, migrant workers, the people with disability and many others who are far too often overlooked by mainstream media.

The ground-breaking research focused on understanding how community cinema was produced, disseminated and its impact, by documenting the experiences of 55 communities in 14 countries. The study was devised by Cuban-based non-governmental organization Fundación del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, with support from UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity.

The study revealed a varied and dynamic world of audiovisual production, with communities creating documentaries, feature films, television content and much, much more. Likewise, it was found that dissemination was diverse through networks, film clubs, cultural centres, churches, unions, festivals, showcases, special events, schools and other educational spaces, electronic means, DVDs, and websites.

Often, though, it was not the end product but the production process that was paramount. At the heart of this process is community participation. For example, the Mascaró group in Argentina organized screenings with people who gave their testimonies as part of an audiovisual project they were developing. The idea was to test and discuss different ways of articulating and editing the material.

“Community cinema reflects the intimate relation between communication, culture and social change,” stressed Gumucio Dagron.

In terms of impact, the study revealed that community cinema invigorated communities’ identity and organization, often improving their sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. Community cinema also reaches beyond the groups themselves. It enables a wider public to identify with and value the stories of life not included in mainstream media.

The study also concluded that public policies and laws promoting communities’ rights to communicate were urgently needed across the Region. “The research strengthens the notion that cinema is no longer the privilege of a few professionals … but a way of communicating that belongs to all peoples and communities of Latin America and the Caribbean,” Gumucio Dagron said. “We hope the research will engage States and public and private institutions to design policies and strategies that promote community cinema.”

The study has significantly enriched knowledge about community cinema in the region, while the results have already sparked considerable interest. The researchers are sharing the findings widely and follow-up actions will soon kick-off to develop case studies with audiovisual testimonials from ten of the experiences identified through the study.

The countries involved in the research were: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Copies of the final report can be downloaded from FNCL’s website.

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