The Revival of the Argentine Film Industry

A general rule of thumb is that a country needs a population of at least 50 million to support a domestic film industry. So what do you do when you only have 40 million people and you’re really good at making movies?

That’s the dilemma faced by Argentina. Despite a run of international commercial successes in the 1990s, the nation’s film industry continues to struggle to wean itself from government subsidies. Argentine studios are caught between the Hollywood goliath and smaller, grittier nations like Romania, which is currently beating Argentina on the international film festival circuit. Argentine filmmakers have vowed to make such viewer-friendly films they’re practically going to hand deliver popcorn to every theater-goer in the country. For instance, Pablo Fendrik, writer and director of El asaltante (The Mugger), promises "to start thinking more about the spectator in every scene, every act and every paragraph of the script. What will the spectator think here, how will they react, what will they want?" Presumably the first step is stop making films about muggers in a country with a serious crime problem.

Another way to increase domestic gate receipts and make their films easier to export is to throw nearly everything they have into genre films, especially horror films. Argentina is built for Westerns, but horror films are low-cost, high-return propositions. Unlike the notoriously finicky sci-fi crowd, horror fans will watch pretty much anything. Plus, screams don’t need subtitles. However, exporting horror isn’t without risks: as the J-horror producers discovered, become too successful and Hollywood will poach your best talent. Argentine studios are also going to try to beat Hollywood at its own game by investing in some high concept films. One project in development is an animated film about lab rats. Get ready to take your children to a film about a lovable rat named Leukemia. 

But Argentina isn’t going to abandon altogether the artistic high end of the domestic and international film markets. Even in quick-peso Argentina it’s easier to get funding for auteurist films than for genre films. Because Argentina already has an international reputation for intelligent, creative films, it’s developed more bankable directors than bankable actors.  Argentina has traditionally been the best film industry in South America, so it’s reassuring to know that producers aren’t giving up on what made industrial-level filmmaking in Argentina possible in the first place.

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