Spring 2017 – Framing Multitude: Alternative Paradigms of Citizenship in New Venezuelan Cinema by Mariana Bolívar Rubín

Globalization, population’s mobility, and the increasing visibility of disenfranchise sectors of society continues to shape the production of national imagery in Latin American film. Nuevo Cine Venezolano, the most recent expression of national cinema, represents an enormous shift in the nature of the interaction between the cinematic industry and popular representation Amidst the failures of the country’s representative democracy and the challenges of a participatory democratic system, national cinema has begun to re-frame the image of the nation-state beyond the pervasive antagonism between the civic society and the pueblo (common people). By depicting the crossings between center-marginal subjectivities, overlapping intimate and public national accounts, and engaging in grassroots initiatives, New Venezuelan Cinema, captures the emergence of multitude, an alternative mode of social configuration, and consequently, the formulation of new paradigms of citizenship.

In response to the early 1900’s radical social transformation —the evolution of new technologies, economic liberalism, and mass migration—, the old concept of the nation as a territory political and culturally unified was put under scrutiny. The social, linguistic, historical and territorial heterogeneity that characterizes modernity have obligated us to formulate alternative paradigms of sovereignty and citizenship (Monsiváis 1987; Canclini 1995; Vargas Arenas 1992; and Palti 2001). Moreover, since modernity is mediated and regulated by the market and mass communication, citizenship needs to be re-contextualized to best reflect in today’s economic and cultural hybridity.

Popular cultures best reflect on a complex network of social relations including the state, public and private intitutions, and the individual. In Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity Nestor García Canclini claims that to modern cultural changes depeloved on the bases of a double social logic: the especialization and stratification of cultural production and the organization of the relationes between the public and the private (251). While the public sector contitutited of sole produce of high culture, the private sector embodied the rest of society the ‘low’ culture linked the masification of the cultural industry, thus contemporary Latin America culture is the interchange between ‘lo culto’, ‘lo popular’ and ‘lo masivo’ (17). As hybrid cultural expresion, New Venezuelan Cinema plays a significant role in the production of national ficcions and the configuration of the relationship between tradition and modernity, high and low cultures, and civil society and pueblo.

Since the birth of the Venezuelan democratic state, literary and audio-visual narratives have underlined the antagonism civic society/pueblo as constitutive of citizenship. During the early democratic experiments of the 1930’s, the idealized perception of nationalism and the populist rhetoric of the emerging political parties articulated the nation as a synthesis of a political body and a cultural one. While the political body was regarded as a “productive” civic society comprised by financial sectors, and political and intellectual elites; the cultural body was depicted as “unproductive” popular sectors consisting of migrants, rural labors and indigenous communities. Yet, given the political potential of these arising constituencies, the contention of pueblo began to be incorporated to national narratives by means of telluric and nostalgic return to our heroes’ mestizo roots. Among literary manifestos and political populist rhetoric, pueblo became the homogenous cultural body of the nation, a memory of the pre-modern era, symbol of tradition, and folkloric curiosity. As a political banner for emerging democratic leaders, the all-encompassing category of pueblo diluted regional, linguistic, ethnic and racial difference, undermined community representation and contained the political potentiality a rapidly growing, highly diverse, and severely poor population.

Responding to a series of democratic crisis—the guerrilla war inspired by the Cuban Revolution throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, a profound disillusion with democratic institutions in the late 70’s and though the 80’s, and the social uprising lead by the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200)[1] in 1992 —Venezuelan Cinema sought to reframed the nation beyond imagined antagonism between its cultural and political bodies. Due to the increasing visibility of disenfranchised communities in the country’s national imaginary the antagonism between the productive and unproductive sectors of society is no longer operative. The “unproductive” popular sectors are increasingly adding to social wealth by means of “immaterial” capital, such as marginal resistance, community engagement, cooperation, and innovation. In Multitude Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt refer to these emerging collectivities as Multitude: a network of singularities, which in order not to be reduced to chaos has to recognize a common space: an ever-shifting platform where its political potenza can be displayed (12). Multitude refers to a networks of fluid assemblages of subject positions coming sharing public resistance platforms. New Venezuelan Cinema, I argue, functions as political platform that stages the potenza of the once considered “unproductive’ sectors of society. Its productions unravel the dynamic between civic society and the pueblo by portraying the crossings between center-marginal subjectivities, the overlapping of intimate and public national accounts, and by fostering local communities’ self representation. Within this visual platform the once monolithic pueblo emerges as collectivity of co-producers assembling singular narratives of nationhood.

Cinema Clásico and the Modern Citizen

To best understand the early configuration of the relationship civil society/pueblo one has to take a look into the early visual representations of modern citizenship in Cinema Clásico or Venezuelan Classic Cinema. The first nationally produced films date from 1897, when Manuel Trujillo Durán, a journalist, photographer and businessman, showed in Teatro Baralt de Maracaibo some of Edison and Lumière’s films, and two others directed and produced by him: Muchachos bañándose en la laguna de Maracaibo and Célebre especialista sacando muelas en el Gran Hotel Europa. By early 1930’s the Minister of Public Works had created Laboratorios National, an establishment fully equipped for cinematographic production, Even thought musical and fantasy films such as Efraín Gómez’s Venus de Nacar (1932) and Los Milagros de la Divina Pastora (1928) by Amábilis Cordero were most popular, social cinema was also welcome. The first experiments with this genre adhered to the soviet theory of montage presented in a documentary format, among these are Edgar Anzola’s Reverón (1934), and Juan de la calle (1936) written and produced by Rómulo Gallegos and Rafael Rivero Oramas. (Colmenares “El paratexto y la construcción de la imagen genérica en los largometrajes de Bolívar Films”).

With the institutionalization of the military, the birth of the oil industry and the country’s participation in the global market, Venezuela rapidly became a modern nation and began to undergo the problems that came along with it. As a result of the country’s shift from agricultural to oil based economy in the 1920’s people began to migrate from rural areas to larger cities seeking job opportunities. In the 50’s, a larger migratory wave took place, this time motivated by growing industrialization and massive state housing projects during the military regime of Marcos Pérez Jiménez.[2] In the meantime, new urban poor communities were reckoned as an indistinguishable mass of invaders. Walled by shantytowns, the city duelers saw the need to preach what they thought to be exceptional civic models, in order to control the impending political potentiality of the new social bodies. Mass media, especially radio and film, was an integral part for the diffusion of the democratic ideals already encrypted in ideological manifestos populist rhetoric (Britto Garcia 1990).

Consequentially, citizenship was grounded in the constitutive antagonism of the nation-state. On one hand a civic society constituted by economic elites and illustrated political servants from the urban centers, in the other a cultural body so called pueblo.

The Venezuelan film industry entered the international market with the distribution and exhibition of the productions of Bolivar Films (1949-1955).[3] Influenced by the Avant Garde movement, Venezuela’s Classic Cinema, as this period is known, sought to break from the traditions of romanticism and modernism, and in this process the clash between tradition/modernity became its obsession. Classic Cinema frames the nation between its past and present, between its dark desires and its civic duties (Hernández “Cronología del Cine Venezolano. Coordinación de Investigación y Documentación”).

Perhaps the film most representative of Venezuelan Classic Cinema is one of Bolivar Film’s productions, The Isabel Arrived this Afternoon by Carlos Hugo Christensen, an adaptation of a short story written by Guillermo Meneses. The film was presented with the best photography award in Cannes in 1951, and it is considered Venezuelan’s first great production. Following the melodramatic tradition of the Cine de Oro Mexicano (1930-1930) the movie depicts the destructive lure of cabareteras, the threat of Afro-Latin syncretic religions, and deceitfulness of the locals.

The films tells the story of Segundo, a merchant marine, who is torn between a tranquil bourgeois family life in a urban setting and his desire for Esperanza, a humble showgirl living in poor costal town. When his son finds out about Segundo’s relationship with Esperanza, he realizes his public persona and social status and was endangered. Devastated by Segundo’s rejection, Esperanza evokes her African and indigenous ancestors or espíritus with the help of a santero.[4] Segundo succumbs to the power of the espíritus, and goes back to Esperanza this time determined to renounce to his family. Soon after discovering Esperanza traded sex for spiritual assistance, Segundo burns the santero alive. Ashamed the merchant asked for his son forgiveness and returns to his virtuous wife, restores his faith, and resumes his fatherly duties.

Segundo becomes once again an exemplary citizen among the community. While Segundo embodies the social (melo) drama of political and economic elites amid the nation’s democratization stage, Esperanza renders the national cultural body as civil society’s obscene supplement.[5] By the end of the film the national allegory is quite visible: the taming of the cultural body’s licentious, and superstitious temperament is crucial for the democratic consolidation and the birth of modern citizenship.

Yet, given the political potential of these arising constituencies, Classic Cinema began to incorporate representations of the pueblo by means of telluric and nostalgic return to its mestizo roots. Increasingly relying on the charismatic and revolutionary Independence heroes once forgotten by official historiography, its productions portrayed the pueblo as a fiercely self-governing and stubbornly belligerent monolithic cultural body that, even though undoubtedly fetishized, needed to be refrained from civil society.

Cine Urgente: Ethics of Revolution

By the late 50’s, Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano or New Latin American Cinema was born to counter Hollywood tradition and offered an alternative to conventional topics and formal elements of Classic Cinema and commercial media. Although inspired by Italian Neorealism and French New Wave cinema, the film aesthetics of Luis Bunuel, as well as conceptually by the “alienation effect” of Bertolt Brecht, New Latin American Cinema was proudly national. Under the fascinated gaze of international audiences, these alternatives productions became objects of critique for North American and European academia, as they provided a space between residual and emergent metanarratives of the region (Chon xii). Given the impossibility of reducing cinematographic production to a solely aesthetic project without considering the political and social development within the region, the emergent cinema sought to rearticulate citizenship by addressing particular social demands and human rights.

New Latin American Cinema is twofold; it operates within state infrastructure fomenting nationalist cohesion and control of the population, while serving as a collective platform for resistance. Some representative expressions of New Latin American film are Cine Novo in Brazil, Cine Imperfecto in Cuba, Grupo Libre de Liberación and Cine de Base in Argentina, Grupo Ukamau in Bolivia, the Chilean Political Manifesto, Glauber Rocha’s Aesthetics of Hunger, and Fernando Solanas y Octavio Getino’s Third Cinema.[6] In Venezuela, Cine Urgente was born in 1968, as reflection of the moment’s global and regional insurgencies and social revolutions; Cine Urgente envision audio-visual technology as a didactic instrument, and a vehicle to denounce socio-political maladies.

Cine Urgente was concern with territorial displacement of rural communities and the living conditions of industry workers in shantytown and dorm towns; in addition, it condemned the delegitimizing of the young Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) and subsequent widespread state violence and political persecution. For the members of Cine Urgente, cinema and political foment were inseparable, since the artistic dimension is bonded to its social effects. Even though the one film considered paradigmatic of Cine Urgent, the documentary Si Podemos was produced to support the first electoral campaign of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), not all its productions sponsored party ideology, or encouraged political action.

Cine Urgente was concerned with singular stories, the experiences of industry workers, campesinos, and shantytowns duelers. The latter is the case of La Ciudad que nos ve (1966), a fictional documentary by Jesus Enrique Guédez that began a documentary movement still alive in national cinematography. Guédez’ documentary tells Caracas’s history, not as an idea constructed by the succession of chronological accounts, but as private oral stories, testimonies and experiences of the people living at its margins. For Guédez, Caracas’s history is about what happens in that city that is over us, the cerros, and how they look at us from above (Marrosu 31). La ciudad que nos ve portrays the striking social differences between those few who benefited from the country’s oil boon and the majority who were plunged into poverty, but most significantly it frames the nation as a living entity wavering between an institutionalized populist rhetoric and the narrative potentiality of marginal constituencies. In this film pueblo is not a formal conception, but rather an ethical premise.[7]

After disillusionment with the Cuban revolution and the legalization of the left political parties, militant activity diminished noticeably and national cinema ceased to be solely an instrument of revolutionary action. Cine Urgente was soon displaced by profit-making audiovisual industries. Cine Diseño Meta, for example, was dedicated to the production of political publicity, displaying images of charismatic leaders and needy beneficiaries of welfare’s policies.

Cine de Oro: Pueblo as an Aesthetic Object

Venezuelan national cinema reached its Golden Age, its Cine de Oro, in the late 70’s through the 80’s. While the film industry relied heavily on state funding and support from public and private cultural institutions, filmmakers had plenty of room for self-expression and creative license, hence circumventing their promoters’ political ideologies, institutional missions and prescriptions (Chon xii). Preserving New Latin American Cinema’s tradition of socio-political contextualization, filmmakers were focused on the representation of the harsh realities of marginalized communities, in contrast to the oil elites’ decadent living. Their works dealt with political and cultural dependency, gorilismo and marginality, unemployment, delinquency, overpopulations, prostitution, analphabetism, cultural genocide, corruption and hunger. The protagonists were generally at risk young boys, unemployed migrant campesinos (farmers/peasants) and disadvantaged women, who inside an urban pandemonium had no choice but to become criminals, prostitutes and, ultimately, corpses.

Cinematic activity became intellectual, cultural and activist, but also concerned with visual and conceptual imagery, aiming to affirm a cultural identity still tied to a revolutionary project. The producer and dramaturge Román Chalbaud came up with an inventive way to approach national cinema and brought the commercial film industry into a more “mature” stage. Chalbaud’s filmography is paradigmatic of Venezuelan Golden Cinema, his feature films El pez que fuma (1977), Carmen la que contaba 16 anos (1978), Manón (1986), and La oveja negra (1987) are widely known for best depicting Caracas’s marginal experience as a cultural labyrinth.

Influenced by the neo-baroque film aesthetics in vogue in Latin American intellectual and artistic circles, Chalbaud’s complex metanarratives, luscious images, playful language, and explicit erotic flare aimed to provoke a carnivalesque center-margin reversal. Neo-baroque film aesthetic unable the use parody and hyperbole as tools to reflect on and denounce the pervasive crises of democratic institutions and its lost promise of cultural pluralism and political representation. Referring to New Latin American national cinema, Schroeder Rodríguez argues:

Many of the same filmmakers saw their work as part of a more complicated project of developing the cinematic equivalent to the emergent civic society’s pluralist political discourse, capable of countering the authoritarianism and the discursive monologism imposed by the authoritarian regimes that had taken hold through the region (Schroeder Rodríguez 90).

At the time many Latin American nations were under dictatorial regimes, Venezuela had another political reality. The nation reached its democratic consolidation in 1958, after signing the Pacto de Punto Fijo.[8] Far from being an “exemplary democracy,” the revolutionary nostalgia, paternalist attachment and constructions of otherness populist rhetoric, masked an elite bipartisan political system (Britto Garcia 1998, Caballero 2004 and Coronil 2008). Chalbaud’s productions took an unexpected turn, instead of countering an “authoritarianism and the discursive monologism”, his films dealt with the ineffectiveness of the country’s democratic system, echoing imperial metanarratives of underdevelopment and ineffective self-governance in Latin American.

Aiming to compete in the international film market as a superb national cinema, Cine de Oro had to please a global audience. Chalbaud portrayed the city’s rowdy cultural pluralism, employing an imaginary of violence to depict urban realities and neo baroque aesthetics to convey political corruption and elite’s hysteria. Golden Cinema reframed the nation by appropriating marginal experiences and as a result of displaced collective languages such as religion, artistic manifestations, as well as resistance and survival strategies. Although the relationship cine-pueblo was still a fundamental aspect of film production, it was no longer a political unit, and Venezuelan cinema lost its ethical premise in the face of a global market. The pueblo was never dissociated from political activity, but its representation became more and more staged, governed by the dynamics between consumer-producer messages.

During the region’s economic crises, as a result to the plummeting of oil prices, the drastic measures of the Fondo Monetario International (FMI), and the implementation of neoliberal polices, the film industry lost most of its state and public funding. In the early 90’s, national cinema began a rapid descent in the quality of its productions and spectatorship, and the industry was further affected by the lack of clear polices. By then, the center-margin reversal of the Golden Age Cinema had been engulfed by the audiovisual industry. Telenovelas or soap operas, historical mini-series and films transformed the conception of the pueblo from an undifferentiated mass of invaders to the monolithic cultural body of nation. The folkloric campesino girl from the plains, the rambunctious and superstitions afro-descendent from the east, and naïve and illiterate natives from everywhere and nowhere became endearing cultural models incapable of civil engagement and political self-representation.

Cine de Mujeres: A Platform of Solidarity

Women’s alternative media successfully made its way through the demise of the Latin American film industry in the 90’s. Its survival was due to its capacity to smoothly shift from a loosely organized collective to a hierarchical structure of production, its dependency on state as well as private funding, and an adaptation to a much less militant tone (Golman 240). Nonetheless, women’s cinema shared a strong progressive political agenda—to achieve women’s historical and political representation—; subsequently it functioned as a global network that significantly strengthened feminist movements across Latin America. Cine de Mujer en Colombia, Cine-mujer in Mexico, Lilith in Brazil and Cine Miércoles in Venezuela were among the most representative groups in women’s cinema.

Founded in 1978, Cine Miércoles aimed to articulate gender identity, the realities of women’s oppression, and their class boundaries in the context of a strikingly divided society. Even though its members were urban, educated and middle class women, their films explore the intersections between the struggles of working class women and the constraint of patriarchal structures experienced by the privileged ones. Among these productions stand out Manoa (1980), Macu, la mujer del policía (1987) and Santera (1994) by Solveig Hoogesteijn, and Oriana (1985) written and directed by Fiona Torres. Also in 1987, Haydée Asencio produces Helena and Unas son de Amor, both dealing for the first time in Venezuela with issues on abortion. Silvia Manrique directs and produces Panchito Mandefuá (1985), the first intimate history about street children’s struggles and survival. Grupo Miércoles was dissolved in 1987, due to shifting government policies, as well as economic and internal problems. (Arreaza 47).

By the late 90’s, Venezuelan film industry began to flourish, and now with a strong foot in the national industry women filmmakers continued producing. Without losing focus on women issues, they became increasingly more concerned with global issues: economic and cultural globalization, population mobility, mass communication and human rights (Leary 32). María Eugenia Esparragoza en Salto en el Atlántico (1990) explores the shared experiences by African communities in the Congo and the Afro-Venezuelan communities. The comedy Mecánicas Celestes (1995), written and directed by Fiona Torres, tells the adventures and misfortunes of a young girl in exile. Also the filmmaker explores women’s sexuality in the documentaries Cuando deje de llover and Solos, both shown in the Habana in 1995.

Dealing with the representation of daily life in an era determined by mass media technology, Mariana Rondon’s short film Calle 22 (1994) deals with people’s isolation and solitude as a consequence of telecommunication. Crónicas ginecológicas (1984), by Elisa Lerner, interlaces individual and collective women’s memories of the mid-century through a series of diaries, oral stories, radio and television. Far from the aesthetic of the Golden Age Cinema, Lilian Blasse portrays the harsh realities of Caracas’s shantytowns in Apocalipsis, no urbanismo (1980) and in Venezuela, 27 febrero (1989). Her work reflects on the origins and consequences of the Caracazo, a popular spontaneous revolution that shattered the country’s traditional political and social paradigms. By exploring the intersections between civil society and pueblo, women’s cinematography envisioned citizenship beyond discourses of otherness on the basis of gender, class and racial fictions, but rather on bases of solidarism and shared platforms of resistance.

Cine Comunitario: Grassroots cinema and self-representation

A more recent expression of New Latin American Cinema is Cine de Raíces Populares. Aside from having been a strategic tool for social change, grass roots cinema can be seen as an audio-visual space where citizenship is disassembled and reframed by virtue of the circulation of local needs, autochthonous recourses and popular imagination. In this regards, Browitt argues:

Symbolic appropriation and refashioning thus serves as a mechanism of social cohesion and control. Yet this process cannot be reduced to a simple repression thesis. Contemporary evidence shows the indigenous and other minority groups and their culture are involved in ongoing processes of self-definition and resistance within and against the Hispanic nation-state. (3)

Due to the advancement in technology and media communication, the “unproductive” sectors of society’s entry into the global market, and the implementation of participatory democratic projects, community based audiovisual production is today accessible to a broader population and has become a prevalent mode of alternative media.

In the last decade, Venezuelan grass root cinema has been the result of industry stabilization and state policymaking. In 2005, as a complement the Centro National Autónomo de Cinematgrafía (CNAC), a reform to the Cinema Law was implemented. The reform instituted the Financing and Promotion of Cinema Funds to support establishments such as the Villa del Cine’s film and TV studio in 2006 and the national distributor Cine Amazonia Films. In addition, the reform allotted funds to offer better benefits for industry employees, with the aim to foment interest in the professions. [9]

With the support of state, international non-profit organizations, local organizations and community volunteers, Cine Comunitario fosters the production and diffusion of alternative audiovisual media originating in urban popular sectors and rural communities, providing the opportunity to explore civic engagement in the context of their particular experiences and local needs. Referring to Grass Roots Cinema in Latin America as a whole, Aufderheide, states:

Videomakes have envisioned video with a mission to construct or reconstruct civic and cultural life. In manifestos, producers described video use as “a major initiative of the democratic and participatory use of audio visual communication. (225)

In Venezuela, Cine Comunitario continues to undermine the constitutive antagonism pueblo/civil society, by allowing silenced and invisible communities to become co-producers of national fictions. Over the last decade, a variety of grass root projects have been implemented at the regional level. Curso en Cine y Formation, a state founded organization, continues to offer training and equipment to community cooperatives with the vision of fostering regional, social and cultural understanding at the national and international levels. A successful example of the latter is the full-length film Más allá del Perdón (2011), directed by Luis Ceraza and produced by Cine de Los Llanos. The movie was filmed in natural settings, with little staging and amateur actors and technicians who showed remarkable verisimilitude and skill. Filled with regional jargon, cultural specificities, and local issues, the film is concerned with the llanero [10] community’s self-representation amid national narratives.

More than 100 works were shown at the Concurso National de Cine Comunitatio. The audience, more than 20,000, selected the finalists and winner whose films were later presented at the VI Latin-American and Caribbean Film Festival. Among the finalists were Arepa de maíz pelado de Fernando Alzate, Siembras de la Revolucion de Fermin Veita, Diablos danzantes de Dilibeth Torres, Rosa, adolesencia interrumpida de Dickson Hernández.

In addition to regional issues of representation, Venezuela hosted the First International Festival of Human Rights and Film, auspicated by Amnesty International, the German and British’s Embassies, and 24 other public and private organizations. The event gathered audiovisual works whose role was to raise awareness about the significance and the strengthening of the system of defense of human rights. Among those features was Kikkei (2011) by Kaori Flores Yanekura. In the film, a young girl narrates her grandparents’ immigration story from Japan to Perú, the racism they face during World War II, and the hope for a better life in Venezuela. This film was successfully shown in the Festival of New Venezuelan Cinema in New York in Fall 2013.

Like Cine Urgente y Cine de Mujeres, Cine Comunitario, Nuevo Cine Venezolano functions as a strategic tool to articulate local demands and resistance to mainstream media misrepresentation, and as a platform of solidarity.

Nuevo Cine Venezolano and the Emergence of Multitude

In response to the country’s complex and volatile socio-political scenario, Venezuelan cinema has become increasingly concerned with the conflicts between popular sectors and established elites (“Revolutionizing Cinema in Venezuela: An Interview with Victor Luckert.” Correo Orinoco Intenational,”). Given the accessibility to audio-visual self-representation, alternative media cannot be detached from emergent political sectors’ aspirations to civil rights and political platforms. Nuevo Cine Venezolano represents an enormous shift in the nature of the interaction between the cinema and national communities, since it counters the homogenizing of national communities under the notion of pueblo by depicting the crossings between center-marginal subjectivities, overlapping intimate and public national accounts, and exploring multitude as an alternative mode of popular representation.

The visibility and mobility of “unproductive” sectors of society—shantytowns duelers, immigrants, indigenous communities, prostitutes, homeless, etc.— are incrementally adding to social wealth by means of “immaterial” capital, such as marginal resistance, political subjectivity, innovation and, cooperation. Hardt and Negri refer to these emerging collectivities as Multitude:

The political body of the multitude is invested by the mobility of populations, by emigrations, by the metamorphoses of desire and by aspirations to formal rights. When we look at this globalized world we see who it is traversed by huge quantities of freedom, by the Potenza of the exploited who resist, by the insubordination of the excluded who make their escape…This world has become one. It is traversed by mobility of the multitudes that has neither blockage not limit—other than the extreme limit of war. (95)

In the face of the emergence of mutitude, the constitutive antagonism of the modern nation and the traditional paradigms of citizenship become obsolete. The nation’s cultural body is no longer “unproductive,” as it has become and active site of “immaterial” capital. By co-producing historical and contemporaneous audio-visual narratives the once a monolithic pueblo continues to assert political subjectivity, and consequentially, reframing of the nation.

Nuevo Cine Venezolano fuses the various expressions of alternative cinema, its tenets and technics. In any given production one can find scenes with Cine Urgente’s documentary format along with those chaotic point of view shootings of Chalbaud’s neobaroque. In addition, the innovative contraposition of intimate and collective frames in Cine de Mujeres. Yet, the spontaneity and verisimilitude of Cine Comunitario is perhaps its most distinctive feature. Generally, Nuevo Cine Venezolano is concerned either with historical accounts or social dramas. In the historical films, such as Miranda regresa (2007) and Taita Boves (2010), by Luis Alberto Lamata, and Zamora, tierra y hombres libres (2009), by Roman Chalbaud, the national past is rewritten from the perspective of dark and hidden figures, most often in correspondence with the precepts of the Bolivarian Revolution. Hora Cero (2011) by Diego Velasco, Hemanos (2010) by Marcel Rasquin, Pelo malo (2013) by Mariana Rondón, y Punto y raya (2004), by Elia K Schneider are social dramas that depict urban daily struggles, people’s aspirations and desires, as well as estrangements and solidarities between established and emergent national communities.

Written and directed by Mariana Rondón, Postales de Leningrado (2010) examines Venezuela’s national history through the lens of two children during the socialist uprising of the 1960’s. While hoping their parents survive the guerrilla war, the children simultaneously narrate their stories, exposing their similarities as well as their particularities. One of the narrators is a boy who lives with his grandmother in a forgotten town in the country’s vast grasslands; the other narrator is a girl born in Caracas while her mother was politically persecuted.

The film began as Rondón’s personal yearning to recapture her family collaboration with the guerrilla movement. Instead of going to the official organism, the filmmaker decided to construct her parent’s guerrilla partaking as a particular experience, but also as an experience shared by many others.[11] As a result, Postales de Leningrado presents an assemblage of images, emotions, ideas, and positionalities through a range of cinematic techniques and creative choices. Children narrating their family life amidst war, sharp transitions between urban and rural settings, and continuity between daily life and political activity are many of Rondón’s creative choices. The film is structured as a collage of animated scenes, fictional documentary takes, old and reconstructed photographs, official footage of training practices and confrontations between guerilla and state forces, long points of view takes on torture and the dying, as well as close-ups on the faces of those who witness state violence.

Rondón visually projects the shared memories of the children who witnessed Venezuela’s popular revolution during the first ten years of the country’ representative democracy, the so called “legitimate dictatorship.” Children who regardless of geography, class, race, and ethnicity shared a common platform of resistance to terror, political persecution and exclusion from civil society. Following the tradition of Alternative Cinema, Rondón’s films explore the construction of multitude through intimate narratives, marginal positionalities, and modes survival across diverse sectors of society.

Conclusion

By tracing the development of Venezuelan Cinema alongside the country’s democratic trajectory, I intended to explore the ways in which paradigms of citizenship are ever shifting fictions grounded on a constitutive antagonist civil society/pueblo. In response to the emergence of new social sector and political actors, the Avant Garde aesthetics of Classic Cinema emphasized the country’s transition to modernity by portraying an antinomy between a rising civil society inhabiting the city and the increasing mass of others at its margins. Classic Cinema frames the modern citizen as caught on a constant struggle to suppress the desire to return to pre-modern mestizo roots in order to become a productive civil society member.

Among regional insurrections and global revolutions during the 60’s, Cine Urgente, a regional expression of set out to expose the state’s politics of exclusion/inclusion, unravel populist rhetoric’s construction of otherness, and to foster awareness on issues affecting underrepresented communities. From then on the nation’s cultural body—pueblo—became a visible constituency. With the access of the film industry to the global market, Venezuelan Cinema found in neo-baroque aesthetics a lure for the fascinated gaze of national and international audiences. Without losing focus on the social issues rising in the works of Cine Urgente, Cine de Oro Venezolano parodied and hyperbolized the tensions between the pueblo and civil society, aiming to demystify the nation’s antagonism and to stress it brutal results.

Women’s cinema functioned as a network among regional feminist movements asserting identity politics shared also by other communities. The innovative Grupo Miércoles sought to project the intersection between intimate and public spheres and aimed to construct citizenship beyond politics of exclusion. Following this, women’s filmography cinematography became even more involved with the reconfigurations of otherness as a platform of solidarity and resistance across national boundaries. Alive and well, Cine Comunitario has been a network among urban poor, rural labors, and indigenous communities, which through innovation and cooperation continues to script its role within national narratives. These audiovisual fictions reconfigure the monolithic pueblo as a dynamic and spontaneous ensemble of others sharing a common political platform. Nuevo Cine Venezolano stresses the potentiality of multitude as a new paradigm for citizenship, in which the pueblo is co-producer of national and global narratives.

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Mariana Bolívar Rubín is Assistant Professor of Modern Languages at MCLA.

Mariana Bolívar Rubín received her Ph.D. in Hispanic American literature and cultures with emphasis on gender and cultural studies from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Spanish at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Heracademic background, teaching, and research demonstrate her commitment to interdisciplinary education and scholarship. By examining the representation of Afro-Caribbean religion in Latinx literature and film, her ongoing project engages with current and pressing topics of race, gender, and trans-nationality.

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WORKS CITED

“Revolutionizing Cinema in Venezuela: An Interview with Victor Luckert.” Correo Orinoco Intenational, Oct.17, 2011. Accessed Dec. 2013.

Arreaza, Camero, Emperatriz. “Las cineastas como escritoras en el cine venezolano contemporáneo.” FASCICULO 149. Criticón, Dec. 02, 2011. Accessed Dec. 12, 2013.

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***

Notes

[1] The Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement (MBR-200) was a left-oriented political movement founded in 1982, by the Lieutenant Hugo Chávez Frías, and the Ejército Bolivariano Revolucionario (EBR-200). The movement became more visible with the civil-military social uprising of February 4, 1992. The movement later evolved into the Movimiento V República (Movement for the Fifth Republic, MVR), support Hugo Chávez’s candidacy in the Venezuelan presidential election, 1998, where Chavez won the majority of the electoral support.

[2] Marcos Pérez Jiménez (1914 – 2001) was a Venezuelan military and general officer of the Army and President from 1952 to 1958. During his regime were put forward a series of industrialization, urbanization, and public welfare projects that provided the foundation for the latter consolidation of representative democratic institutions.

[3] For more on this subject see “El paratexto y la construcción de la imagen genérica en los largometrajes de Bolívar Films (Venezuela, 1949-1955).”

[4] Santero is a priest of Santeria a syncretic religion emerging in the Hispanic Caribbean, predominantly in Cuba. Santeria incorporates African religious traditions, Christianity and European Spiritualism. In Venezuela, Maria Lionza’s cult is expression of Cuban Santeria, and indigenous spiritual traditions that is widely practiced among the urban poor.

[5] In The Parallax View Slavoj Žižek sostains the rule of law is always sustained by an obscene supplement, an underside of society that transgresses consciousness (366-70).

[6] For a detail analysis on historical revolution narratives in national cinema see Getino 2002.

[7] Cine Urgente gave rise to other cinematic endeavors such as Movimento Univesitario, which focused on broadcasting political tensions and confrontations between the state police and students in the 70’s and 80’s. Similarly, in one of Caracas’s shantytowns a group of community members undertook a series of experiments with popular and locally based radio stations, countering the state’s controlled national media.

[8] Punto Fijo Pact was a formal agreement between the leaders of Venezuela’s three main political parties to honor democratic presidential elections. The agreement transformed into a bipartisan system of government, which lasted until 1999, characterized by its populist rhetoric, paternalistic clientelism and unfair redistribution of the wealth derived from international oil and mineral concessions.

[9] For a comprehensive account on recent developments on Venezuelan’s film industry, see

Robertson “Venezuelan Film Industry Beginning to Flourish.” Correo del Orinoco International.

[10] A llanero is an inhabitant of the grasslands occupying western Venezuela and eastern Colombia. The llanero is originally a mestizo culture—Spanish, Indian, and African—and has distinctive forms of music, jargon and costumes. In the national imagery the llanero represents the foundation of Venezuelan society.

[11] Taken from an interview with Mariana Rondón on the making of the movie by Sudaca Film (www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EgLFUG7ZFE).

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