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Venezuelan cinema survives despite the crisis

The film industry in Venezuela has been able to withstand the blows of a country in decline .

Alexandra Henao, Venezuelan filmmaker

In Venezuela, despite the various vicissitudes, the cinema continues to find ways to stay on its feet and rebuild itself. Photo: Alexandra Henao

LatinAmerican Post | Theoscar Mogollón González

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Leer en español: El cine venezolano sobrevive a pesar de la crisis

Without culture there is no valid identity. Cinema is an expression of art, and as art it plays a fundamental role within a society, whether or not it is in crisis: it criticizes, comments, opens its eyes and calls for reflection. It is precisely these characteristics that directors want to preserve, since they are aware that cinema represents the identity and culture of their country. In Venezuela, despite the various vicissitudes, this space continues to find ways to remain standing and rebuild.

To have a clearer picture of the best era of Venezuelan cinema, we would have to go back to the second decade of the 21st century, which brought many joys to the country. To mention some cases; the film Hermano won the Golden Saint George at the Moscow International Film Festival, Bad Hair raised the Golden Shell at the San Sebastian Festival, and Azul y not tan rosa won a Goya award for Best Ibero-American Film. How, then, did it go into decline?

The problem began to lie in 2010 with the Venezuelan economy in decline and the subsequent fall in the price of oil in 2014. Even so, the film industry was able to resist devaluations and inflation until then. It could be said that the first forceful blow was received in 2016, when electricity problems forced the closings of shopping centers and the regularization of electricity.

This energy crisis forced the cinemas not to have their night shows, which were historically the most popular, something that in turn led to a considerable drop in attendance. With the anti-government protests in 2017 and the rise of hyperinflation in 2018, adverse situations began to emerge even for the filmmakers themselves. The insecurity, the deficit of public services, and the need to acquire priority goods forced to leave the cinema aside. Without that input, producing movies was no longer as profitable as it used to be.

Take advantage of the crisis to reinvent yourself

Despite all the drawbacks, the industry is not confined to movie theaters alone. Bolívar Films, one of the most important production companies in the country, has witnessed how the workload has drastically decreased, and it is enough to mention that for 2019 they worked with 3 projects when the average used to be 10 or 15 a year. To this should be added the bureaucratic obstacles that are present, since the mechanisms that national institutions use to finance are inefficient and make the funds destined for projects lose their value due to hyperinflation.

Another example of the constant obstacles in Venezuelan cinema has to do with politics. One of the most recent cases regarding this ideological interference happened in 2019 when the director Flavio Pedota was unable to premiere his film Infection in Venezuela because the National Autonomous Center of Cinematography (CNAC) did not grant the certification to the work for its broadcast. . The reason? Unnecessary permission requirements and outside the law by the president of the entity, Roque Valero, who is a member of the Government's political party.

«Es importante seguir contando nuestra historia, contarla nosotros mismos, sin interpretaciones convenientes o filtradas por ideologías, sistemas, intereses económicos o egos analíticos. Tenemos que seguir difundiendo nuestra verdad desde cómo la vivimos». - Alexandra Henao, directora venezolana.

However, to this day you can still find filmmakers who are committed to carrying out productions in the midst of a crisis because they always find the way to do it. Such was the case of the film Gilma , which faced various difficulties in its production such as the national blackout in March 2019. In the end, Alexandra Henao's film managed to participate in the Malaga Film Festival and the Argentinean festival Ventana Sur.

Also read: These are some of the records that exist in the Golden Globes

CineMestizo, a window for Venezuelan productions

Great minds always envision great projects. Given the unsuccessful attempts to hold Venezuelan film festivals in other countries, the scant contribution of national entities to production companies, and even the pandemic issue that forced everything to be digital, there was no better idea than to give life to a platform of streaming to promote (and revive) productions made in Venezuela: CineMestizo.

This plan has Daniel Ruiz and An Rodríguez as the leaders of this Netflix-style project, which began in the last quarter of 2020. The union of these Venezuelans could not be better, because beyond knowing each other from the As a child, Ruiz (who lives in Madrid) works as a producer and cultural manager, while Rodríguez (in New York) is a programmer and computer scientist. And is that despite facing some obstacles after its launch, CineMestizo has had very good traffic from users who have chosen to subscribe.

It is a VOD (Video on Demand) platform, whose business model is to rent movies individually for 72 hours. The value of the films ranges between 1.85 and 3 dollars, which can be paid with Mastercard, Visa, American Express, and PayPal cards. Although the target audience is the same Venezuelans who are abroad, anyone who speaks Spanish can enjoy the variety of these films; yes, so far they do not have subtitles.

The north of CineMestizo is to become the most complete catalog of Venezuelan cinema, in addition to convincing locals and strangers that these films not only deal with the danger in neighborhoods and crime but that there are also good productions of different genres. Likewise, having old films is a challenge that they are trying to carry out, since thanks to artificial intelligence a tape from the 70s could be seen -for example- in HD and with better audio. For now, the hard work of all those who are involved in this project to rescue the Venezuelan film heritage is aimed at continuing to grow.