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Cinema Tropical: Beyond Hollywood, A Wealth Of Latino Films

An image of the Guatemalan movie Ixcanul, by Jayro Bustamante.Jayro Bustamante

NEW YORK, NY -- While this year’s Academy Award nominations were singled out for their lack of diversity, one film enthusiast was not surprised.

“They stopped representing the best of world cinema, and the diversity of world cinema, and over the years they have become more isolated on their own island,” said Carlos Gutierrez, the founder of Cinema Tropical, a Latin American and Latino film programming, publicity and distribution organization based in New York City.

Five years ago, the Mexican-born movie lover and his team created the Cinema Tropical Awards, the only international awards dedicated to honoring Latin American cinema as well as U.S. Latino films—think of it like a cross between the Golden Globes and Academy Awards without the glitz and with a lot more diversity.

The winning films will be announced at ceremony in New York City on Wednesday, January 21st. We caught up with Gutierrez who talked about Hollywood, Latinos and the Latin American movie boom. Here's part of our edited and condensed interview.

NBC: Have the Oscars lost their juice?

CG: There are larger, more institutional problems that go beyond diversity with the Oscars. They have always been like this, and there has not been much change. The Oscars are like the Vatican. They are managed with certain rules and regulations that it is very difficult to see change from within.

There is some noteworthy work in Hollywood, in particular on the Latin side. “Birdman” is an exquisite film. González Iñárrritu is doing a fabulous job. It’s not easy making artistic films in Hollywood. And we have to applaud the great work of Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. And the Nicaraguan short, La Parka, by Gabriel Serra Argüello, should be noted.

We are not living in a world where there is only one cultural barometer. Thankfully, we have many different barometers.

There is a lot of wonderful cinema being made around the world that is not being recognized, and some of the most exciting films are being produced in Latin America.

NBC: Why was Cinema Tropical created?

There is a lot, a lot of impressive talent outside of Hollywood and in particular, talent coming from Latin America. For the past fifteen years the region has been producing exciting and marvelous work. These filmmakers are on the vanguard of great cinema. And this exciting cinema was not being validated so we decided to validate it ourselves and create places to distribute and call attention to this impressive work. We saw many spectacular films and not enough channels of distribution. We wanted to create a space to promote, distribute and validate this exciting work. Film production in the world in general is booming but the traditional validators are over flooded.

How do you go about showcasing the films?

We act in different capacities. As programmers we create and co-present film series with venues across the country. We are film distributors, we bring films to theaters, and we work as publicists. We work with traditional and non-traditional venues. For instance, every year we co-present with MoMA (New York's Museum of Modern Art) a Latin American documentary event. We worked with the Guggenheim Museum on a film series this summer. We work with universities, museums. Years ago we held an outdoor series in different parks in Brooklyn (New York).

Why all this excitement around Latin American Cinema?

The quality and quantity of films made in the region has dramatically increased. While it’s not raining money, a lot continues to be produced. Last year there were six hundred films made! One of the key elements of this renaissance is the kind of film productions—there are comedies, avant guard shorts, documentaries, features, low budget, and more mainstream big budget films. With the reduction of cost in technology, more people have access to tools.

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There are new and exciting hybrid models of funding with private and public funds. In Mexico, Brazil and Colombia for example, companies can fund a film and get tax breaks. And also, there has always been a rich cinematic history in many of these countries to start. Latin American cinema did not start with “Amores Perros.” It has a long and rich tradition. These new filmmakers are building on that. The themes too are also diverse, from gay films, to political thrillers, to romantic comedies to stinging criticisms of politicians, immigration policies, racism homophobia, and more.

So large and heterogenous is the universe of marvelous films that I am not calling it Latin American cinema in singular anymore, we should be talking in plural about the Latin American cinemas, or for that instance the Mexican cinemas, the Colombian cinemas, etc.

Where did the boon start?

The boom started in the late 1990’s in Argentina with five directors that kicked off what is now called the El Nuevo Cine Argentino (New Argentinian Cinema). Lucrecia Martel, Pablo Trapero, Martin Retjman, Adrian Caetano and Lisandro Alonso are five phenomenally talented directors that created new narratives and ways of production. What set them apart is that they started talking about themes and subjects that were different than their predecessors. For example, Caetano talked about Bolivian immigrants in Argentina. Retjan used deadpan humor to tell his stories. Film is being used as a tool to challenge traditional notions of politics, culture, identity and even mass entertainment.

What countries followed Argentina?

Pretty much every country followed suit--Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador. We are seeing great work now coming out of Central America. This year, Guatemala is competing in the 65th Berlin Film Festival for the first time. (Jayro Bustamante’s directorial debut, Ixcanul, a film about a young Mayan girl who is in an arranged marriage that she can’t escape, was one of seven films chosen to compete in the acclaimed festival.)

Why an awards show?

Again, we saw a vacuum. It’s important to create platforms to celebrate great artistry. And in this country, people and media love awards shows. For us, it’s about creating spaces to promote excellence. We wanted to create a platform to showcase the work, to validate this great work. We started first with the Ten Best Latin American Films of the Decade and now we have six categories and twenty-two films competing. The winning films will be shown in The Museum of the Moving Image from February 6 thru February 8th.

Are you going to have a red carpet?

No way! Ours is a simple ceremony. We focus on the talent!

For information on the nominated films and categories, visit Cinema Tropical's website.