Milei’s cuts also hit Argentine cinema

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The Gaumont cinema, a historic theater in the heart of Buenos Aires, was the epicenter this week of a protest against the “drastic reduction” in financing for Argentine cinema imposed by the Government of Javier Milei. After the Ministry of Culture announced layoffs at the National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA), the end of overtime payment to its workers and the suspension of support to the provinces, among other measures, hundreds of people came out to protest in different cities of the country “in defense of national cinema.” The Government’s decision is not a surprise for part of the industry, which before Milei’s arrival at the Casa Rosada united against the ultra’s candidacy.

In a series of articles published this week in the Official Gazette, the Ministry of Culture withdrew financial support from the provinces, terminated the contracts of some staff, suspended the payment of overtime and put an end to travel, expenses cell phone, buying food and paying for transportation. The articles bear the signature of Carlos Pirovano, an economist with no experience in the audiovisual sector appointed to head the INCAA by the Milei Government. The authorities defend the cut by saying that the organization is in “a delicate economic situation.” “The years in which film festivals were financed with the hunger of thousands of children are over,” the Ministry of Culture said in a statement.

The workers of the institute, who called for this Thursday’s mobilization in front of the rationalist façade of the Gaumont cinema, a few meters from the national Congress, have criticized the “cynicism” of the Milei Government. “While he takes food away from soup kitchens and freezes pensions, he says that film festivals take away medicine from retirees and are to blame for childhood hunger,” read Ingrid Urrutia, union representative of INCAA workers. of a statement, and continued: “First of all, the INCAA is financed with revenue taxes that the sector itself generates and that to a large extent would not be generated without the promotion of the Institute. But it also adds much more to the national economy and tax collection than it uses.”

The INCAA is a non-state public entity whose function is to “promote, encourage, strengthen and regulate audiovisual production” in the country. In addition to providing financial support, the institute manages the Enerc film school, the Cine.ar site, the Mar del Plata Festival, class A, and movie theaters, such as the Gaumont, among other things. Its main source of financing is the Cinematographic Promotion Fund, which was established in a 1994 law and arises from 10% of the price of movie tickets, 10% of the sale price of “recorded videograms” and 25% from the collection of the National Communications Entity. According to a portal analysis Checked.comthe fund represented 77% of the contributions that INCAA received in 2021 and 80% of those it obtained in 2022.

A young man holds a clapperboard with a message against President Javier Milei.Tiago Ramirez Baquero

Critics consider that the organization is old, inefficient and ideologized. Cultural journalist Leonardo D’Esposito recently wrote in a tough article that the INCAA “spends more on bureaucracy than on making films” and that there are national film premieres “that did not sell even ten tickets” in 2023. INCAA data shows that last year 241 national films were released in Argentina; Of them, only six had more than 100,000 spectators. In addition, the public placed all foreign films among the ten most viewed films. “The balance is worrying: Argentine films do not arouse the interest of the public,” concluded D’Esposito in The nation.

Its defenders, on the other hand, highlight that the entity is “fundamental” for the development of the industry. This is what filmmaker Lucrecia Martel did, one of the most relevant Argentine filmmakers, director of films such as The swamp either The Holy Girl. “In my career I have known the INCAA of (Carlos) Menem, of (Fernando) De la Rúa, of Néstor Kirchner, of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner —twice—, of Mauricio Macri, of Alberto Fernández. Of all these efforts I can make a list of criticisms and outrageous events that have happened at the INCAA, but our film companies could never have gone out to seek international funds without its existence,” he said in mid-January before Congress while a Executive bill that, among hundreds of other points, modified the cinema law.

The union of the sector

The sector has been on alert since before Milei’s arrival at the Casa Rosada. A part of the industry united against the ultra’s candidacy in 2023, when voices within their party began to suggest the “closure” of INCAA and other cultural institutes as part of the adjustment and “cultural battle” that Milei defends. One of the first reactions was seen at the San Sebastián film festival, when representatives of 25 audiovisual projects distributed a letter in defense of a “creative and resilient” industry. “The path must be to improve, strengthen and make more efficient the promotion policies that accompany and not deactivate the existence of a thriving and consolidated industry,” said the letter signed, among others, by the director Santiago Mitre, director of Argentina, 1985, or the actress Cecilia Roth. Then came a spot in defense of the national industry narrated by Ricardo Darín: “It’s not just cinema, it’s Argentine cinema.”

In December, already in power, Milei sent to Congress the bill with more than 600 articles that dedicated an entire chapter to culture and, among other things, defunded the INCAA. The sector convened again to repudiate the initiative, which ultimately failed. The rejection also had echoes abroad. “Spanish filmmakers are concerned about the situation of our Argentine colleagues (…) Their film industry is seriously threatened,” said, for example, Fernando Méndez-Leite, president of the Spanish Film Academy, at the Goya. This week, Viggo Mortensen joined in, who in a video said: “In Argentina, going to see movies in theaters (…) today has become an essential socio-political act.”

Independent filmmakers, producers, photographers, film students or renowned actors such as Leonardo Sbaraglia, who starred in Wild Tales (2014), or Mirta Busnelli, who worked in films such as Silvia Prieto (1999), took to the streets again this Thursday shouting “INCAA is not for sale, INCAA is defending itself!” “I am here as a human being who loves Argentine cinema,” said Sbaraglia, surrounded by a police operation that used gas and detained three people, according to the police. “The president should be proud of our country’s cinema, which is also a thriving, powerful and respected industry around the world. “They are letting an industry die that works very well and that has a large market around the world,” said the actor in statements to the media.

According to INCAA data, the industry generates 3.1% of the economy’s total employment and 3.6% of Argentina’s total revenue, according to a report made by researchers from the University of Buenos Aires and the Council National Scientific and Technical Research Institute (Conicet). But it also strengthens what is known as a country brand, that is, the intangible value that causes the reputation of a country in the international context. Defenders of the sector highlight the international recognition that local cinema has: two Argentine films, The official story (1986) and The Secret in Their Eyes (2010), won the Oscar for Best International Film and eight were nominated in that category of the Hollywood Academy Awards; In addition, national productions have a constant presence at top festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, San Sebastián or Venice.

Citizens demonstrate against the defunding of Argentine culture and cinema.
Citizens demonstrate against the defunding of Argentine culture and cinema.Tiago Ramirez Baquero

The sector is now “paralyzed,” according to the workers’ complaint. The delay in appointing a new president of the INCAA and the cuts cause “uncertainty” among some of the filmmakers who were receiving support from the institute, such as the documentary filmmaker Ana Bovino, 37, who spoke out this Thursday. In 2023, she obtained funding from INCAA to make a “very free adaptation” of Arabian Nights. The money was to be delivered in four parts, but for now he has only received the first installment and considers the rest lost. “I’m going to continue,” she assured, and said that he is looking for budget in other countries. But he points out an obstacle: “Without national financing it is difficult to seek international co-productions.”

“The nice thing about INCAA is that, although it gives little money, it distributes it among many projects. That is why our cinema is so interesting, there is a plurality of voices and a lot of experimentation. “I don’t know what will be left,” said Bovino. It is one of the concerns expressed by defenders of the public entity and that the sector has already expressed. “What is in dispute is what is going to be produced audiovisually in this country and who is going to produce it,” said filmmaker Alejandra Guzzo. In an interview after a sector assembly in September 2023. “To mass produce products that bring in foreign currency is another position… What is in dispute is that this INCAA fund can be used for other things by other people in other conditions,” he settled. .

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