Latin American Cinema: Women Directors on the Web


HAVANA, 26 March (IPS) — While the work of women filmmakers in Latin America and the Caribbean has made its presence undeniable, their work still suffers from certain invisibility in a medium where men have traditionally had hegemony.

The “Women in the Contemporary Audiovisual Media” Web site, created by the New Latin American Cinema Foundation (FNCL) with support from the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation for Development (AECID), aims to become the main Latin American reference site on this topic.

“The goal is to make movies made by women in Latin America and the Caribbean even more visible,” María Caridad Cumaná said to IPS.  Cumaná is the coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Cinema and Audiovisual Media Portal, home to the new Web site.

“It also provides a database that allows those working in communities in the region to quickly access a thematic catalogue which is very useful when dealing with issues such as domestic violence, gender equity, and teen pregnancy,” explained Cumaná.

Cumaná thinks that this may be especially helpful as an aid for groups organizing workshops and film discussions to promote non-violence against women, gender equity in labor, and sexual non-discrimination.

The site is divided in seven sections and includes references to more than 4,600 films; women’s film festivals; reviews of publications; data on some 2,300 women directors; documents on women and the audiovisual media; news about the work of women filmmakers from the rest of the world; and a sample of visual works.

“For a long time, women’s work has been made invisible in the world of audiovisual media or subordinated to the work of men by the hegemony of the male presence in possession of the power of the camera during the filming as well as on screen,” said Cumaná, who is also a professor at the University of Havana.

Men have been especially preponderant as directors, while women have been relegated to other tasks such as costumes, makeup, and sometimes editing.  However, since the emergence of silent films, women have participated in the development of the so-called seventh art, albeit rarely recognized.

According to Mexican researcher Patricia Torres San Martín, it is possible to “identify common features in the profiles of women in the film industry who built creative careers and reinvented themselves at that stage (in the early twenty-first century), not only as acclaimed actresses and enthusiastic film reporters, but as directors and producers.”

In her article titled “Mujeres detrás de cámara.  Una historia de conquistas y victorias en el cine latinoamericano” [Women behind the Camera: A History of Conquests and Victories in Latin American Cinema], published in the December 2008 issue of the Mexican journal Nueva Sociedad (New Society), Torres cited pioneering women in Latin American cinema such as the Adriana and Dolores Elhers sisters (1903-1983) and the Yucatan woman Cándida Beltrán (1898-1984).

But it was in the context of the struggle for women’s rights in the sixties and seventies that the number of women directors significantly increased, gathered around women’s film collectives in such countries as Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela.

The Women’s Film Collective in Mexico produced films on abortion, domestic work, rape, and prostitution, topics considered taboo, which were commercially screened only in 2006, in Mexico’s film archive Cineteca Nacional, during the fourth International Women in Film and Television Festival.

According to Torres, “The feminist warriors of the sixties and seventies affirmed women’s gender identity and women’s own authorship.  They created the practice of filmmaking as a political expression of empowerment.”

On the site set up by the FNCL, “There aren’t many Cuban women filmmakers,” said Cumaná.  “Women still have a dual role, for many women have motherhood and housework on their shoulders,” she said.

Only two Cuban women directors have been able to make feature-length films, the late Sara Gómez, who made De cierta manera [One Way or Another] (1977), and Rebeca Chávez, who debuted on Tuesday, the 23rd of this month, with the movie Ciudad en rojo [Red City], the screening of which was one of the events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC).

Speaking to the Cuban state media, Chávez made a point of saying that “it is more difficult for a women” to make movies on the island, in addition to facing the common difficulties encountered by all filmmakers of this Caribbean country, and women have to struggle with ridicules, against the presumptions of people who don’t trust that women can do their work.

Ciudad en rojo is based on Bertillón 166, a novel by Cuban writer José Soler Puig (1916-1996), which narrates moments in the struggle of urban guerrillas in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

“The audiovisual sector has a great development potential to encourage the empowerment of women, highlighting the issues of sexual and reproductive rights, promoting women’s roles in the political, social, and economic spheres,” Juan Diego Ruiz, general coordinator of the AECID in Cuba, said to IPS.

According to the AECID official, support for gender equity is included in the cooperation agreements between the governments of Spain and Cuba.  Ruiz did not rule out support for future initiatives with the FNCL or other institutions for this purpose.

A 3,500 euros (4,700 dollars) grant from the AECID funded the programming of the “Women in the Contemporary Audiovisual Media” Web site, which was developed in just over a month.

The original article “Realizadoras en la web” was published by IPS on 26 March 2009.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at]