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History of Ecuadorian Cinema - Culture And Arts - Ecuador

The history of Ecuador's film industry can be divided into two periods: pre-1999 and post-1999. With regards to pre-1999, Ecuador's sporadic attempts at moviemaking were, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, like a dog walking on his hind legs. True, it was not done well, but one was surprised to find it done at all.

With the exception of Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, no Latin American country was ever capable of establishing a substantial, independent and durable film industry. This was partly due to the hegemonic dominance of Hollywood and Europe in movie theaters, and partly due to the three aforementioned countries, whose industries were subsidized by their governments, going after what was left of the remaining market share.

While there was little in the way of actual Ecuadorian filmmaking in the 20th century, there was no shortage of popular enthusiasm for the new medium from its beginnings. In fact, the visible presence in foreign films of Victrolas, gas stoves, cosmetics and modern sanitation prompted a new market for such items among Ecuador's emerging middle-class, thus helping Ecuador move more quickly out of its feudal origins.

The Golden Age of Ecuadorian cinema is generally considered the 1920s, with one notable entrepreneur-auteur, Augusto San Miguel. He not only made two feature films, “El Tesoro de Atahulpa” (Atahualpa's Treasure) and “Un abismo y dos almas” (An Abyss and Two Souls), but who was politically progressive as well. The latter film decried the exploitation and abuse of the country's impoverished indigenous majority at the hands of its greedy, land-owning aristocracy. Almost all Latin American countries had their own, similar pioneers in this period, yet the arrival of the talkie, with its attendant high production costs, crushed what nascent potential these countries had for their own film industries, especially with Spanish-dubbed Hollywood fare flooding local theaters.

Thus, for the next fifty years, what scant filmmaking occurred in Ecuador was mostly in the realm of the documentary, a genre whose budget and, unfortunately, whose audience, were both modest. Between 1947 and 1959, four feature films were made with local actors and sought to reach a popular audience. Their value today, however, is sociological-historical rather than aesthetic or even pleasurable.

The seeds of Ecuador's modern film movement were planted in the 1970s, when universities began to offer film study curricula and local television stations sponsored short-film contests. Even before then, the government-sponsored Casa de la Cultura, under the direction of Ulises Estrella, presented showings of non-commercial films for a club of art-of-film enthusiasts. In 1977, Ecuador saw the formation of its first representative body of filmmakers, an organization known as Asocine.

A new generation of ambitious and passionate writer-directors was able to find the funding for their dream projects, most notably Camillo Luzuriaga, whose film, “La Tigre” (The Tigress), based on a fictional allegory by Ecuadorian author, José de la Cuadra, won the Best First Film award at the Cartagena International Film Festival in 1989. On television, American-trained, Yugoslav director Carl West adapted a series of historical Ecuadorian novels into skillfully-made television films.

However, in 1999 it was a young man from Cuenca, Sebastian Cordero—fresh out of the UCLA film program—who gave birth to Ecuador's modern film movement when his tough, gritty crime thriller, “Ratas, Ratones, Rateros” (Rats, Mice, Thieves), was honored with awards and nominations across the world, including a nomination for the Spanish Goya for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film. Cordero’s next Ecuadorian film, “Crónicas,” was co-produced by the Mexican-Hollywood directorial superstars Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, and starred John Leguizamo. In 2013, Cordero took to the screen with his ambitious attempt at sci-fi in "Europa Report," which garnered wide critical acclaim.

In 2006, Ecuador's congress established the National Film Council to subsidize and encourage local filmmakers. Following that year, in 2007, another Cuenca director, Tania Hermida, scored a major critical and commercial success, both locally and internationally, with “¿Que tan lejos?” (How much further?).

The last few years have validated the aspirations of Ecuador's filmmakers with the creation of original and deeply felt works, both in the realm of fiction and documentary. Of the latter, "Con mi corazón en Yambo" (With My Heart in Yambo), a passionate, angry investigation by María Fernanda Restrepo of the disappearance and probable torture and murder of her two adolescent, Colombian-immigrant brothers who were mistakenly identified as "terrorists" under the scorched-earth "anti-terrorist" policies of former Ecuadorian president, León Febres-Cordero.

Meanwhile, other filmmakers, such as Sebastian's sister, Vivian Cordero, have attracted praise and attention for their efforts, most recently with the social comedy, "No robaras mas que necesario" (Don't steal more than necessary) Victor Arregui won an award in the 2009 Torino International Festival of Young Cinema for his morbid comedy about homicide, "Cuando me toque a mi" (When It's My Turn). "Mejor no hablar de ciertas cosas" (Better Not to Speak of Certain Things) by Javier Andrade, a Columbia University graduate in film, showcased a new maturity in Ecuadorian film, while "Prometeo Deportado" (Prometheus Deported), a surrealist comedy by Fernando Mieles, inspired in equal measure by Aeschylus and Buñuel, managed to be pointed as commentary without being pretentious.


Culture and Arts

Here are other activities in and around Ecuador that may be of interest: Art and Painting in Ecuador and Centro Cultural Metropolitano.

By Ricardo Segreda
Growing up in New York, Rick Segreda used to cut out of high school in order to hang out at the Museum of Modern Art and catch foreign-language...
09 Oct 2013

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