A secret society: Independent cinema in Puerto Rico

By:Emmanuel Alejandro Colón Toledo
April 12, 2012

Steven Spielberg once said, “When I grow up, I still want to be a director.” One thing the whole world shares in common is you can always find a movie lover wherever you go and Puerto Rico is no exception.

Puerto Ricans generally associate movies with Hollywood, but lately, a surge of independent cinema has begun to rise on the island. In recent years, more and more Puerto Ricans have begun to show interests not just in watching but also making independent films as well.

In 198 Caribbean Cinemas (CC) founded their first Fine Arts cinema. Dedicated to exhibiting foreign as well as independent films, CC has made these films accessible to the public. However, these films are, again, foreign.

So what happened to the community of Puerto Rican cinema? Marisel Flores Carrion, Manager of the Moving Images Archive at the General Archive of Puerto Rico, wrote an article depicting 40 years of what has been the most productive and controversial history of Puerto Rican cinema. According to Flores, Puerto Rico has seen its fair share of success and some disappointment in the movie industry.

In 1952, director Amilcar Tirado won a merit diploma in the Edinburgh Film Festival for his first feature film, Una voz en la montaña (A voice in the mountain). Four years laterModesta (Modest), directed by Benjamín Doniger and filmed Luis A. Maisonet, won the first prize for best short in it’s category at the Venice Film Festival (1956) as well as the merit diploma in the same year’s Edinburgh.

Many companies saw their rise and fall during this decade (50’s). Flores calls the next twenty years a tragedy for Puerto Rican cinema because the majority of the filmmakers in productions were foreigners to the island. Puerto Rico was influenced by Mexican cinema during this time as well.

It wasn’t until 1980 that Jacobo Morales, one of the most succesful Puerto Rican directors, brought back that national identity to Puerto Rican Films with his debut film …And God created them. From here on out, Puerto Rico’s film society has grown significantly including an Oscar nomination for best foreign film (Lo que le paso a Santiago), Dir. Jacobo Morales, 1989)

With all this in mind, one has to wonder: what about independent films? Independent films form a small part of the island’s cultural agenda, especially in the San Juan area, though lately there has been a lot of activity in the western side of the island. However, not many people are aware of what an independent of indie film is.

According to Prof. Mary Leonard, founder of the Special Topics in Cinema Course and Certificate of Film Studies at UPRM, what sets an indie film apart from a traditional film is a simple monetary issue. “The implication is that since a director doesn’t depend on a studio, corporation or government, his/her voice dominates the film, and the agenda is primordially artistic rather than commercial,” Prof. Leonard said.

In 1999, Mary Leonard began teaching a course at UPRM’s English Department (ED) entitled Special Topics in Cinema, which quickly became a preferred elective course in the ED.

“Since 2006, the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, established their Certificate of Film Studies which provides students a concentrated education and a balance between history, theory and practice of the cinematic arts,” Prof. Leonard said.

When asked where this initiative to create indie films came from, Andres Arias, a Masters student at the New York School of Visual Arts who recently graduated from UPRM, reiterated that cinema has had a long history in PR, however when television came through most people lost interest in movies, but lately you can see a rising interest in stories with content, art, beauty and not just special effects.

If they are so good, then why are indie films so hard to find? “I’ve had the opportunity to see these films in festivals, the internet or in exhibitions financed by the film’s director and crew,” said Fernando E.E. Correa, an aspiring indie film artist and student at UPRM.

Film Festivals are celebrated across the island all year-long, according to Mary Leonard Cinefiesta and the upcoming Rincon International Film Festival (RIFF) are perhaps the most well-known film fests on the island showcasing local as well as international films.

The RIFF will be celebrating its fifth run as Puerto Rico’s most famous international film festival starting April 10 through April 15 nd presenting films from across the island. Some are from the north like Dios solo mira (God simply stares) directed by Alejandro Villalba and Miguel Diaz, while other’s are from the west side of the island like Alejandro Orengo’s Fulcro, and LittleAlice directed by Fran Casillas as well as another 41 Puerto Rican made films.

Does Puerto Rico have what it takes? It is true that resources are scarce on the island but there is a vast community of filmmakers worldwide and on the internet and access to it is just a click away.

Furthermore, Cinémathèque, a group run by students at UPRM has been working hard to jump out in the open and make indie films accessible to students. Last year, Cinémathèque along with ‘El cine’ of Mayagüez presented a monthly film for free to the community including aRocky Horror Picture Show Extravaganza.

“There has been much talk of the importance of developing a film industry in Puerto Rico, and this year a new law was approved designed to promote the construction of Cinematic Studios for large-scale international productions,” Prof. Leonard said.

“I want to see more filmmakers, directors, editors, camarographers, actors, and writers begin to emerge on the island and begin to create! Don’t give up! Don’t let Cinema die,” said Andres Arias as a call to the community of Puerto Rican  filmmakers.

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1 Comment

  1. April 13, 2012 at 12:00 am04

    […] from: A secret society: Independent cinema in Puerto Rico « The Colegio … Share […]


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