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As U.S. and European sales agents and distributors gather in Buenos Aires next week for Ventana Sur, there will be a very large elephant in the room: the stunning victory in Argentina’s presidential election Sunday of far right Javier Milei, a self-described “anarcho-capitalist.”
Milei won 55.8% of the vote promising to do away with inflation, running at over 140%, as part of “drastic changes” which have included scrapping Argentina’s central bank, dollarizing the economy and slashing public spending by 15% of GDP.
On the campaign trail, he also promised to abolish Argentina’s Ministry of Culture and national film-TV agency INCAA.
Currently, Argentina also holds the presidency of Ibermedia, the pan-regional fund for Latin America, Spain and Portugal, whose moneys are vital for art-house co-productions.
INCAA also co-organizes Ventana Sur itself with Cannes Film Festival and Market.
A left-leaning Argentine film-TV industry, whether Peronist or not, will take time to digest Milei’s victory. Many dismisssed its possibilty out of hand. It is imposible to think of relations being less than fractious between the industry and a new government whose Milei running mate, Victoria Villaruel, has questioned the number of people killed by Argentina’s 1977-83 military dictatorship while Milei himself has dismissed climate change as “a socialist hoax.”
So many variables are in play, however, that it is hard to second-guess a full impact. For distribution of movies in Argentina, it may not change matters that much.
“If Milei solves inflation – which I hope very much he does for the sake of the Argentine people though I am doubtful if he can – box office attendance may surge,” said Antonio Saura, head of Latido Films.
Currently, he recognized, Latido sells “very little” to Argentina. “Distribution in the country has been decimated by COVID-19. Recovery has been mostly for event movies: the only Argentinean movie that has performed very well recently is ‘Argentina, 1985.’ A change of government may not affect that,” he added.
Culled from cinema admissions and TV advertising, both down, INCAA funding has already plunged since the pandemic. Optimists may point out that INCAA has a certain autonomy, and cannot be removed so easily. How it would function under Milei is another matter.
Piling uncertainty on uncertainty, Milei toned down his radical rhetoric in the run-up to election, in a play to attract the center right, and his party, La Libertad Avanza, has just 38 of 257 seats in the lower house and eight of 72 in the senate, making it difficult for him to force through legislation.
The question is whether Milei’s victory will signal the closure of an era, at least for four years.
“Today is the end of the model of an omnipresent state that impoverishes Argentina,” Milei promised supporters Sunday.
The challenge for Argentine cinema is that it has been that very state support, channeled via the INCAA, which laid the foundations for a recovery of the Argentine cinema in the 2000s.
Compounded with marketing and co-production aid at commercial network Telefe, it helps explain a string of upscale bold Argentine crossover blockbuster from Juan José Campanella’s “The Secret of Their Eyes” (2009) and “Underdogs” (2013) to Wild Tales (2015) and “The Clan” as well as bold challenges to Argentina nationalism and audience expectation such as Lisandro Alonso’s 2014 Cannes hit “Jauja,” starring Viggo Mortensen.
Given contracting overseas sales and state funding, Argentina’s audiovisual industry is already reorganizing. That is based on at least three axes: Streaming platform titles, often TV series based ever more on weighty IP, led by Netflix adaptation of legendary Argentine sci-fi graphic novel “El Eternauta,” from K&S; low or micro-budget arthouse and docu production; and grand production alliances such as the eight-member consortium, led by Argentina’s Zeppelin Studio, which is backing Lucía Puenzo’s upcoming gangster epic “The Gunwoman (Pepita’s Legend).”
Driven by world change in film-TV business models, such initiatives are unlikely to stop under Milei.
Milei takes office on Dec. 10. This year’s Ventana Sur, which runs Nov. 27-Dec. 1, looks likely to unspool as usual. “First, we are 100% focused on the next edition. All our indicators are positive, and I am sure that we are going to make a very successful edition,” said Guillaume Esmiol, Cannes Film Market executive director and Ventana Sur co-director.
“Then for the future, there are of course a lot of questions due to the economic (the inflation) and political situation,” he added.
“But in the 15 years of its existence, Ventana Sur has had to face up to a number of economic, political and even health-related difficulties, and despite this, the market has remained a key event not to be missed for the past 15 years,” Esmiol went on. “We stay confident. Many people, whatever their political persuasion, understand the economic and soft power benefits of having the biggest audiovisual market in the Latin America in their own country.”