Tribute: Fernando Birri and the EICTV



Carmen Guarini’s film Ata tu arado a una estrella (2017) is a hybrid, both a portrait of Argentine filmmaker Fernando Birri and a film diary in search of utopia thirty years after the death of El Che. Recently passed away in 2017, Birri is revered as the father of New Latin American Cinema, both for his film work and for founding the Instituto de Cinematografía at the University of Litoral in Santa Fe in 1956; he represented Argentina at Cannes with La primera fundación de Buenos Aires (1959) and won the Best Opera Prima Award at the Venice Festival with Los inundados (1961). From his best-known short film, Tire dié (1960), a social, poetic and political documentary, through to ORG (1979), an exuberant and furious experimental film, by way of oblique portrait-making (Mi hijo el Ché, 1985) and magical realism (Un señor con unas alas enormes, 1988), the Argentine never stopped exploring new forms while staying within clear coordinates of personal commitment. Birri received his training at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome (1950-52), where Gabriel García Márquez would arrive shortly after to do the only studies he ever completed: filmmaking. In 1986, the two of them  along with the cuban filmmaker Julio García Espinoza would take the lead in creating one of the most famous film schools in the world, the EICTV of San Antonio de los Baños in Cuba.

Today, three decades later, the EICTV is the source of one of the most amazing creative groups in the non-fiction world. In terms of worldwide ramifications of documentary film, the Cuban cinema to come out of San Antonio de los Baños has achieved its own powerful personality, each of the variables in filmmaking carefully thought-out and modulated in tight contact with the island's particularities:  the union of the body and the earth, Santeria, music and isolation, all transferred into surprising narrative structures and bodies fleshed out into spaces; a tactile cinema on the border between realism and abstraction. Most striking, perhaps, are some recent films in the realm of science fiction, far removed from Cuba's best-known filmmaking: a glimpse of a futuristic, hushed, blinking Cuba. Taken together, Cuban cinema for the 21st century, while the island tries out its possible present-days.

Guillermo G. Peydró