In 2002, the veteran director began filming “A Social Genocide”, which was released in 2004. “The Dignity of the Nobodies”, his second documentary about Argentina, was screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival in April. DOX interviewed Solanas in San Francisco.

Living in Mediated Democracies

DOX: “Nearly 40 years ago, you directed The Hour of the Furnaces  and then you and Octavio Getino wrote your manifesto “Towards a Third Cinema”, in which you say that documentary “is perhaps the main basis for revolutionary filmmaking.” What do you think the role of the documentary filmmaker is today?

Solanas: He plays a great role, culturally, socially, and politically. The majority of our countries live in “mediated” democracies, where the media have an importance greater than universities or political parties in the formation of public opinion and in the public imagination. That is a society where the majority of public opinion is very strongly informed by the news media. And the media are responsible for some great tragedies. It is a very violent machinery of censorship. And the vast majority of the media are private firms financed by advertising.

In this country (the United States), like Argentina, the advertising is actually inside of the news stories; that is to say that they have financed the programmes and they determine the content. In Europe, it’s not so much that way; there’s a stricter division between advertising and content. In Argentina, it’s really a tragedy, the media have made the public believe some enormous lies. To put it in a phrase, the public doesn’t have a good source of information from the news media. And that is why today there is a growing audience that goes to a movie theatre to see a documentary. This was not the case ten years ago. Because audiences are finding information they cannot find anywhere else. So, I think that good documentaries are treating issues that have been censored, social themes or historic social occurrences and stories that have essentially been censored out of existence, themes of social reality and of war.

DOX: “In ‘Towards a Third Cinema’, you also mentioned that “revolutionary cinema is not passive”, but it “attempts to intervene in a situation providing thrust or rectification.” How involved were you with the people you filmed in The Dignity of the Nobodies?”

Solanas: This is an open film in that it helps those who intervene, and there is no end to the dignity of these people. There is no resolution of their situations. When you look at the end of the film, some have been resolved and some haven’t. The characters in “The Dignity of the Nobodies” include people of all stripes. Some people do not belong to a political party, they are just social activists. There are some activists who belong to different leftist groups. For example, some were just social activists like the two women hospital workers are union activists and that’s about it.

As to the relationship that I have to the people in the film, people like me, everybody likes me. I’m a public figure. They all know me. “Ciao, Pino,” they say. So when I tell people I want to film them, they are very happy and they invite me to have “mate” (tea) at their house. It’s not so much because they are relating to me politically. They know that I defend their interests in a general way. And they know that I make films that represent what they think and feel.

Chronicle of the Struggle

DOX: “The Dignity of the Nobodies” is your second film about Argentina and you intend to do three more films about your country. What inspired you to do this ambitious project?

Solanas: As I got deeper into “A Social Genocide”, a film about the exceptional crisis that the country was experiencing, I saw it would be impossible to make one film with all that material. So the concept was born that the first one would be about the politics of power – how did we get into this situation? The second film was born out of the ending of the first one. The ending of the first film is a synthesis of ten years of a popular struggle against the situation. But for the audience, what remains, what they see are the masses of people in activities like demonstrations. So what was lacking there was humanity. Who are all these people? How do they think? What do they feel?

So that’s where the idea was born of putting a magnifying glass on the people who formed the individual parts of this mass. And in this first film I got to know some people who were playing a huge influential role in these uprisings but were anonymous. I was tempted to make an advocacy film based on some of those stories. But then people would ask, “What am I seeing here? Is this reality or is it fiction?”

So what this has actually turned into is a great testimony about the life of my country in this era. I did not invent the stories of “the nobodies”. This is a film made by someone as a historian, a chronicler of this struggle. I know that these films are going to stay around as references of a social reality. And now, because this is my profession as a filmmaker, I have also attempted to make a good film. However, it might not be a great film but still have the same value as a testimony. So working like this, five ideas came about. And that’s as far as I can say.

DOX: “What is the audience response in Argentina to your documentaries?”

Solanas: The audience is divided. The people who are in the film and the people who agree with the film, they love it. It is their expression; it’s their film. And the people who don’t agree with it, despise it, and they won’t go see it. This debate started even way back with “The Hour of the Furnaces” (1968) where some people were saying we should make a film to inform everyone, to inform the public but we knew that that was not what we were going to make. We were going to make a film of opinion. We were going to state our case and it would be signed. People would know that it was our opinion, just like an article in the newspaper is signed. Society is divided. There are a large number of people who are undecided. And they hear that a film like this is a good film, (“The Dignity of the Nobodies) won prizes and so they overcome their prejudice against the film and they go see it.

Finding the Characters

 DOX: “How did you find the people in the stories in “The Dignity of the Nobodies”?”

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