By Mónica Delgado

By the end of last year, Ism Ism Ism: Experimental Cinema in Latin America was published, a book edited by Jesse Lerner and Luciana Piazza, product of a series of film curatorships organized by Los Angeles FilmForum within the framework of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, and supported by the Getty Foundation. It turned out to be a fundamental book, as in it groups new essays which contextualize different experiences if South America (especially from the opportunities that Super 8 gives), and also because it recovers different manifestos, opinions, letters, drawings, frames or fragments of articles that give account of the sensibilities of the authors and characters that were protagonists in the history of experimental, in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Venezuela or Cuba.

The publication, conceived as a catalogue that complements the projections realized in Los Angeles FilmForum, gives us a wide panorama of Latin American experimental cinema, especially in the sixties and seventies. Lerner and Piazza reunite archivists, scholars, filmmakers and film critics to stablish parallels, correspondences and dissidences through 18 essays and articles, in a bilingual edition, where the little diffusion and study of Latin American vanguards in the U.S.A. is questioned. Through this disjunctive, the book pretends to be a summa and a vestige to inform an American sector that haven’t been familiarized with the identities and movements surged under the spirit of the avant-garde and their isms due to its scarce exhibition and study.

In the book’s prologue, Lerner and Piazza concentrate the justification of texts’ selection in the category of “ism”, which encompasses and gives body to the corpus of works here reviewed and analyzed. It’s indispensable for the ends of this publication, the identification of some common points between this diversity of “isms” that not all of the most remarkable works of experimental cinema in Latin America were made by filmmakers but also by visual artists, and also that the Super 8 format prevailed due to its accessibility and low cost, it’s one of the most mentioned and described supports in the book. Here the authors stablish a nexus between the experimental cinema of some filmmakers and artists influenced by the historical vanguards (surrealism, Dadaism, futurism), something that was reflected in manifestos that allow the molding of a sensibility from Latin America against the prevailing cultural colonialism and capitalism. “Brazilian vanguards made the most progress at this early stage, and stand apart for this reason. Late in the silent era, while List Arzubide and her strident cohorts in Xilapa could only dream of cinema’s transformative possibilities, the Brazilian avant-garde produced three feature-length films: Limite (Mario Peixoto, 1929), a tropical city symphony a-la Walther Ruttmann and Dziga Vertov, Sao Paulo: a sinfonía da metrópole (Rodolfo Rex Luftig and Adalberto Kemeny, 1929) and the experimental narrative Ganga Bruta (Humberto Mauro, 1933)”, signs of the cosmopolitanism of the times, but also of the modernity that allied itself to other experiences outside the continent, but also about the impossibility of talking about a unique movement or various groups, but rather allowing to watch the Latin American experimental cinema from its peculiarity, diversity and dispersion.

The book begins with Álvaro Vásquez Mantecón’s essay: Visual Experimentation in Super 8: Mexico and Latin America. And that’s a good beginning for the publication, since the Mexican scholar centers in describing the work of three artists, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Teo Hernández and Silvia Gurner, from their use of Super 8, which marks a singularity contrasted with other vanguards in a different side of the hemisphere. In this text, Vásquez Mantecón describes some of the most relevant works of these filmmakers and artists, and makes so from the functionality of the format and how did it allowed for formal inquiries that helped to recognized problems and local contexts.

Antoni Pinent’s essay: Cameraless South America: Under the spell of Norman McLaren, poses a very complete lecture about the influence of the experimental Scottish animator in this side of the continent, especially from the work of Argentinians Víctor Aytor Iturralde Rúa, Sameer Makarius and Luis Ricardo Bras, Brazilians Roberto Miller, Bassano Vaccarini, Marcos Magalhaes and Rubens Francisco Lucchetti, Uruguayan Eduardo Darino, and Venezuelan José Castillo (recently deceased). Here Pinent poses a generational walkthrough and the relation of Mclaren himself with his followers in the region through letters, exchange of ideas and stylistic proposals.

Another remarkable essay is the one that Jesse Lerner (one of the book’s editors) writes about the nature of appropriation cinema in Latin America from the anthropophagite manifesto by Oswald de Andrade, from 1928. In this text, entitled The image belongs to those who work with it: recycled cinema in Latin America he writes “The plactice of experimental filmmaking with appropriated fragments suggests the cannibal archetype functions, not just a paradigm of a critic cinema practice, but also more broadly as a strategy of decolonization and as a powerful model for Latin American culture production”. Cannibalism as a key metaphor to understand Latin America is extended by Lerner to the found footage, appropriation or recycling of different filmmakers that have made the satire and lacking their stylistic mark. Lerner mentions the work, for example, of American filmmaker of Latino origin Rafael Montañez Ortiz, the Mexican Video maker Alfredo Salomón, or the Cuban Nicolás Guillén Landrián.

In the article Resistant Stories, the scholar Ángela López Ruis realizes a cartography of women dedicated to experimental and unconventional documentary cinema, through their own testimonies, especially from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia, where she starts making visible the foundational role of the Experimental and Documentary Film Festival of SODRE, in Uruguay, for the consolidation of archives and investigations in the region. Then, López Ruiz mentions different women who occupy a place in the history of experimental (or should occupy it): the Argentinian of Czech origin Irene Dodal , Chileans Nieves Yancovik, Gloria Camiruaga, Magali Meneses, Uruguayan, Lydia García, Argentinian Amanda Lucía Turquetto, Bolivians Beatriz Palacios and María Galindo, and the consecrated Narcisa Hirsch and Marie Louise Alemann.

There’s no doubt that Ism, Ism, Ism, is already a classic of consultation on research and the incentive of conservation of experimental film memory because of its quality of information and precision in the global panorama of different times and generations. However, from Peru, we perceive the absence of experimental, meaning that, it’s reflected that historically we didn’t have any exponents or works to display. On the other hand, there’s a theoretical mishap to include as part of this “isms” the documentary work of Giancarlo Annichini or a short film from the Chaski Group, since these are works inserted in a more traditional narrative, since the social plane doesn’t give them the quality of irreverence, transgression or formal inquiry that most of the Latin American works commented in this volume have. In any case, reading about the cinematographic exercise of painter Fernando de Szyszlo: Esa pared no es medianera, of 1952, would’ve been interesting, since it’s our “late precursor” of the historical vanguards translated to the big screen.

Ism, Ism, Ism / Ismo, Ismo, Ismo
Experimental Cinema in Latin America

Editado por  Jesse Lerner and Luciano Piazza
University of California Press, 2017, 400 páginas.