Mar del Plata Film Festival–The Most Important in South America has begun

by Rob Sykes, contributing blogger

Most famous for its fishing port and stretches of sandy beaches which attract thousands of Argentinean sun bathers every summer, for the next week Mar del Plata, on Argentina’s Atlantic coast, sees the return of an event of more high brow cultural significance. The 25th Mar del Plata Film Festival begins on Saturday13th November, its rich and varied programme continuing until the following Sunday.

Crowds line up for the Mar del Plata film festival at the famous Ambassador Cinema.

The Festival was first held in 1954, more as a showcase of world cinema than a competitive event. It has existed in its current format since 1996, when it returned after a 26 year absence. This year will see nearly 250 films (new and old) screened over the seven days and with awards in various categories, there is certainly something more at stake than in the festival’s early days. A fact illustrated by the excellent company the festival keeps; ranked in the same class ‘A’ category as other illustrious showcases of cinema such as Cannes, San Sebastián, Berlin and Venice by the FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producers Associations), the only South American film festival to be bestowed with such lofty status, making it the most important on the continent.

The sandy beach of Mar del Plata is surrounded by a buzzing city famous for its cultural offerings.

Whilst opening night focus will be honed on Oscar nominated (for Lost in Translation starring Bill Murray) Director Sofia Coppola’s latest work, Somewhere. There is a great deal more on offer throughout the festival’s week long stay down by the beach. Competition categories cover Latin American long and short films (with actor/director Diego Luna’s Abel in contention in the former and Luis Carlos Uribe´s animation Go To Sleep in the latter); Argentinean long and short films (now minus Luis Ortega’s Verano Maldito as it is not considered a soley Argentinean production); works in progress; and alongside Best International Film (such as the French-English co-production of L’ilusionniste directed by Sylvain Chomet), there are awards for best Actor, Actress, screenplay and Director within the International category. As such the vanguard of world cinema, with films showing from Mexico to China, Poland to the Philippines, Georgia to Germany, will converge on Mar del Plata this week.

Throw into the mix the enormous amount of local talent from Argentina’s own flourishing cinema scene on offer at the festival, and the beach really is the place to be in these final weeks of spring.

Remaining true to its non-competitive roots however, the festival is much more than a merely a back-slapping awards ceremony. Running alongside the premiers and acceptance speeches are a series of special events exploring various topics in the form of lectures, forums and of course, screenings. For example Tuesday 16th presents an opportunity to hear family and friends of Argentine director Nicolás Sarquis talk about the man and his life following a screening of his 1974 film La muerte de Sebastián Arache y su pobre entierro. The same day sees adapted short films, produced by the audio, visual and media department of The Tucumán Cultural Society, allowing blind or partially sighted audience members to enjoy a new cinema experience in high sound quality. Sighted audience members will even be given blind folds to wear. Continuing in the realm of Argentinean innovation, Sunday sees the screening of Post, The Complete Adventure, Argentina’s first internet to cinema feature. Starting life as an online mini-series, the complete work is now being brought to the big screen. The creators of Post will be available to talk about this unique creative process after the screening.

It seems then, that whether it be for an interest in the cream of new and interesting cinema, learning about the cinematic process, or taking a refreshing look at old classics, there is more than just the weather and beach sun bathing to use as an excuse to head down to Mar del Plata this week.

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