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Latin American Film Studies Get Push from UCLA InstituteThe LAI's 2007-08 Brazilian Film Series, co-sponsored with the Consulate General of Brazil, features a screening on the first Wednesday of every month through July. "O Ano em que Meus Pais Sairam de Ferias" (2006) will be shown in November.

Latin American Film Studies Get Push from UCLA Institute

The Latin American Institute is launching a Film and Media Project, collaborating on a DVD collection for research libraries, and extending its menu of screenings and activities for cinema buffs.

By Kevin Matthews
Senior Writer

There's no center in the United States that's fundamentally dedicated to establishing permanent channels of communication with these filmmakers.

When Randal Johnson began studying Brazilian cinema in the 1970s, the options for scholars were limited.

"You go see a film wherever you can, and you take notes in the dark," he says, in an echo of old advice.

As director of the UCLA Latin American Institute (LAI) in 2007, Professor Johnson not only has more study tools at his disposal now but is also in a position to make things still easier for students, while promoting some of the cinematic traditions he admires to the public. The LAI is launching a set of initiatives that reaffirm UCLA's place as a major center for the study of film and media in Latin America.

"Given the fact that we are where we are, we think that we should be doing more," he says. In the past, the LAI has taken advantage of film festivals and Hollywood contacts to bring directors and actors to campus for public events.

Now, it is teaming up with the Latin American Regional Office of the Motion Picture Association of America and corporate underwriters to produce a DVD collection of 60 films to be distributed for free to selected U.S. universities in 2008 (press release). Scholars, producers, and national film panels will pick the movies: 20 each from Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.

Johnson says the DVD, which will feature titles that aren't readily available for purchase, will substantially boost the Latin American film collections even of some research libraries. Guidelines for the recipient institutions will encourage free public screenings of the films.

Among many projects, Alejandro Pelayo, Mexican cultural attache and UCLA professor, produced the 1990 film "Morir en el Golfo." (Photo by Kevin Matthews)."

Meanwhile, with seed funding from the UCLA International Institute, the LAI is launching a Latin American Film and Media Project, bringing together some of the current activities at UCLA and promoting new endeavors. Under the project—organized by Johnson and Alejandro Pelayo, cultural attache at the Mexican Consulate and also a UCLA professor of film—UCLA will acquire additional archives, put on lectures and film series, and establish long-term contacts with people in the Latin American film industry through courses, collaborations, and symposia.

"There's no center in the United States that's fundamentally dedicated to making contacts, to establishing permanent channels of communication with--I would say Ibero-American, not only Latin American--filmmakers," says Pelayo, himself a director and producer with many credits. Currently, Pelayo is collaborating with U.S. scholars on a history text about Mexican cinema that will include material from a television series he wrote and directed. (A departure from his studies of Brazil's art, Johnson's most recent book is on the Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira.)

The main function of the Film and Media Project, at least early on, will be to enhance UCLA's Latin American media archives—movies, documentaries, and television series such as major telenovelas and mini-series. The UCLA Film & Television Archive and other campus libraries provide a very good starting point, particularly in Mexican cinema.

Pelayo underscores the point that access to Latin American films remains an issue for students and researchers at many U.S. institutions, in spite of the emergence over more than a generation of both film and area studies. Staff members at the UCLA Archive convert films to DVD on request, but even in 2007 technology hasn't caught up with demand everywhere.

"What happens in film archives around the world is that they have the movies but you can't see them," says Pelayo in Spanish. "Or rather, you have to request a special screening. A 35mm format requires a projectionist to show it, and that generates costs."

Latin American Institute