TIFF Q&A: Kate Lawrie Van de Ven
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TIFF Q&A: Kate Lawrie Van de Ven

This year at TIFF the City to City programme is all about Buenos Aires. We asked the programmer to tell us more about the slate of flims.

City to City programmer Kate Lawrie Van de Ven. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

City to City: Buenos Aires

Panel Discussion: Buenos Aires—A Conversation

Tuesday September 13, 6:30 p.m.

TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 (350 King Street West)

The note on the City to City programme in this year’s phonebook-thick TIFF guide, penned by the committee of programmers Cameron Bailey, Diana Sanchez, and Kate Lawrie Van de Ven, describes how the programme aims “to dig into the social and spatial changes in the urban fabric of a particular evolving cultural centre, and to consider how the city-based configurations of a film community open a new window onto its cinema.” Now, we’re not going to pretend to understand what a phrase like “city-based configurations of a film community” means. But we’ll say this: this year’s focus on Buenos Aires seems to underscore the functional particle to, more than any other City in the programme’s short, three-year history.

While 2010’s focus on Istanbul (not Constantinople) and 2009’s focus on Tel Aviv (yikes, remember that dustup?) were all well and good (depending on your views on Tel Aviv), Toronto seems to share some pretty strong cultural ties with Argentina’s capital. Besides being the centre of the Argentinian film industry (as Toronto, more-or-less, is in Canada, unless you count Vancouver, and unless you consider the more robust Quebecois film industry, but anyways), Buenos Aires is a city of landed communities. Not unlike Toronto, it is a place where people from different ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds commingle into something like a rich cultural tapestry.

But you know what? We really don’t know much about Buenos Aires. We’re just making these connections based on some cursory Google searches and City to City literature. But you know who does know about it? TIFF programmer Kate Lawrie Van de Ven, who worked to programme this year’s block of City to City films, and put together the annual City to City panel. We asked Kate a few questions over email about this year’s City to City programme, and the contemporary cinema of Buenos Aires.

What about Buenos Aires made it a fitting selection for this year’s City to City programme?

In Buenos Aires, what we found was a city booming with new filmmakers who were tackling topics ranging from questions of personal identity and happiness; to national political history; to meta-critical takes on the city’s booming film industry itself. The city is a hotbed of production and critical thought about the cinema as well as a crucial example of a metropolis coming to terms with its changing social and economic realities, along with its mediated or represented identity.

We often hear a lot about the New Argentine Cinema and filmmakers like Lucretia Martel and Lisandro Alonso. Does this figure in to Buenos Aires’ film scene? What exactly are critics and programmers referring to when they talk about the “New” Argentine Cinema?

The “New” Argentine Cinema to which you are referring is predominantly a somewhat different and somewhat older cycle of films than those in this year’s City to City programme, though there are important connections and issues of lineage. The New Argentine Cinema, identified with Martel, Alonso, Trapero, Rejtman, for instance, emerged in the mid to late-1990s, in part as a response to the economic failing of the country. Inevitably, the various modalities of realism at work in those films stood out in stark contrast to the history of studio dramas that had been the standard fare of the Argentine cinema before then and were recognized critically (internationally) as existing in defiance of Argentine economic realities that led to and followed the 2001 collapse. Fresh stories were being told that were as much about the dreariness of the present as the problems of the past in a post-dictatorship country.

What is represented in the films in the City to City programme is a newer phenomenon than the New Argentine Cinema, one that certainly in part evolved as a result of the success of previous films domestically and internationally, but also one that is emerging organically through the development of Buenos Aires as a media-producing city. There are, of course, lines of crossover and continuity that complicate the division I’m proposing. Pablo Trapero, for instance, whose first feature, Crane World, is a retrospective title in the CTC programme, is simultaneously essential to discussion of the emergence of a New Argentine Cinema at the end of the 1990s, and also a crucial contemporary Buenos Aires filmmaker.

Still from Pablo Trapero's Crane World (1990). Courtesy of TIFF.

Films like 2009’s The Secret in their Eyes also seem to point to a boom in popular filmmaking aimed as much at domestic and international audiences. How does Argentine (and B.A. cinema) figure into larger flows and trends in contemporary world cinema?

Big question. I think the way to consider this is, perhaps, to discuss two different lineages of national new waves. On one side, increasing awareness of the successes of films in the New Argentine Cinema helped to create a broader market (both domestic and international) for more Argentine film. Established filmmakers like [Secret in their Eyes director Juan José] Campanella for instance are more readily entrusted with significant budgets and support to make quality, marketable dramas with fairly classic (and therefore international) appeal.

However, simultaneously, the success of those earlier films also leads to a hunger on the part of newer filmmakers to be involved in the cinematic renaissance/emergence in their city/country and the increasing willingness, perhaps, for people (both funders and audiences) to take a chance on something unknown. I think this type of cycle is increasingly common in emerging cinema cities (it’s quite connected to what we witnessed last year in the focus on Istanbul, for instance). And the result is that you see booms in films of all kinds: the bigger-budget features, the fiercely individual auteur works and, somewhere in between, works from unknown or lesser-known filmmakers that are nonetheless crafted in a popular or genre tradition and are, consequently, audience-oriented even as they are riskier or less sanded-down.

The program note mentions Buenos Aires’ rich cultural tapestry, and its problems with representing identity. Do you think this connects it to Toronto in any meaningful way?

Certainly. Toronto and Buenos Aires are both dealing with connected issues of economic and cultural similarity. In one way, for instance, both are facing the challenges of creating identities for themselves in the 21st century “economy of cities” that force them to reckon with debates between heritage preservation vs new investment (witness the debate in B.A. right now about the Nike Store taking over the historic café); urban branding versus cultural heterogeneity; infrastructural development vs urban social net, etc. Those issues come up time and again in plot thematics, especially in the independent filmmakers working in both cities as they offer direct or figurative interventions into urban issues.

Which selections in the programme are you especially excited for?

Is “all of them” a legitimate answer? Truthfully, what makes a programme like CTC work best is the opportunity to screen ten totally distinctive works and then discuss them in relation to what binds them together: the city. Each film on the programme that one sees gets richer with every other film on the programme one watches.

Selections from the City to City programme run throughout TIFF 2011. Check here for showtimes and ticket info.