Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Hispanic film directors are the new toast of Hollywood

Jugu Abraham | October 26, 2016 10:31 am Print
Many viewers of Hollywood cinema may not have realized this but Latin American filmmakers are making a major impact on Hollywood and predictably on the Oscars.

Leonardo DiCaprioThe American public and Hollywood film viewers around the globe loved the Oscar winning Birdman (2014) and The Revenant (2015). Both had one common factor—they were both directed by a Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and not by an American.

Alejandro Inarritu director of "Birdman" and "The Revenant"

Alejandro Inarritu director of “Birdman” and “The Revenant”

Many viewers of Hollywood cinema may not have realized this but Latin American filmmakers are making a major impact on Hollywood and predictably on the Oscars. Never before has a wave of external filmmakers made such an impact in quick succession on the American film industry.

Director Innaritu created history of sorts by becoming the third director in the history of the Oscars to win the best director Oscar two years, back to back, with these two films. Only two other distinguished Hollywood directors had achieved this feat—John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. And both those directors had achieved that feat more than half a century earlier.

Now many might assume that this Mexican director made his name and fame in Hollywood. He made his name earlier by winning awards In European film festivals before making waves in Hollywood. This Mexican director had made his mark first at the Cannes film festival in 2000 winning the Critic Week Grand Prize for his debut Mexican film Amores perros. His next film 21 Grams won the prestigious Best Actor Award for Sean Penn at the Venice film festival. His third film Babel won him the Best Director Award at Cannes. His fourth film Biutiful won actor Javier Bardem the Best Actor award at Cannes. Thus he arrived in Hollywood with an incredible success rate in major European festivals.

Now even if Hollywood struck gold by picking this bearded Mexican to direct major film projects with top ranking stars, he was merely the most successful of a trio of Mexican directors to make an impact in Hollywood—the other two being Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron. The trio is now referred to as the “Three Amigos of Cinema.”

Pablo Larrain director of "Jackie"

Pablo Larrain director of “Jackie”

Though not as successful as Innaritu was in Europe, Cuaron too won the hearts of  viewers at European festivals before making a splash at Hollywood and the Oscars with his two science fiction films Gravity (2013) and Children of Men (2006), made after the box office success of the family film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. However, like Innaritu his second Mexican film Y tu mama tambien (And your mother too) had won the respected Best Screenplay award at the Venice festival. At the Oscars, Cuaron’s Gravity won seven Oscars including the Best Director Oscar.

Guillermo Del Toro is the least successful of the three amigos of cinema at both the European film festivals and at the Oscars. His most celebrated work remains the Spanish-Mexican 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth, a film with touches of fantasy and horror. Hollywood chose this Mexican director to direct the science fiction monster film Pacific Rim (2013) and several superhero films such as Blade II, Hellboy and Hellboy II: the Golden Army.

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman in Pablo Larrain’s “Jackie”

Close on the heels of the success of the three amigos of cinema—and they are friends and collaborators as well—Hollywood is now looking at other intellectual talent from Latin America beyond Mexico. The latest find is the Chilean director Pablo Larrain.  Larrain, like Innaritu, has had a significant critical success at major European festivals with his films. His Chilean film titled No (2012) won the Art Cinema Award, the top award in the Director’s Fortnight section at Cannes film festival. His next film The Club (2015) won the Jury’s Grand Prize at the Berlin film festival. He then made a biopic on the Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda titled Neruda (2016), which has received considerable attention but no awards as yet. So what does Hollywood do? They invite Larrain to USA to make a biopic on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis called Jackie (2016).  The film has already won a major award at the Venice film festival for the Best Screenplay and the top award –the Platform Prize–at the Toronto international film festival. It is naturally going to be a highlight of the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs (the British equivalent of the Oscars) in 2017, especially with Natalie Portman in the title role. The young director Larrain had evidently agreed on the condition that his Chilean film editor Sebastian Sepulveda, with whom he has worked with success in the past, would be the editor of Jackie. And he prevailed.

Knowledgeable cineastes will see the irony of Chilean filmmakers making waves in Hollywood. In the past decades, the best of Chilean directors—Raul Ruiz, Patricio Guzman, and Miguel Littin—could never have made a film in Hollywood—they fled Chile to live in European and other countries after the political coup in 1973 when Salvador Allende was replaced by General Pinochet who was backed by the US. But young Larrain, though critical of Pinochet, comes from a rightist family background and thus this Chilean director is making it big in America. The Latin American wave from talented filmmakers will improve the quality of Hollywood cinema and please the Hispanic moviegoers in USA. That latter detail matters a lot in Hollywood—money from ticket sales.

Jugu Abraham
Jugu Abraham
"The writer was a film critic with the Hindustan Times group publications in Delhi (1978-85). Subsequently, he worked with UN-sponsored organizations. Post-retirement, he writes an internationally reputed blog on world cinema"
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