With a cinematic history dating back to 1896, Argentina’s contributions to the celluloid world are many. All up, the country has been awarded 14 Goya Awards (Spanish Oscars) for its films, and is the only Latin American country to have won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (twice – for The Official Story in 1985 and The Secret in Their Eyes in 2009).
With all that in mind, you may be wondering why it's only now that Australia is receiving its first Argentine Film Festival. “The Argentine film industry output isn’t widely known in Australia,” says festival director Paul Booth. “I noticed that and thought ‘hold on, there’s an opportunity here not just to get exposure but to stage a great festival.’”
Argentine-born Booth has spent years in both the Argentine and Australian film industries. His main challenge was getting the government of Argentina on board. “You’ve got to go through so many layers of bureaucracy to convince people of the opportunities for both film and tourism.” For Booth, his ultimate goal is “to make this festival the Argentine cultural event of the year in Australia.”
Being the first year of the festival, there are only seven feature films screening, each paired with a short film. There will also be two nights showcasing short films during the festival. Here’s the feature line-up, starting with the opening-night film:
1 The Last Elvis
Carlos Gutierrez has spent his entire life emulating Elvis; his daughter is even named Lisa Marie. But now Carlos is about to turn 42, the same age Elvis was when he died, and that realisation forces Carlos to confront the next stage of his life without the King's guidance. "It's very funny one minute and then as sad as you can get the next,” says Booth. “John McInerny, who plays Carlos, does all his own singing, and if you close your eyes, you'll swear it's actually Elvis."
2 Aballay, the Man Without Fear
Years ago, Aballay killed a man in cold blood. The look on the face of the victim's son left him shaken, and caused him to give up his life as a thieving, murdering gaucho. But even though he's now a local hero and a man of peace, he knows that boy is coming for revenge. "It’s a Western in the gaucho sense. Anybody who sees this film will, I suspect, be booking a ticket to the north of Argentina, because the scenery is sensational.”
3 In the Open
During a week-long holiday in the countryside with her husband and daughter, Elisa begins to feel the sensation that there's something wrong with her perfect life. Her husband feels like a stranger and her daughter suddenly seems so fragile. “It's a very subtle story, and becomes hypnotic as it unfolds,” says Booth. “It's a very abstract, quiet take on the psychological thriller.”
4 The Chosen Heaven
Victor Gonzalez’s drama follows Pablo, a young Catholic priest who wants to leave his parish, but doesn't know how. “There’s a heavy noir influence in this one, it's very different to the other films in the lineup,” says Booth.
5 The Finger
For the first time since the dissolution of the military government, a small town must elect a mayor. The problem is they have no idea how to do so, so they look to a magical, severed finger kept in a jar for guidance. “This film was made in the Argentinean province of Cordoba, which has a unique sense of humour.” Booth explains. “It's hilarious, and surprisingly topical.”
The 1,500km journey along the motorway between Asuncion del Paraguay and Buenos Aires is arduous, a fact about to be learned by the truck driver giving a lift to a young mother and her baby. Pablo Giorgelli’s poignant and very human tale won the Camera D’Or at Cannes. “This will be a highlight of the festival. It's a road movie with subtlety, and it's done very well in France.”
7 Golden Pipe
Julito and Clara meet amid the everyday violence of working-class Buenos Aires. Acting on the advice of a horoscope, they spontaneously embark on a liberating journey into the wild. “This one’s a very rough and ready, down-to-earth love story. We're not doing a big closing night event, so this is a great way to end the festival. It's very real.”