The Sixties in Latin America was a period of political and social ferment, which resulted in cultural movements and expressions that had an impact beyond the continent. Fernando Solanas, the Argentine filmmaker who died last week aged 84, was an exceptional artist who emerged from the chaos and crises of the 1960s. He spoke for a cinema that rejected the market and aesthetics of both Hollywood and European arthouse films, and situated cinema as an expression of a social collective. Along with fellow Argentine filmmaker Octavio Getino, he wrote the manifesto for a Third Cinema, a cinema of liberation — on the ground, it took the shape of a cultural opposition to the dictatorial regimes and their close relations with multi-national capital. Solanas and Getino famously said: “The camera is a gun which shoots twenty-four frames a second.”
Third Cinema was almost a guerrilla activity, with filmmakers forced to shoot and edit underground and then screen in working class gatherings and peasant communities, outside the theatre network. Solanas released his celebrated film, The Hour of the Furnaces, in 1968, which laid bare the poverty, inequality and suppression of rights in Argentina under the military junta. Described as a film essay, it shook up audiences by its political daring, narrative honesty and freshness of form. While Solanas, a supporter of Juan Peron, was forced to flee his country following a military coup in 1976, his ideas found adherents elsewhere. Directors like Glauber Rocha in Brazil, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea in Cuba and Miguel Littin in Chile emerged around the same time and challenged the political and aesthetic establishment. Their films and ideas found a resonance across the Third World, including in the parallel cinema movement in India.
Solanas joined electoral politics on his return from exile and was elected to the Senate. However, following public unrest in Argentina in 2001, he returned to cinema, making a series of films that explored the role of multinational corporations in controlling national economies. Even in his last years, the furnace continued to boil, the camera remained a gun.
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