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Transatlantic Cinephilia: Book Launch and Screening of "Araya" (Margot Benacerraf, 1959)

three people walking away from the camera
Fine Arts Building, 400, Balcony Theater

To mark the release of a new book by Dr. Rielle Navitski, Transatlantic Cinephilia: Film Culture Between Latin America and France, 1945-1965 (University of California Press), the Department of Theatre and Film Studies and the Willson Center's Interdisciplinary Modernisms workshop will host a screening of Margot Benacerraf's Araya (1959). A lyrical depiction of the harsh existence of salt miners on Venezuela's isolated Araya peninsula, the film's striking compositional beauty and uncompromising vision garnered awards at Cannes and influenced the radical New Latin American Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s. The screening will be preceded by a brief introduction highlighting the role of Benacerraf, who trained at France's national film school and later founded the Venezuelan national film archive, as a mediator in the transatlantic institutional networks shaping film culture after World War II.

Araya's genesis and circulation, like Transatlantic Cinephilia, shed light on the oft-overlooked prehistory of New Latin America Cinema, which affirmed national identities against cultural colonialism and denounced urgent national and region-wide problems like poverty, widespread illiteracy, and government repression. Yet this leftist cinema was nurtured by alternative spaces of film culture (cineclubs, archives, festivals, and film schools) whose spirit could hardly have been more different, given that they were largely apolitical, firmly middle-class (bourgeois, even), and distinctly cosmopolitan. As the book shows, Latin America's postwar institutions of culture were deeply influenced by French models and often supported by the cultural diplomacy of French and France-based organizations, which sought to rebuild a national prestige tarnished by military defeat and occupation. Recovering these histories demonstrates the interconnectedness of film cultures we tend to view as radically different.

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