It is not easy to make a film in Guatemala. There is no national film commission, leaving filmmakers few opportunities for government funding. They must rely on the private sector to raise money but attracting investors is no easy feat. Audiences within the country mostly prefer to watch Hollywood blockbusters over national films making it unlikely that private investors will make their money back in ticket sales. And without a government entity overseeing the film industry there is no infrastructure to support filmmakers throughout the process of making their film.
Despite these challenges and against all odds there has been a boom in the number of films produced in Guatemala over the last few years. Projects have been completed by entering into partnerships with other countries in Latin America or Europe that have strong film industries. Plus, hiring professional actors in Guatemala can be a bargain, cutting down the budget.
Julio Hernández Cordón, one of Guatemala’s most celebrated directors, has made three award-winning films – Gasolina (ISA: Ondamax Films), Marimbas del Infierno and Polvo. His movies have garnered international attention and toured the film festival circuit. His debut feature film, Gasolina, was made for about $150,000. Because of the obstacles they face, Guatemalan filmmakers are forced to work with minimal budgets but the desire to tell authentic stories that take place within their own country drives them to forge ahead.
Mario Rosales, a New York-based but Guatemalan-born filmmaker, was one of those who felt compelled to hold up a mirror to Guatemalan society and portray the injustices he has witnessed. Mario set out to make a film about the increased violence in his country and began researching the worsening situation. A few months later his younger brother, who lives in Guatemala, became a victim of police violence while riding as a passenger in his friend’s car. They were shot at by police and after pulling over, were savagely beaten. Mario’s brother had been shot in the leg and was arrested along with his friend. They were jailed and denied medical attention. The day next day when Mario’s mother showed up to the police station with a lawyer, all charges were dropped and his brother was released. After a failed attempt at pressing charges against the police, Mario became even more determined to make his film.
El Regreso de Lencho (The Return of Lencho) tells the story of a 30-something graffiti artist who has returned to Guatemala after spending years living in New York. Disillusioned by the chasing the American dream, he goes back to his country in search of a more meaningful path. He reads, he paints murals, and together with other activists organizes an arts festival in Rabinal, a small village that is mostly indigenous. Rosales’ film portrays Post-Civil War Guatemala as the paradox that it is. Violence, on the part of gang members, petty thieves, and police, is a constant but a thriving community of young graffiti artists, writers, and musicians are attempting to use their art as means to change society. It’s not the kind of story that a major Hollywood studio is going to back. As is true for many Latin American filmmakers, the film became a do-it-yourself kind of project.
Rosales wrote, directed, and produced the film. The biggest challenge was raising money. The budget was $250,000 but as Rosales explains he never saw much cash, “I financed the film, with the collaboration of Maxi Films in Guatemala who gave us a truck full of equipment and a 16mm camera. Here in New York we collaborated with Romeo Galante Productions who did put down some cash for the film and airplane tickets for the crew that came from New York and Spain.” Some good news came right before heading down to Guatemala to shoot, Rosales was awarded a $100,00 grant from a foundation in New York. But, the money proved elusive, “We never got the funds. Even though the money did go to Guatemala, through a local NGO, two weeks before production the NGO that received the money wanted to censor the script. So we shot with no money, that was super difficult.” Even without the money, the production continued.
El Regreso de Lencho was shot in Guatemala city with a crew of about 50 people in 30 days. After a year of editing and putting together the soundtrack, the film premiered at the 2011 Havana Film Festival New York. After touring the film to different film festivals, Rosales continues to use a DIY approach and has decided to self-distribute the film. After the New York run he will take El Regreso de Lencho to Guatemala and in the spring heads to the West Coast, playing in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.
Written by Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow @LatinoBuzz on twitter.