The curious case of Mariana Rondón

Ten days ago, the Venezuelan film Pelo Malo (Bad Hair) won the Golden Shell, the highest prize of the prestigious San Sebastián International Film Festival. The small urban drama about a little boy who wants to change his hairstyle won the award unanimously and, given the festival’s profile, this would be the biggest recognition for a Venezuelan film since 1985, when Oriana won the Caméra d’Or (best first film) at the Cannes Film Festival.

But the recent success of the film has been overshadowed by the controversy caused by the views of its director Mariana Rondón, and the response from the communicational hegemony. As she wrote in her Facebook page, “…what was supposed to be a reason of joy for my film crew and for the country’s film community has now become a nightmare.”

During her speech in the awards ceremony (which you can see in the video), Rondón said that she did Bad Hair as a way to deal with the intolerance she is witnessing in the country. Shorty after that, she expanded her views in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Even if the film’s subject is more related to the issue of homophobia, she also complains about how the current climate of political polarization has made matters worse, and she puts the blame on the words once said by the late comandante presidente.

How was the official reaction? Enter the SIBCI.

In its note about Rondón’s statements, the State Media System repeatedly recalled the financial support given to Rondón not only for Pelo Malo, but also during her entire film career. In a related op-ed, some guy named Frank Alexander Lanz Manrique (who’s apparently the interim Venezuelan consul in Manaus, Brasil) continued the same line of attack: “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”.

A couple of days after the SIBCI articles, the filmmaker (who was in Biarritz, France) wanted to put the controversy behind her, but in a later interview with Radio France International (RFI), she denied making such comments to El Pais.

But this week, Rondón has finally set the record straight: Yes, what she said to the paper is true (but still unhappy with the quote used as the main headline) and claiming that RFI edited her comments out of context. She has announced that will not speak to the press for now, in order to avoid that Pelo Malo gets lost in “…the polarization game”.

Sadly, Rondón has ended up in a difficult position. The movie’s success, along with its message of tolerance, has been lost by the same political polarization she is denouncing. Even if the actions of El Pais and RFI have indirectly fueled the controversy, the real issue here is how communicational hegemony turned the issue into a media lynching of the director, hinting that the whole credit didn’t belong to her but to Hugo Chávez.

This is just another case of the reprehensive behavior of the SIBCI and the terrible damage the entire policy of communicational hegemony does to our public sphere.

This brings us to the other major issue here: the situation of Venezuelan cinema today.

For those not familiar with the subject, almost all Venezuelan movies are either fully or partially funded by the State entity known as CNAC. In 2006, Hugo Chávez created the Villa del Cine (Film Village), a foundation dedicated to film and TV production with its very own studios. As a result, the number of domestic movies has increased in recent years.

But one thing is quantity and another is quality: As this post from PanfletoNegro reflects, our films are still somehow stuck in the same themes and cliches, even if there have been some attempts to expand on different genres. It feels like the new wave of Venezuelan movies has fallen in the same trap as its predecessors from decades before (like the 70s).

The recent growth in domestic film production has also brought the negative effects of “red culture”, which are now getting more notorious: I already wrote about the case of Esclavo de Dios, but recently another case made headlines: In late August, Nicolás Maduro accused major movie theater chains Cinex and Cines Unidos of allegedly refusing to screen the historical film Bolívar, el hombre de las dificultades.

Even if I haven’t seen any of Rondón’s films, I sympathize with her position (and her right to free speech) and congratulate her and the rest of Pelo Malo’s cast and crew on their success. As for the future of Venezuelan cinema, I don’t believe in the idea that our movies have to compete with Hollywood. The first thing is to offer local audiences good stories.

P.S. The Bolivar movie mentioned in the post is not the same movie I wrote about last year. That one (partly in English) made its debut in the recent Toronto Film Festival.