The curious case of Mariana Rondón

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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.

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    • Back then several dozens were murdered. More? Any list? Now we know how many thousands have been murdered by incompetence or worse since 1999 and how many died in the coups in 1992. And the ones in power know it.
      Do we know anything about the murders in 1998? Not much because the current government does not want to carry out an investigation. Hugo Chávez himself was extremely careful not to mention 1989 too much because he knew things back there were a little bit more complex.

  1. Jesus, reading the open letter by Frank Alexander Lanz Manrique is embarrassing and I didn’t write the damn thing. The fact the man is a consul in Manaus and freely intersperses vulgarity into a published article just shows the level of intellect she’s dealing with. I notice this kind of crap on Aporrea all the time, barely strung together rants by unhinged people who write worse than they talk. In a way, although they will never know it, they’re proving her point handily. (Extremists are never self-aware, it tends to be their greatest weakness) When everything becomes this angry, constant confrontation there is no such thing as rational discussion. However, you also need a certain level of intellect and culture to even realize a need for rational discussion in the first place which is why these criticisms come from someone like Mariana Rondon.

  2. The interview that Ugas and Rondón gave to “El País” that was published on their website is really sensible. But has to be read, out of political context, something I think all venezuelans forgot how to do in the last fifteen years, to some extent. Two women talking about their craft, the idea, the social reality of violence and discrimination, how the polarization has permeated everywhere, to the extent of using homophobia as a political strategy (oh, talk about fascism) over at the official side. Because, let’s remember, the movie in the end is about homophobia and social violence because of and behind it.

    But then she goes and does THAT, exactly… that which disappoints me oh so very much… She retracts somewhat clumsily from her statement (the oldest trick in the book: “I was quoted out of contex”). It was a beautiful interview calling out to everyone to come to terms with one another, listen to each other, stop violent acts amongst ourselves, because of our may-it-be-political-but-really-are-social-and-the-polarization-only-ignites differences. To have to retract from that, is, in a nutshell, DEPRESSING. It shows that no idea, as well put-together, articulated, and awarded as it can be, can withstand the weight of the political polarization she was just criticizing as a fundamental factor in our domestic deafness, our segregation, our (more institutionalized) violence.

    It’s just that common sense was lost somewhere along the line of this socialist repression that has been, the heritage of the great intergalactic father hugo chávez. We forgot that debate, dissent, and plurality of ideas, are among the most important priorities in which to have a diverse, healthy society, that in turn elects a sensible, smart government to help move the country along the lines of progress discretely, peacefully, and steadily. But Venezuela has demonstrated to be an example of the exact opposite, and the government, has demonstrated to be an institutionalized bully that can take away the sweet taste of triumph and make you eat your words (and throw away your credibility), “just because of what you said”.

  3. It’s “debuted,” not “dayviewed.” English got the word from French. The infinitive is “to debut.” It is pronounced “DAYBYUE,” and the past tense is pronounced “DAYBYUED.” The word means “to appear in public for the first time.” I am not being a jerk here. I do understand the difficulty a non-native speaker would have with this word.

  4. They are really not making the difference between the state, the government and the party.

    She has all the right of the world to receive funding from the state and criticize the government or the party.

  5. Preaching tolerance to hard core chavistas is like preaching celibacy to the customers of a whorehouse. !! maybe very sweet but absolutely futile. the govt naturally feels that it they supported her in her film studies and in her film career then they are entitled to gratitude, which means becoming an international propaganda mouthpiece for the wonders of the revolution. . They are offended because they ‘own’ her and she acts as if she didnt know it .She naturally fears becoming persecuted and reviled by those that so far have helped her become a film-maker. which can of course mess up her life. She is self censoring herself so as not to lose their endorsement , very human !! she isnt a hero whatever her innermost beliefs , just an ordinary human being who wants to survive in a tough radicalized environment!!

  6. I somehow dread the narrative that this is product of polarization, this is the product of a fascist government that does not tolerate any oppositionand uses public money to build a media empire to bully and shame anyone who shows dissent.
    About Venezuela Cinema, I’m up for the state supporting worthwhile projects, but when I see many of the movies produced by the Villa del Cine, I keep wondering myself how many bandages would a public hospital get with the money they spent on that crap.
    The common believe, even by people in the opposition, that Chavez “paid” something that was financed with public money, really shows how distorted our idea is about what a state should be when we think is OK to assume that public monies belong to whoever is President.
    About her reactions, it shows how much the revolution has done for cinema, where Directors are obliged to apologize and vehemently deny any kind of political position. Can you imagine Oliver Stone apologizing for anything he has ever said?
    About Rondón, I sympathize with her position, but as an artist doing work that has a political connotation is really sad to see her justifying herself.

    • Did Oliver Stone receive state funding for his various projects?
      No sé, but logic tells me… if my artistic project were to be funded by a state in a country, where free speech was enshrined in the culture, politics, etc, meaning, not in Vzla, and I had produced sound bytes that dumped on that state, something tells me that I would not receive state funding the next time around.

      • You don’t have to go that far. People like Román Chalbaud got money from the state from time to time for dumping on the state. BBC films financed movies that were extremely critical of the Thatcher government.

      • Sadly, syd, that logic is exactly what cacr210 meant by: “The common believe, even by people in the opposition, that Chavez “paid” something that was financed with public money, really shows how distorted our idea is about what a state should be when we think is OK to assume that public monies belong to whoever is President.”

        • One overlooked aspect is that in a clientelar system all govt help or pecuniary endorsements come with strings attached , you get the govts help or money only if you publicly can be counted on to favour the govt or stand as its collaborator . While during the 4th Republic there where times and ocassions where this rule was “generously” not enforced . (back then even clientelar systems could sometimes act institutionally) most of the time govt support or help was seen as restricted to those who had links with the govt. Under chavismo, which mixes the worst of clientelism and fascist thugery and intolerance the absolute norm is that you dont deserve govt help unless you are recruited as a partisan of the cause. Any spoils system assummes that public resources are owned by whoever has control over them and is free to use it to help friends and allies and to deny their benefit to any one counted as a political adversary or enemy .

  7. Good post and accompanying opinions.

    saraceci is absolutely right, it’s depressing that Mariana’s voice was bent by the will of the government due to her financial reliance.

    I sympathize with Mariana’s plight in light of the evident lack of financing options, and absolutely think it is corrupt for a government to fund the arts as a PR tool for voicing the political interests of the ruling party. Evidently if she really wants to retain creative independence (and that of voicing her opinion), she needs funding from a source other than the government.

    I just read an opinion yesterday that had me thinking about a related but more *general* old topic, namely the role of the government in art endowment: nyti.ms/19gpQF0
    As unsympathetic as the conclusion offered by Mr Gillespie might be (roughly: government should disinvest from the arts because that should not be its job), in view of the problem faced by the likes of Mariana due to muzzling by government censors, ensuring freedom of speech is a sufficient condition to go independent. Realizing that the funding choices in Venezuela are probably limited, I ask anyway, are there alternate sources of funding, particularly for an award-winning director? Are there for instance crowdsourcing options? And, would her work be screened if the production was independent?

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