Out of several failed attempts at producing Venezuelan film festivals in other countries, and a pandemic that favors digital services, the CineMestizo platform, the brainchild of Daniel Ruiz (in Madrid) and An Rodríguez (in New York), was born.
To date, CineMestizo registers, on a daily basis, 18 website visits and 12 purchases. Their most-viewed film is the documentary Once Upon a Time in Venezuela (2020) by Anabel Rodríguez—which is currently campaigning to become the first-ever Venezuelan Oscar nominee. Among the top films are also Papita, Maní y Tostón (2013) by Luis Carlos Hueck, and La noche de las dos lunas (2018) by Miguel Ferrari.
For now, CineMestizo is an on-demand video service where you can rent movies for 72 hours with credit card or Paypal. Rates range from $1,85 to $3 per film.
The platform is available worldwide, only needing an internet connection and the means to pay for the service. Up until now, they’re mainly aiming at a Spanish-speaking audience, since the films have no subtitles, an investment they can’t afford at the moment and one of the many challenges they’ve faced since launch, four months ago. Technical difficulties aside, the main problem they still face is that a good portion of the country’s film archive has disappeared.
Daniel Ruiz, a culture promoter, explained that many directors and producers don’t know the whereabouts of their own work, so they’ve been forced to search like bloodhounds: “It’s not just movies from the ’40s that are lost, the problem concerning the safekeeping of our film archives is much bigger. For example, there are no copies of El pez que fuma (1977) by Román Chalbaud, and even movies released this century are missing. According to information I’ve gathered, the storage facilities at the Cinemateca Nacional, which had a climatized area to properly preserve films, no longer exist. This isn’t just about the inexistence of institutions, it’s about the filmmakers themselves. I’ve asked for movies from 10 years ago and they’ve told me they have no idea where their films are. Venezuelans have other priorities besides cultural preservation.”
CineMestizo is hoping to add 12 more movies in the coming months to the 44 already available on their catalog. Regarding these 12 new films, Ruiz points out that even when they have the rights for the use of the content per the contracts, on the other side, the filmmakers are struggling to find the material.
A Project Born out of Frustration
Daniel Ruíz has been living in Spain for seven years now, and he has been trying to organize Venezuelan film festivals in Madrid since he arrived. It was only in May 2020 when he received permission for the first Venezuelan Arts Festival in Madrid’s Sala de la Academia de Cine. The event would have featured plastic arts, gastronomy, and film, but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was always involved in cultural management and organized events and other festivals in Caracas, so that’s why I always say that CineMestizo was born out of frustration and unconformity,” Ruíz says.
After the Venezuelan Arts Festival was cancelled, he spoke to An Rodríguez, a fellow Venezuelan, about setting up a website “like Netflix,” where Venezuelan films would be available for a price.
Ruiz and Rodríguez go way back. Their friendship of over 30 years turns today into a rescue project, self-funded and from a shared interest related to their trade: Ruiz as producer and cultural activist, and Rodríguez as web developer.
For Rodríguez, the birth of CineMestizo comes from the few spaces there are for national films and the indiference of Venezuelan institutions.
The team includes five people (the two founders, plus designers and web/social editors), and the work is a proverbial labor of love. Ruíz tells me there have been moments when he has dedicated more time to the platform than he should: “I hope that other things jump onto this idea. We can transform, although we want to remain on the film theme, which is what sets us apart from other platforms.” He’s still hoping to organize live festivals and form alliances with other institutions that could allow for virtual events and publicity. An example is the second Festival de Cine de Derechos Humanos Miradas Diversas, organized by the European Union in Venezuela, Circuito Gran Cine, and Provea. This festival premiered Once Upon a Time in Venezuela (2020).
“We don’t have the necessary muscle for a filmmaker to pick us as their premiere platform over movie theaters,” Ruíz says, “but that’s one of our goals: to reach a high enough number of subscribers so that producers and directors see a good deal in premiering with us. Today, we get 18 visits a day and 12 purchases, which isn’t much, but is what we expected. This is a marathon, not a race; Netflix found success after ten years, and these projects are hard to push. But we’ll sort out all of the obstacles until we reach those Venezuelans abroad.”
That’s one of our goals: reach a high enough number of subscribers so that producers and directors see a good deal in premiering with us.
Rodríguez explains: “No one has thought of this as a business to become millionaires, but evidently we can’t finance it out of our pockets forever. We have to balance the cultural contribution we want to make with the possibility of earning money. I love having a platform that shows Venezuelan films to anyone with an internet connection, but we also have to understand that the movies available are given to us by their directors and producers in exchange for financial retribution. Even if the motivation is born out of love, you always want to get something for your work.”
More Than Barrios and Criminals
The main objective of CineMestizo is to be the largest Venezuelan cinema catalog around, and this means convincing Venezuelans that their movies aren’t just about barrios and criminals.
According to Ruíz, migrants develop a larger interest in what they left behind, since they miss what used to be common but wasn’t as attractive. In other words, they are betting on nostalgia.
“Our idea is to take the spectator by the hand into the Venezuelan cinema catalog, so they realize that our films are diverse and there’s very good stuff, very bad stuff, and average stuff,” Ruiz states.
Social media plays an important role. They use Instagram and Twitter to organize “movie of the week” events, in which they give reasons to watch a particular movie and post quotes, interviews with actors or crew members, memes, and all sorts of content that can help spark an interest in the film.
To date, the featured movies of the week have been Se solicita muchacha de Buena presencia y motorizado con moto propia (1977), by Alfredo Anzola; Golpes a mi puerta (1994), by Alejandro Saderman; La Virgen Negra (2008), by Ignacio Castillo Cottin; Azul y no tan rosa (2012), by Miguel Ferrari; El Malquerido (2015), by Diego Rísquez; Cien años de perdón (2016), by Daniel Calparsoro; Papita, Maní y Tostón 1 and 2 (2013 and 2017); and La corte malandra (2019), by Jackson Gutierrez.
In CineMestizo, they also want to have as high quality copies as possible: “Restoration by artificial intelligence is completely feasible,” Rodríguez says, “although a 50 year old movie, even restored, will never look the same as something shot today. The quality can improve greatly, though.”
CineMestizo will continue to grow in the upcoming months. For now they’re the only platform focused solely on Venezuelan films, and the only ones with a coherent plan to rescue our cinematographic heritage, forgotten by both the State and the private enterprise.
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