Saturday, November 21, 2009

Puerto Rico's Oscar Submission

In a previous post, I had anticipated that Puerto Rico would not submit a film to the Academy Awards foreign-language category. An internet search turned up absolutely nothing, plus in 2008 Puerto Rico had opted out of the race rather than submit a sub-par film, so my assumption was that the same thing would happen this year. After all, Puerto Rico had very little presence in international fests in 2009... In fact, the only two Puerto Rican films I'd heard of were "Sin Mapa," a documentary about reggaeton supergroup Calle 13's tour of indigenous South America, and Rafi Mercado's "Miente," a slick-looking urban fantasy. I didn't think either of those were worthy of submission, especially when facing competition like the German-entry and Palme D'Or winner "The White Ribbon" or Peru's lauded "La teta asustada" ("The Milk of Sorrow').

So... when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences published the official list on October 15th, Puerto Rico was on it! Lo and behold, they submitted a film after all: "Kabo and Platon." It sounded like a war film but I did a quick search and quickly found out that "Kabo y Platon" is a actually reggeaton gangsta film, a straight-to-DVD film if there ever was one. So WTF??? Surely those two films I listed above are more deserving that this one? Guess not.

My feeling is that politics are involved here. Edmundo Rodriguez, the film's director, has been working in the industry for a while. He once directed a TV commercial for my uncle, who at the time was peddling a credit card aimed at the Evangelical community in Puerto Rico. I can't remember the name but it was something like Holy Charge. I'm dead serious - you can't make this shit up. Anyway, maybe the nominating committee (whoever that is) decided to reward their old friend Edmundo by giving the film a little push. Obviously, there's no way it would garner a nomination but the submission could improve its box office prospects at home. After all, the words "Puerto Rico's Official Submission to the Academy Awards" sound like a big deal. But it actually isn't. It's a major waste of time and a step backwards for the island's film industry.

Think about it, if "Kabo and Platon" is what we're showing the world as the best the island can produce, it speaks very poorly of our talent. Granted, I haven't seen it but you can get a pretty good idea of the film's merit from its trailer. The other thing that angers me is the expense. The Puerto Rico Film Commission usually picks up the tab for a film print and all marketing costs involved in sending the film for evaluation by the Academy Awards nominating committee. We're talking about thousands of dollars that are, in my opinion, better spent elsewhere... like fostering filmmaking in the island, which is the Commission's purported main objective. How about taking that money and spreading it around to up-and-coming filmmakers to help them complete their projects? There are lots of good scripts floating around that don't get made because funding is so hard to come by.

The only Puerto Rican film nominated to the Foreign Language Film category was "Lo que le pasó a Santiago" back in 1989. Unfortunately, Puerto Rico's film industry failed to build on that milestone. To be fair, there have been some bright spots. "Maldeamores" ("Lovesickness") was well received a couple of years ago, but overall there's been no initiative to truly cultivate new cinematic voices. In the spirit of recent protests against government ineffectiveness in handling the recession, police brutality, and hate crimes, it's time for the Puerto Rican film community and local audiences to call bullshit on these inane decisions by the government-run Film Commission, which seems to be doing more harm than good.

In other Foreign Film Language news, the controversial decision by Chile to snub Sebastián Silva's "La nana" ("The Maid"), in favor of veteran filmmaker Miguel Littín's "Dawson Isla 10" has both sides swinging. In this post on Cinema Tropical's blog, there are links to statements by both filmmakers.