Latin American Women’s Documentary Cinema: Practices, Politics, and Aesthetics, 1975–1994.
In April 2022, I completed a research trip to Caracas thanks to the support from the Travel Grant offered by SLAS. After two years of delays due to the pandemic and the subsequent need to develop a radically different approach to my fieldwork, I decided to spend four weeks in Venezuela given the fact that not that much research is conducted in the country nowadays. Specifically, the main purpose of this trip was to trace the archive of photographer, filmmaker, and activist Franca Donda and the film collectives that she was part of, Cine Urgente (1968–1973) and Grupo Feminista Miércoles (1979–1988). In order to do so, I visited public archives, such as the National Library and the Centre for Women’s Studies (CEM) at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV); as well as at the private archive of film critics Ambretta Marrosu and Alfredo Roffé. Besides, I interviewed feminist scholar and psychoanalyst Gioconda Espina, art curator Sagrario Berti, and photographer and Donda’s ex-husband Paolo Gasparini. During my visit to Gasparini’s studio, he gave me most of Donda’s remaining archive, which includes hundreds of negatives and personal items. All these visits and interviews were filmed and I am in the process of making a short documentary with all the materials gathered, which is part of my PhD thesis, titled Latin American Women’s Documentary Cinema: Practices, Politics, and Aesthetics, 1975–1994.
During these weeks, I was able to experience first-hand the precarious conditions in which Venezuelan public institutions operate due to different reasons, including the pandemic, the ongoing crises, and the international sanctions, amongst others. As an interjection, I would like to express my gratitude to the admirable resilience and work ethics of those who still work in such institutions (at times earning as little as thirty dollars per month) and whose help has enabled me to navigate them during this time. The situation in Venezuela is extremely complicated and it goes beyond the scope of my research to address it. However, its effects are very noticeable in the state of the archives that I visited and there is a real risk of disappearance of many Venezuelan films.
This situation is not new. In 1988, Marrosu already pointed at how difficult it is to watch Venezuelan films because copies often disappear or cannot be located. In their attempt to avoid the disappearance of Venezuelan cinema, Marrosu and Roffé rented a 100-square-meter storage space for their archive, which contained films in different formats, books and magazines, photographs, film devices, and other documents. However, when they died, most of it was lost. At the time of one of the worst crises in Venezuelan recent history, public institutions were unable to take it. Friends and relatives kept a few things but, most of it, their daughter Claudia Roffé sadly says, was thrown away. This loss is poignant and reflects a wider reality that also affects public archives, such as that of the National Library.
On this research trip, I also visited the Margot Benacerraf Foundation, and I was pleased to see its commitment to disseminating not only of Benacerraf’s legacy, but also Venezuelan and Latin American cinemas. But this is just a small effort in the vast task of preserving Venezuelan film history.
Lorena Cervera Ferrer (UCL)