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Breaking away from Hollywood: Latin American filmmakers

Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers, by Julianne Burton. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. 302 pp. $22.50, cloth; $10.95, paper. Recently North American audiences have had the opportunity to become acquainted with what is happening in the Latin American film scene.

A number of films made in Latin America have been commercial and artistic successes in the United States, films such as ``The Official Story.'' They are resuming a tradition of Latin American filmmaking from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s that was a response to Hollywood's domination of filmmaking. It was also the result of the desire of Latin American filmmakers to tell their own stories.

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Most of these filmmakers moved away from commercial-type films that imitated Hollywood and began a revolutionary kind of movie industry, using home-grown modes of production and concentrating on their own countries. This was a journey of discovery on the part of Latin filmmakers who were working with a kind of impassioned honesty to tell their own social history.

Julianne Burton's pioneer study narrates the principal trajectory of the Latin American film industry through the voices of 20 filmmakers, whose work spans 30 years.

Many of those interviewed are internationally known; others are not yet known outside their own countries. These interviews show the multifaceted nature of the Latin American film industry and the many genres that have been undertaken, ranging from testimonial or documentary films to fictional and fantastic.

By following the careers of these filmmakers the reader is able to see how historical and political events have affected filmmaking in Latin America. Many filmmakers were forced to live and work in exile during their most productive years.

Burton's interviews also bring out many nuts-and-bolts problems of filmmaking in the third world, such as distribution, censorship for those producing films in their home countries, and the whole question of exile and its effects on those who had to work abroad.

The artists interviewed range from the Argentine Fernando Birri, who in the 1950s founded the first film school devoted to the socially committed film, to Colombian filmmakers Jorge Silva and Marta Rodriques, who make ethnographic documentaries. A number of women filmmakers are featured in this book, such as Elna Solberg-Lodd of Brazil and Marcela Fern'andez Violante of Mexico.

In all, this is an important book, because it shows us a side of the serious creative life in Latin America that we know very little about. Marjorie Agos'in teaches Spanish at Wellesley College.

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