Earlier this semester the BFC/A presented “Roots/Routes: Contemporary Caribbean Cinema” at the IU Cinema. This weekend Bloomington audiences will have another opportunity to appreciate the dynamism of filmmaking in the region with Saturday’s Dominican short film program during the Latino Film Festival and Conference. Tanya Valette, currently the artistic director and head of programming at the IBAFF International Film Festival in Murcia, Spain, curated the program. As one of the first generation of students at Cuba’s renowned International School of Cinema and Television in San Antonio de los Baños (EICTV)–who later became the school’s seventh director–Valette has over two decades of experience making and promoting films in and of the Caribbean. The BFC/A recently had the opportunity to interview her over email. The following is an condensed version of the interview, edited for clarity.
BFC/A: Increasingly the Dominican Republic is making itself known internationally in the realm of filmmaking. Could you tell us about the burgeoning Dominican film scene? And how do you see your role with DGCINE (Dirección General de Cine República Dominicana, the Dominican Republic’s film commission)?
Tanya Valette: Since a bit more than a decade, the Dominican Republic has been taking steps towards the consolidation of a national cinema, which has a lot to do with the fact that many filmmakers are being trained outside and inside the country. This has made it possible for movies to be put together in a much better way, creatively and technically speaking, with stories that are built better and anchored deeper in our reality.
The Dominican public supports local production, which has given confidence to private investors. The other important factor in this development is the political will, from the presidency of the country, to create DGCINE and the establishment of Law 108-10, which promotes cinematic activities in the Dominican Republic. This law was first put into practice two years ago and has made possible the organization of an independent national industry. One of the big benefits brought by the law is funding dedicated to stimulate local projects, in the various steps of their production. Thus we can develop these projects, mentor filmmakers and later have the ability to enter coproduction markets, etc.
My role as an advisor at DGCINE is intended to leverage my academic experience and training in the audiovisual field, as well as my international contacts, especially from Europe.
BFC/A: You have a background as a film director as well as a producer. How did you get started in filmmaking?
TV: My beginnings in this profession originated in cinephilia, which was transmitted by my mom, who took my brother and me by the hand to go the movie theaters in our neighborhood. While I was a student at university, studying cinema was practically an impossible dream, until the International School of Cinema and Television appeared in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. I am part of its first generation of students.
That complete immersion in movies, with the best professors from the region, Europe, and even the USA (Francis Ford Coppola was one of them), trained me in such a comprehensive way for the profession that I felt the need to pass on what I had learned. That’s the reason why I’ve been involved in training and education since then.
BFC/A: This is a follow-up question…do you see a difference in the temperament (and/or training) needed to pursue the production side of filmmaking — raising money, handling logistics, etc — and the artistic side? Or are these two intertwined? What is your approach to making films?
TV: Every day it becomes more necessary that filmmakers get involved in the development process of their projects, just as it is impossible to be considered a good producer when one is not creative. To build a project, to make it into a good movie and make it so it’s seen at film festivals all around the world and has a good distribution, requires a group effort between director and producer. This year, IU’s Latino Film Festival will host Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, the directors and producers of Jean Gentil and other feature films. [Jean Gentil (2010) will screen at the IU Cinema on Saturday, April 5 at 4:30 p.m. Guzmán and Cárdenas are scheduled to answer questions after the film. They will also participate in a panel on migrations within Dominican filmmaking on Saturday, April 5 at 9:30 a.m.]
This is a model I defend and that I try to stimulate whenever I have the chance. It is important to remember that we are talking about art films. There is a will to be successful in reaching a large audience. This can accomplished within the framework of an industry that is respectful of each movie as a unique process that will entail its own production strategies.
BFC/A: The theme of this year’s Latino Film Festival and Conference is “Transnational Lives.” You also serve as an analyst for the Ibermedia Program. What can you tell us about Ibermedia and its transnational approach to coproduction to connect Europe with Latin America and the Caribbean. Does this transnational approach also apply to existing/possible distribution models?
TV: The Ibermedia Program is part of an agreement between the member countries of the Ibero-American Summit of Heads of the State. Their main purpose is to encourage the coproduction between countries in the region, thus stimulating the development of national film industries, and creating funding and an audiovisual space that would preserve cultural specificities of each country. For that matter, it wouldn’t be considered a transnational concept, since it doesn’t try to globalize stories, forms, or ways of storytelling. It isn’t trying to impose a model.
Distribution and exhibition are the big issues that need to be solved. We can never stop looking for new alternatives so that our movies can reach viewers from all around the world – and this includes audiences in our own countries.
[For more on the Ibermedia Program, see Tamara L. Falicov’s comprehensive essay here.]
BFC/A: You’ve curated a great lineup of shorts that will screen at the festival. How did you come up with this program? And could you tell us about your other experiences in film programming?
TV: When the festival proposed that I curate a series, I saw it as a challenge. I had to build a program of Dominican short films that lasted at most an hour and a half. I wanted to curate an exhibition that would be both representative and of quality. I had to articulate both of these coherently, knowing that it would be impossible not to end up leaving some important works aside. The history of our national cinema started with a short film, in the 1960’s. Production since then has been constant, even though we cannot talk of significant numbers. Most of the short films in the program were made by students who graduated from film schools in our country and abroad. Some of them already have an important body of work, as in the case of Leticia Tonos. [Tonos’ 2010 feature debut, La hija natural / Love Child, was part of the Roots/Routes series. Her most recent feature, Cristo Rey (2013), premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.] We’ll see her graduation project, the short film, Ysrael, which is an adaptation of Junot Díaz’s short story of the same name.
My experience as a programmer has been very rewarding and has widened my perspectives, by incorporating many diverse ways to make cinema. I am always looking for a vision, a way to take up a stance before what’s been shown, a personal writing, the author’s risk and honesty. Something that moves me without often knowing why.
BFC/A: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
TV: It’ll be a pleasure to discover this festival and the reactions of the audience before our cinema. I am very grateful for the opportunity that has been given to us.