Cinépata’s Online Library of Free-To-Watch Alternative Cinema

By 14 August, 2012

Finding out about the artistic diversity of Latin America can sometimes be a difficult task. The media in non-Spanish speaking countries doesn’t tend to carry a lot of information on the arts, cinema, music and literature of the region, and anyone who is interested in discovering more often needs to do some digging. Of course there are many excellent specialists who provide in-depth knowledge of the continent’s fervent cultural currents but the general lack of mainstream interest in the arts scene gives little impression of the remarkable verve so evident in many aspects of Latin American self-expression and creativity.

This is particularly true in the region’s cinema, where only a handful of films released each year achieve global success and recognition. But for every Amores Perros, City of God or The Secret In Their Eyes, there are hundreds of other films which fail to breach the international market, as independent filmmaking lacks the necessary finances and marketing strategies to give these pictures the platform they merit. And while world cinema fans will be aware of many aspects of indy filmmaking in Latin America, simply knowing such films exist and knowing where to find them are two very different things.

That’s why it’s useful to check out websites such as Cinépata. This is an online library of Spanish-language films, the vast majority from South America, without any of the needless hassle of signing up, downloading or, most importantly, paying (although films are shown with the director’s blessing). Based in the Chilean capital of Santiago, the website carries some 300 feature films, short films and documentaries, offering an excellent opportunity to view the work of many of the region’s lesser-known directors. Were it not for the likes of Cinépata (the name is a play on words of the Spanish sicópata, meaning ‘psychopath’) and its peers, many of these films would languish in obscurity, forgotten by the few that knew about them in the first place and dead in a modern world where people are now accustomed to watching films for free and the DVD market is a morgue.

The website was initially set up in in 2006 by Chilean writer Alberto Fuguet, under the name of Podcaster, but it was only in 2011 when it was taken over by current director Horacio Valdivia that things took off. Whereas previously the site required users to download its movies, a tedious and lengthy process, nowadays all you need to do is click, sit back and enjoy. It features at least three new films per week and is one of Chile’s fastest growing websites, with the majority of its users from outside the country. Its popularity was underlined by its role in the recent International Documentary Festival of Santiago (FIDOCS) when screenings were simultaneously shown on the website.

In addition to the films, Cinépata is also an online magazine with articles in Spanish largely written by young film enthusiasts covering all aspects of cinema from low-key and miniscule budget South American productions to Hollywood fare like Prometheus and Drive. “The idea of Cinépata is that it’s a community of people who love films”, says Valdivia. “We show the kind of films we ourselves want to watch and it’s written from a fan’s point of view. There’s a lot of pretentiousness with established film critics so our writers are people who simply want to relate what a film means for them personally.”

With its wide array of independent films, the website is aimed at art-house and world cinema fans who are sick of being restricted in what they watch by international distribution and marketing factors. Thanks to the rise of the internet, this is gradually becoming a thing of the past as online film-watching becomes the norm. But what of the common accusation against sites such as Cinépata that they are harming the industry and damaging films’ earning potential? “People said the same thing about music when it became free on the net”, responds Valdivia. “But these days they still make money through touring. Why? Because people like going to gigs and seeing live music. It’s the same with films: I love going to the cinema for the experience and I’ll always do that. But the thing is that people don’t want to pay to watch something in their house. We’ve become used to getting films for free.”

What about the thorny issues of copyright and legality that arise with matters of free online music and film? “We always get permission from the film’s director to host a film, and usually they’re pretty receptive. If they don’t give it to us, what else are they going to do with it now that people don’t want to pay? Leave it at home in a drawer? This way at least films are out there and people are seeing their work. The ones that lose out are the distributors but the actual artists are happy with what we’re doing.”

It is a reasonable argument as, due to the low-key nature of many of the films, it is unlikely they’d be making too many big waves commercially. And this new accessibility to movies is surely a good thing for directors, actors and the like as they are far more likely to be seen by a wider audience, giving them a better chance of future success. As well as providing an opportunity for film fans to watch more independent cinema, it also promotes the new generation of Latin American filmmakers on a potentially global stage that showcases their work. If some distributors and DVD retailers are now missing out on the action, having controlled it for so long, well, to me that doesn’t seem too big a price to pay.

As on online library of alternative cinema, that is both easy to use and free, Cinépata’s rapidly growing appeal is no surprise. The next step is to become well-known globally, although, despite its rocketing popularity in Chile and Argentina, plans to convert the site into English are still yet to come into fruition (only some of the films contain English subtitles). But these are early days. With the rise of the internet and the globalisation of the film industry, there is a newfound hunger amongst film fans for leftfield non-mainstream cinema, and sites like Cinépata play a crucial role in satisfying this appetite. ‘We feel like we’re giving people what they want’, says Valdivia, a point supported by the growing number of site-users. ‘As long as our audience is happy with what we’re doing, we’ll keep doing it because that’s what it’s all about really: we all love watching films.’

Five Cinépata Recommendations (Some Knowledge of Spanish may be required)

1. Exiliados en Exilio – This Colombian documentary tells the story of the incarceration of numerous Colombian citizens accused of being a threat to national security during the Second World War, mainly immigrants to the country from Germany, Italy and Japan. Directed by Roland Vargas.
2. Los Debutantes – Reasonably successful internationally, this Chilean film from Andrés Waissbluth is a story of two orphaned brothers who move to Santiago and find themselves caught up in the city’s seedy underworld, and their friendship with a stripper.
3. Nadar Solo – Argentinian film, directed by Ezequiel Acuña, about a teenage boy who loses touch with those around him, shutting himself off from the world, and seemingly finding harmony only when submerged.
4. Everything is A Remix – One of the few English-language films on Cinépata, this documentary from Kirby Ferguson gives the lowdown on just how much of what we use and consume is an imitation of something that came before.
5. Se Arrienda – Another Santiago setting, this time reflecting on the life of a young man who’s time away from his home city sees him returning to an unfamiliar world where all he once knew is now distant, and past dreams now torment him. Directed by Albert Fuguet.

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