51st Cartagena International Film Festival

51st Cartagena International Film Festival, Colombia (February 24 - March 3, 2011)

The 51st edition of the Cartagena de Indias International Film Festival. In 1960 the Cartagena de Indias International Film Festival was founded by Victor Nieto in the city of the same name on the tropical Caribbean coast of Colombia. The much revered Don Victor, as he was affectionately known, and his associates managed in spite of serious financial obstacles to stage this annual event for almost half a century. Nieto originally envisioned the festival as a national showcase of Colombian and Latin American cinema.

This year's 51st edition is the first headed up by the new team of Lina Rodriguez Fernandez, General Manager, and Monika Wagenberg, Director. This "dynamic duo" seems determined to raise both the national and international profiles of the event, and there are several indicators that they are achieving their goals. For instance, the festival's opening night ceremony was inaugurated in a grand manner by none other than Juan Manuel Santos, President of the Republic of Colombia. And Rodriguez Fernandez and Wagenberg have now taken several major steps to raise the event's international profile, such as including this year for the first time the participation of the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Jury.

In this 51st edition (February 24 to March 3, 2011), Nieto's original vision sems to have been largely retained. The main spotlight of this edition falls on the Official Competition of fiction features, which presents first, second, or third features by Iberoamerican cineastes. The Iberoamerican designation refers to filmmakers from Latin American, Spain, and Portugal. Twelve recent fiction features from Colombia, Panama, Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Brazil compete in this section for a prize of U. S. Dollars 10,000.

Several other competitive sections are featured. A documentary competition showcases recent work by Iberoamerican documentarists, and a prize of U. S. Dollars 5,000 is offered. A meaty short film competition features recent animated and non animated short films by Iberoamerican directors.

In his official statement in the beautifully designed 200 page catalogue, President Santos made reference to the far reaching Film Law of 2003; and he noted that since the passage of that law movie production has dramatically increased in his nation. The 51st edition of the Cartagena Festival reflected that fact by showcasing a selection of 10 recent Colombian fiction, non fiction, and animated features in a section dubbed 100 Per Cent Colombian. The best work in this section received an award of U. S. Dollars 25,000.

This year's edition of the festival also presents several non competitive sidebar selections. Gems offers a selection of outstanding recent fiction features made by prominent filmmakers (such as Mike Leigh and Darren Aronofsky) from around the world. Major retrospectives of the work of Olivier Assayas and Nicolas Pereda are being presented. And a special program called Arriba Mexico (Long Live Mexico) offers a tribute to that nation's important film industry by screening some of the work of this century's leading Mexican filmmakers, such as the controversial Carlos Reygadas and the accomplished documentarist Juan Carlos Rulfo.

The 51st edition of the festival, then, certainly appears to represent a major effort to move the Cartagena event into a competitive position with other Latin American festivals that have long stressed Latin American Cinema such as Havana, Guadalajara, Rio de Janeiro, and Mar del Plata. Only time will tell how successful Cartagena can become in relation to its well established rivals. One thing seems certain: the city of Cartagena offers an extremely attractive setting for international cultural events given its beautifully preserved Spanish colonial historic center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its nearby and very inviting Caribbean beaches. (Dennis West)

Cartagena International Film Festival: www.ficcifestival.com 

FIPRESCI PRIZE

A Useful Life La vida útil A Useful Life
(Uruguay, 2010, 63 mins)