Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Cinema and the Sandinistas

Cinema and the Sandinistas

Jonathan Buchsbaum
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Cinema and the Sandinistas
    Book Description:

    Following the Sandinista Revolution in 1979, young bohemian artists rushed to the newly formed Nicaraguan national film institute INCINE to contribute to "the recovery of national identity" through the creation of a national film project. Over the next eleven years, the filmmakers of INCINE produced over seventy films-documentary, fiction, and hybrids-that collectively reveal a unique vision of the Revolution drawn not from official FSLN directives, but from the filmmakers' own cinematic interpretations of the Revolution as they were living it.

    This book examines the INCINE film project and assesses its achievements in recovering a Nicaraguan national identity through the creation of a national cinema. Using a wealth of firsthand documentation-the films themselves, interviews with numerous INCINE personnel, and INCINE archival records-Jonathan Buchsbaum follows the evolution of INCINE's project and situates it within the larger historical project of militant, revolutionary filmmaking in Latin America. His research also raises crucial questions about the viability of national cinemas in the face of accelerating globalization and technological changes which reverberate far beyond Nicaragua's experiment in revolutionary filmmaking.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79887-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Acronyms
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    While working on an earlier book about progressive filmmaking in France during the 1930s, I interviewed as many survivors of that period as I could locate. They recalled those days as the most exciting ones of their careers, and I could sense that enthusiasm in the films, so often filled with the images and sounds of workers, artists, and intellectuals linking arms in their struggle against Fascism.

    I had also studied other progressive filmmaking experiments in various countries, including the great ‘‘heroic’’ era of Soviet filmmaking of the 1920s; almost 50 years after that, following the success of the Cuban...

    (pp. 1-11)

    In 1979 the people of Nicaragua, led by the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), overthrew Anastasio Somoza, the last ruler in a dynasty that had controlled Nicaragua since 1936. In April of that year, as the struggle against Somoza was nearing victory, the FSLN, seeing the need for international publicity, organized a photography and film unit, the Leonel Rugama Brigade.¹ Though the Nicaraguan militants in this group had no film experience, some foreign filmmakers shot footage, on the Northern Front in the mountains and on the Southern Front on the Costa Rican border. When the victorious Sandinista guerrillas streamed...

    (pp. 12-45)

    The war against Somoza devastated the country. Out of three million Nicaraguans, some 50,000 died. Agricultural production had been seriously affected in a country dependent on export crops for hard currency. Through almost five decades of rule, the Somoza family had extended its power throughout state and private institutions, a process that accelerated after the earthquake in 1972, as the last Somoza ruler diverted relief aid to enrich himself, gutting the economy and running up a huge national debt. When Somoza fell, the state institutions that were so imbricated with his family’s interests had to be entirely rebuilt. The new...

    (pp. 46-77)

    Ronald Reagan’s election as president of the United States had grave consequences for the new Nicaraguan government. The Reagan administration mounted a vicious propaganda campaign against the Sandinistas, approved financial support to encourage the opposition to break ranks with the government, and provided secret resources to arm several counterrevolutionary groups. Under these pressures, the balance between the Nicaraguan government and the progressive or patriotic wing of capital eroded, polarizing the country, shrinking the ground of dialogue, and expanding the need for militarization of the society. In this atmosphere, the noticieros took on a more militarist cast, though a personnel change...

    (pp. 78-97)

    The breakthrough to documentaries opened space for new directors. Lacayo and Alvarez had worked at INCINE from the beginning, directing most of the first year’s noticieros, and their documentary work left a directorial void in noticiero production. Like their predecessors, the new aspirants used the noticieros for their apprenticeship before the next major transformation at INCINE, the great leap forward into fiction. However, the new filmmakers surely benefited from the experience acquired during the first two years. After organizing the noticieros around the comandantes and then, under Legall’s stewardship, around national defense, INCINE backed off from this instrumental approach to...

    (pp. 98-122)

    INCINE’s film production accounted for one—seminal—aspect of INCINE’s activities. Though coming under the umbrella of INCINE, distribution and exhibition had their own bureaucratic structure with little interaction with the filmmakers. INCINE could not control exhibition and distribution as it could production because those functions were potential revenue sources, and the FSLN controlled those revenue streams. Still, as INCINE’s founding document announced a commitment to ‘‘recovering national identity,’’ that task entailed not only producingNicaraguanfilms, but also nurturing, even creating, a Nicaraguan cinematic culture. That culture had previously been formed by Hollywood and Mexican films being shown on...

    (pp. 123-149)

    In 1982 film production at INCINE reached a new phase. Institutional organization did not change, and the production schedule still adhered to the early agreements with ICAIC (35-mm black-and-white noticieros and 16-mm color documentaries). But the boundary between categories was crumbling and the noticieros began to resemble documentaries in design, length, and topicality. In addition, the pioneer directors stopped working on noticieros, and the second- and third-generation filmmakers replaced them. As the war against the contras intensified and pressures on nonessential material resources increased, INCINE’s bond with the FSLN loosened. While the INCINE administration probably did not know its future...

    (pp. 150-175)

    As the noticieros changed—in shape, length, ambition, and sponsorship— bending their initial restrictions, the ‘‘veteran’’ filmmakers, those with two years’ experience, were starting documentaries. While the noticiero cycle unfolded under the tutelage of Cuban advisers and followed the model of the Cuban newsreels, the documentaries offer an opportunity to examine the directions the filmmakers pursued with more creative latitude and the degree to which they manifest more personal styles that collective work on the noticieros may have obscured.

    As discussed in chapter 3, the first INCINE directors, Ramiro Lacayo, María José Alvarez, and Rafael Vargas, completed documentaries in 1981....

    (pp. 176-197)

    By 1984 INCINE’s filmmaking had reached a turning point. As the state devoted more resources to the war, support for cultural production shriveled. Most INCINE filmmakers had already made noticieros and the most experienced began experimenting with fiction. INCINE quickly discovered that fiction monopolized the institution’s resources, abruptly ending the noticiero cycle and curtailing the flow of documentaries. Big-budget coproductions also took a toll, accelerating the momentum toward fiction and feeding unrealistic fantasies of developing a viable industrial base for cinema. In the rush to fiction, the filmmakers probably did not understand the risks. The decision proved costly. Just when...

    (pp. 198-222)

    After completing the first fiction films in early 1985, INCINE ended noticiero production. Instead of continuing to produce both noticieros and short fiction, INCINE proceeded into the uncharted realm of feature films. There is no doubt that various foreign filmmakers’ feature productions in Nicaragua fanned the ambitions of INCINE’s filmmakers. Large crews from Cuba, France, and the United States were working on a scale far beyond INCINE’s experience. But the filmmakers believed that feature production was the next step toward consolidating a real national-production entity. Given the qualitative leap in the resources and time demanded by feature films, the consequences...

    (pp. 223-250)

    Ever since the ‘‘heroic’’ decade of the 1920s in the Soviet Union, countries undergoing rapid, usually Marxist or socialist revolutionary social change, have made a national cinema project a high priority in establishing a new social order, often citing Lenin’s remark that ‘‘for us, cinema is the most important of the arts.’’ In 1959 the Cuban revolution reaffirmed the cinema’s importance in the new state, officially declaring, ‘‘The cinema is an art,’’ and founded the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry. ICAIC was designed as a virtual ministry unto itself, reporting directly to Fidel Castro. Just as the Cuban...

    (pp. 251-262)
  17. Filmography
    (pp. 263-268)
  18. Interviews
    (pp. 269-270)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 271-302)
  20. Bibliographic Essay
    (pp. 303-310)
  21. Index
    (pp. 311-323)