Fernando Solanas: "I am the camera"

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By David D'Arcy

"That's the magic of the film."

Fernando Solanas's The Dignity of the Nobodies, which screened at both the Tribeca Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival this year, is a tour of the human landscape shaped by Argentina's economic crisis of the late 1990s, a journey through devastation. Sometimes in places where Solanas visits, traumatized people look as if a tornado has blown through. The aggrieved parties wish things were that simple.

You can view Solanas's film as a set of stories of micro-politics, not just in the specificity of the local stories that's he's telling, but in the Gramscian optimism of the will set against the pessimism of the intellect, which Solanas's finds in small (albeit rare) victories against large and powerful opponents. In one instance, chacareras, women who are small rural landowners, prevent their indebted farms from being sold in forced auctions by singing the national anthem en masse when the auctions are about to begin. In another story, a community simply feeds itself. In another, a desperately poor schoolteacher saves the life of a writer who is shot in the head during a street demonstration. The demonstrators (los piqueteros) are always treated brutally by the police. Perhaps the police will be the subject of an upcoming Solanas film.

Politics here is personal because it is practiced on such a small scale. This isn't the politics of political parties, but of small communities, providing for basic needs and ensuring their own survival.

Solanas, now 70, was not in New York, but his film, the second in a series about Argentina's economy and society, was one of the best in the Tribeca program. In 2004, Tribeca showed his previous doc, A Social Genocide (Memoria del Saqueo). I spoke to Fernando Solanas in San Francisco.

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