Bronx World Film Cycle, Winter 2011
Our Official Launch!
Artwork and Design: Esther Pinto
Official Launch of Bronx World Film
With This Tribe of Enlightened Saltimbanques
by Walter Krochmal
New York, Wednesday January 4, 2012. – Last Sunday December 4 marked the launch of Bronx World Film, Inc., an independent film entity which, as I wrote on the eve of its founding, “carries the fiber of my paternal ancestral village here in The Bronx, the syncretism of my mother’s Central American village, and the pulse of the century we live in.” The crew and I began early that day installing scenery, hanging paintings (a professional curator’s hand), laying out the handicrafts and preparing the ethnic finger foods with which we transformed Centro Español “La Nacional,” our centrally-located host venue at its 14th Street brownstone, into a Central American landscape. After a few brief words by Executive Director Marta Zapardiel, Board Member Ramón Abajo and myself there followed a 12-hour marathon arts event. Film screenings alternated with rounds of Guatemalan-style refried beans, Salvadoran pupusas, johnny cakes, rosquillas, tustacas, nacatamales and dried farmer’s cheese from Olancho (Honduras), topped off with desserts from throughout the Caribbean and culminating in an evening performance of music, dance and dramatic readings.
Milestones: the Spanish-subtitled debuts of Salud, an award-winning fiction feature by Guatemalan New Yorker César de León, and the documentary Punta Soul by Belize’s Nyasha Laing, alongside the resubtitled English versions of A ojos cerrados (Yesterday Today and Tomorrow) by Hernán Jiménez (Costa Rica), Lost in Transit by Kathy Sevilla (Nicaragua’s first female editor), and La manzana azul (The Blue Apple, Tomás Guevara, 2006), with all subtitling provided specially for the occasion. La manzana azul’s New York City debut after so many years came as a fitting irony, since much of the film takes place around the Village environs of host venue “La Nacional.” This tribute to the great Salarrué, a classic of New York and world film, also goes far in transcending the documentary genre. The program rounded out its Central American contribution with the screening of a series of animated shorts based on Salarrué’s classic Cuentos de cipotes made by Ricardo Barahona (El Salvador), along with Virus and La cometa by Hondurans Omar Carías and Ángel Matu respectively.
The audiences that streamed in and out over the course of the day, drawn in by the novelty, had both a wide-angle and close-up view of a promising regional film industry with its astonishing diversity, idiosyncrasy, humor, vernacular and poetic expressions. They got an extreme close up of the stylistic similarities including the intimate/claustrophobic storylines, the austere dialogue, the stoic bearing and thoughtful rhythm, the counterpoint of gestures reduced to their smallest scale and lending an epic scale to the underlying emotions, the compositional and narrative discipline, the accumulation of tensions that Central American film makers allow to explode only at the very end, as if even in the arena of human emotions there is a need to “save one’s rounds.”
The evening’s multiarts event featured Justo Castro, a Honduran who’s earned the highest accolades from Italy’s musical authorities, the founder of a music conservatory and handicrafts academy in his native hometown of Limón, Honduras enthralling audiences with music in his ancestral Garífuna language, Spanish, English and Italian; Blanca Camacho, the actress of Broadway, television, theater and radio who has a branch of Honduran ancestry in her family tree, reading the poem “Morazán” by Pablo Neruda and “En el espacio” by Clementina Suárez; Dubén Canales giving dramatic life to his original poems; Sol y Rumba Band with María Isolina, from Washington, lighting up the venue with an inexhaustible repertoire ranging from Honduran folk tunes, ballads, son and salsa to many others; and Bodoma’s Garífuna dancers and drums. These supergifted, citizens of the world, shapeshifter beings who stand out for their modesty and generosity represent the driving force of human talent that brings life to our project.
Bronx World Film, Inc., moreover, has a global lens. The curtain went up on its first cinematheque with two short videopoems by Colombian Óscar Berrío. The program included 16 additional short films in all genres and from the world over, many of them New York debuts, some subtitled for the occasion, totalling 20 films from 11 countries. The gallery exhibited works by visual artists from Bangladesh and Spain together with Central Americans. Serbian musical genius Dzordze Ilijin provided accompaniment. Our ranks include diplomats, law enforcement officers, lawyers and expert witnesses, social workers, a former U.S. Navy chandlery specialist, a classical singer/maritime archaeologist, a poet/radiological inspector, a mechanical engineer, a specialist in fine arts conservation. We have people from the U.S., Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, and the Spanish community with its signature permeating every aspect, plus whoever else might show up tomorrow. That’s how Bronx World Film starts its life … with this tribe of enlightened Saltimbanques.
Touching on the obvious question that several Bronx residents have already asked, with a tinge of understandable resentment: “Why launch an entity called Bronx World Film in the borough of Manhattan?” The simple, well-documented answer: I offered this program to several cultural/educational institutions in the South Bronx, even going to their headquarters in Manhattan, both alone and with a delegation. We met with closed doors. When the offer arose from the legendary Centro Español “La Nacional” in Manhattan, a community-based Benevolent Society headquartered in this city since 1868, I jumped at it, as any responsible promoter would have done.
Hondurans have been sinking roots in this city since before World War I when the banana industry was in its infancy, a fact corroborated by personal testimonies from among our collaborators. The ships of one of the first industry captains, a Jewish New Yorker named Samuel Zemurray originally from modern-day Moldova, brought our merchant marines to New Orleans, Mobile, New York and other U.S. ports. This community kept a low profile until 1990, when 87 mostly Honduran immigrants died at the tragic Happy Land Social Club fire, a monument to which stands today on Southern Boulevard and East Tremont. Faced with that historic moment, the unconditional support of the New York government’s top power circles and the New York Archdiocese in our favor, the Federation of Honduran Organizations in New York came into existence. now just a distant memory. Along the way, however, the community showed leadership and generosity; this I have on personal knowledge as Executive Director of the Federation for a time. The juncture left us with a moral debt outstanding. As part of the very tissue of this city, of its dynamic cultural and social narrative, we have set our sights on bequeathing it a legacy of excellence, and not merely a monument to death. Bronx World Film’s vision springs from the heart of our community and radiates outward toward this century as part of the world we live in and beyond.
Closed doors won’t stop us. The Central American emigré is a perpetual orphan lacking in cultural institutions commensurate with his or her needs at the social, civil and official level, lacking a coherent public profile, lacking the power of voting blocs or of large-scale companies and media, lacking collective support mechanisms. We blend in, we’re easy to shunt aside... and we’re obstinate. For myself, not even getting stripped of my home and every one of my worldly possessions in the 1998 Casa del Sol incident in The Bronx, under Mayor Giuliani, could make me swear off this borough which is my home. And so now we move forward with a clear and present need for proprietary spaces where we can freely, autonomously and at our own discretion develop this vision of arthouse cinema as a hub for collective development. We will forge relationships with communities through a roving cinematheque that reflects the very character of The Bronx: belligerent, nimble, a green, infinitely scalable and customizable all-terrain vehicle that can just as easily screen in a living room as in a factory, park or industrial wasteland, made to serve all those communities that clamor for wholesome cultural offerings to bring new life to so many underused resources.
Stirred to collective action, with “Decentralization and Diversification” as our motto, we submit for public view an independent, citizen’s initiative run by artists and cultural operators that regards film not as a mere aesthetic enterprise, but as an unforgoable element for development in the New Economy with demonstrated capacity to strengthen identity, reduce poverty and create more secure communities. We launch a perpetual motion machine in which all arts and industries converge, powered by the inexhaustible reservoir of human narrative. My maternal ancestral village today has the highest murder rate in the world. My paternal village, once one of the most feared corners of the planet, still bears lagging indicators of poverty. Clearly, we’ve been called to serve, and serve we will… With this tribe of enlightened saltimbanques!