Latin filmmaker on a roll
Peru's Claudia Llosa wins Golden Bear in Berlin
February 18, 2009 - Variety International


MADRID -- Few films seem more singular than Berlin Golden Bear winner "The Milk of Sorrow," from Peru's Claudia Llosa.

Set in Lima's shantytown , 40% spoken in the native Quechua language, it turns on a housemaid so maniacally fearful of rape that she blocks her most private part with a potato.

Yet "Sorrow" sums up much Latin American filmmaking.

It's only Llosa's second feature; "Gigante," which shared Berlin's Grand Jury Prize, is Uruguayan Adrien Benitez's first.

Latin America's emerging industry bustles with tyro filmmakers. The arty recent film school grads are eager to make films at most any price.

Thanks to pervasive poverty, crime and political repression, these young filmmakers have haunting tales to tell, but scant budgets with which to tell them.

At e1.2 million ($1.5 million), "Sorrow" isn't even considered cheap by regional standards.

Spanish partners Jose Maria Morales' Wanda Films and Antonio Chavarrias' Oberon Cinematografica each put up 40% of the budget, Peru's Vela Films the rest. Then, the producers cobbled together a patchwork of funding from Spain's Rtve and Icaa, Catalonia's TV3 and Icic -- plus finance from Ibermedia, Media, Peru's Conacine film institute, Berlin's World Cinema Fund and Zurich's Visions Sud Est.

Llosa spent two years studying Peruvian wedding customs before filming "Sorrow's" marriage scenes on Lima's lunar landscape, resulting in the nearly surreal style that often distinguishes Latin American arthouse pics.

Powered by government funding and co-production, pic productions and investment tripled over the past decade in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil -- to 267 films made with $358.3 million in financing.

Latin America's biggest challenge is leveraging fest kudos into international distribution.

Morales' tried-and-tested strategy is to aggregate multiple foreign sales. So far, "Sorrow" has been sold by Germany's Match Factory to Italy (Ladybird), Sweden, Norway, Poland and former Yugoslavian territories. Latin America and France are under negotiation. Thanks to heat generated by the Berlin win, Wanda has increased Spain's print run from nine to 19 copies.

"Sales aid immensely to continue working with the same directors," Morales says, since it's not every day a Latin American can win a Berlin Golden Bear.