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Chile strikes gold on silver screen

By Matías Gajardo for Infosurhoy.com—17/03/2010

Films such as ‘The Maid’ show country can succeed in cinematic world

Chilean actress Catalina Saavedra’s performance in “The Maid” earned her a World Cinema Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival last year. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Chilean actress Catalina Saavedra’s performance in “The Maid” earned her a World Cinema Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival last year. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

VIÑA DEL MAR, Chile – The country’s movie industry doesn’t have a storied history, and for years its presence has gone largely unnoticed outside its borders.

But not anymore. Chile’s recent releases have elevated the downtrodden industry, as one of South America’s wealthiest countries is striking gold on the silver screen.

Movies like 2004’s “Machuca,” the saga of two children from different social classes who become friends during the last days of the Salvador Allende presidency, opened the door for new films to raise the nation’s cinematic profile.

“The Maid,” directed by Sebastián Silva and starring Chilean actress Catalina Saavedra, whose portrayal of a domestic who shared in the daily life of the same family for more than 20 years, depicted a common theme throughout the country.

This simple, yet classic story earned the film several international awards at the Guadalajara Film Festival (FIPRESCI Award), the Miami International Film Festival (best actress, Catalina Saavedra), and the Sarasota Film Festival (best narrative feature), among others.

It was nominated for a Golden Globe but didn’t win, and it failed to earn an Oscar nomination – something that bothers Chilean cinema expert Pablo Reyes.

“The movie ‘The Maid’ is spectacular, visually and with its performances. Catalina was exemplary in her performance as a maid and her work should have been acknowledged at the Golden Globes as well as with an Oscar,” he said.

The film, however, scored a major prize: It won the World Cinema Jury Prize in the drama category at the Sundance Festival in 2009. Saavedra was awarded a World Cinema Special Jury Prize for her performance.

“The fact that a Chilean movie had such great success with the audiences and critics in the United States clearly opens U.S. eyes to what might be happening here,” Saavedra said during an interview with the Web site “Cine Chile.”

Still, it is impressive that “The Maid” received so many honors considering it was produced without the financial backing and technological advancements that are prevalent in Hollywood, which essentially is the movie world’s Mecca.

But what made “The Maid” so successful despite being at a disadvantage is that it excelled in how it conveyed its story, according to Héctor Tokman, director of the film, video and television school at Chile’s Universidad del Mar.

“Latin American countries have little knowledge about the international movie market and filming is expensive,” he said. “Even with so few movies produced over its history, Chile has had an excellent run with the New Latin American Cinema, and it is because Chilean films are able to communicate in their own particular way, and they search for very interesting subjects and always have something new to tell. Plus, its topography is very distinctive and its people are of a singular richness, which definitely feeds into this industry.”

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