Victor Vega’s Revolutionary Cinema
Victor Vega is considered one of the most important exponents of Costa Rican cinema, he belonged to a generation of directors that tried to make the world aware of the reality of Costa Rican life through their powerful social-realist documentaries.
The director and producer Victor Vega was born in Costa Rica in 1943, and started his career as a director in 1973. He was one of the founders of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports Cinema Department (today the Costa Rican Center of Cinema Production). During his life, he produced 34 films and 700 commercials. He lived in a time of political upheaval, solidarity and concern with the country’s social issues, all of which Vega explored through his work. Vega and his contemporaries formed a generation of directors who aimed at documenting the reality of Costa Rican life as it was, without pretensions or embellishments. This inspired later generations of Costa Rican directors many of whom would approach Vega for advice, as he was involved in the establishment of a filmmaking school inside the Cinema Department.
Watch this video titled Nicaragua: Patria Libre o Morir (1978)
The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports Cinema Department, within which Vega worked and taught, was created in 1973 through the financial support of the United Nations Development Program, which offered three years of formative training in cinema studies. Its goal was to ‘give a voice to those who have none’. The Government didn’t have any influence on the content of its productions, which allowed the directors to show the reality of the country without censure in the 75 documentaries that were produced, becoming, not just an artistic project, but a visceral portrait of the country’s situation. The films created reflected the main concerns of Costa Rican society and focused on essential issues such as public health, agriculture, wellbeing and culture in general. The main promoters of this movement were Vega, Ingo Niehaus, Carlos Ferrer and Antonio Yglesias. But what allowed the documentary cinema made by these filmmakers to have such a huge impact on society, was the diffusion of the documentaries on national TV, which allowed them to reach a massive audience. Despite, or perhaps because of the popularity of these documentaries, many powerful Costa Ricans complained about their content, and suggested that they could ‘destabilize the system’. Eventually this political pressure forced the State to withdraw their support for the project leaving the directors no choice but to move into more commercial filmmaking.
Vega’s most popular works include Las Cuarentas (1975), which portrays the reality of prostitution amongst impoverished Costa Ricans, and Puerto Limón (1974), which reflects the social and economic marginalization and oblivion that this Costa Rican city suffered while the rest of the country was progressing towards relative prosperity. But his most remarkable work for its historical testimony is Nicaragua: Patria Libre o Morir (1978). This documentary, directed by Victor Vega and Antonio Yglesias, about the ‘Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional’, was considered of great importance in Nicaragua because of its portrayal of the war against Somoza’s dictatorship. A contemporary Costa Rican director who is taking on the legacy of Vega and his contemporaries is Isthar Yasin who, in her film The Path, released during the Berlinale, portrays the drama of migration through the life of two Nicaraguan children who crossed the border to Costa Rica to search for their mother who had emigrated eight years ago in search of work.
By Laura Vila