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Interview: London Latin American Film Festival Founder Eva Tarr-Kirkhope

Interview: London Latin American Film Festival Founder Eva Tarr-Kirkhope

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Updated: 18 December 2015
The London Latin American Film Festival is one of the remarkable success stories of cultural exchange in London. Its popularity over the two decades it has been in existence proves that London’s appetite for Latin American cinema is as strong as ever, as is the Latin America diaspora in London. Fernando Luis González Mitjáns meets Eva Tarr-Kirkhope, the Director and Founder of the festival.
The London Latin American Film Festival

One of the many Cuban immigrants who left the island during the eighties, Eva Tarr-Kirkhope heavily relied on her skill as a graphic designer, as well as her arts and media expertise to create her own professional space in London. Rapidly appointed organizer of the by then influential Latin American Newsletter, Eva built her London career with significant media vehicles like The Women Films, Television and Video Network, Icarus Film International and Metro Pictures. In the last of these Eva met Anthony Kirkhope, talented film promoter and enthusiast of post-68 alternative cinema, who would become her second husband in 1994. Having the Metro Cinema as their most valuable resource, Eva and Tony started, together, the Latin American Film Festival in 1989, a tradition that turned 22 in November 2012.

Eva Tarr-Kirkhope

What was the motivation behind the idea of a Latin American Film Festival? How did the idea originate?

Eva: Well, it is very important to remember that at that moment I was already in a relationship with Tony (Anthony Kirkhope). After Icaurs Film International moved to New York I started working in Metro Pictures helping him with everything related to the Cinema. Tony was in charge of the Metro Cinema, which was in Rupert Street, in the very heart of the West End near Leicester Square. I started helping him with the exhibitions, program and timetables of the Cinema, focused in having more and more people attending the thematic film weeks that Tony was promoting at the time.

During this time I became shocked with the fact that we couldn’t find good Latin American films in London, it was impossible! Around 1986, 87, 88, it was extremely difficult to see quality movies from there in London. Me and Tony thought that there was a clear demand for Latin American cinema and that a space had suddenly opened for it. Over a regular conversation about the changes and new laws in television and cinema I told him: ‘why don’t we set up a Latin American film week?’ He simply said: ‘Sure’, and added: ‘It can be a week, but let’s make it a Festival’.

At that time he was putting together week-long exhibitions at the Metro, always with alternative, and even polemic and controversial themes. He organized, for example, a week for Italian film, another for independent film, a Palestinian film week, a Northern Irish film week, and so on. And the idea for a Latin American Film Festival fitted this concern of attracting attention to a growing, talented and at the time unconventional film industry.

So this is how the idea came up. It was idealized by both of us and took shape as we worked together. He trusted me to compile the films and organize the timetable on one hand, and he added the venue, the contacts and, of course, the industry know how on the other.

How was the Festival received by the public during its first editions?

It was received very well by the public. Most of this warm reception was determined exactly by the fact that the Festival was at the Metro Cinema, which was a controversial place, where one could expect alternative and interesting productions.

The first festival was supported by Channel Four, BBC Two, Time Out and Westminster Council, among other important sponsors and supporters. It took place during a whole week in September 1989 and was extremely successful. Tony was really good promoting his events, as well as dealing with the media and with journalists and so we had an outstanding attendance. The first festival took only one week, but its attendance and repercussion was so extraordinary that from the second edition onward we decided to extend the Festival’s length.

After more than 20 editions, what is your motivation to continue organizing the Festival every year?

Well, among many other things, I believe it is really important to keep this tradition alive. We are not pioneers anymore, we were pioneers at a specific moment, but now the London Latin American Film Festival has become a tradition. There are many other good Festivals that had begun recently and that are competing with us, but we were the very first Festival to focus on the richness of Latin American cinema in London. Insofar as I am here, enjoying a good health condition, I am going to do my best to keep this Festival alive. Is also something I must do for Tony.

How have the Festival and its audience changed over the years?

Very important question. The public attending the Festival and even those participating in its organization has definitely changed. It is a generational change! The generation that witnessed the first years of the Festival had between 30 and 40 years old and was a much politicized group which could connect with and enjoy what the Metro Cinema was offering at that time. I am talking about people involved in political campaigns and different social movements: feminists, members of unions, people from the black movement, etc. Tony and I had many friends within these circles. I was (and still am) friends with guys like Bernie Grant, Horace Ové, John Akomfrah, members of the Institute of Race Relations, etc. These friendships and their friendships were a central part of the Festival’s first audiences. There were also students, unionists and artists, who would attend the Festival due their interests in Latin America and its political trends.

Now things are different mainly due to some specific changes: governmental changes, the increasing opening to the American film industry, and technological changes. Everything changed. Before youth was slightly represented in the Festival, now there is much more young people coming to the Festival. They hear about it through Facebook and they go. But they are much less politically active or concerned than back then. A lot of people go to the Festival to consume Latin culture and to know about the cinema of Latin America, but I feel the controversial and politically defiant elements have been lost.

Which are the criteria used to select the films exhibited in the Festival every year?

First and mostly, we select the films according to the themes they address. Whatever the specific thematic of the film might be, it must be a Latin American one. In my opinion this is what is expected by the public that has been following the Festival all these years: to see the new generations of Latin Filmmakers producing interesting works about their social and cultural environments. And don’t get me wrong. If this pub would be full with Latin people and somebody would make a documentary about it, or about the Latin community in London, of course we would accept it on the Festival.

Besides this I would add that we accept a broad range of cinematographic productions, from short films to documentaries and animation, experimental cinema, interviews, of course long films, both fictional and non-fictional. I always try to balance the ‘tone’ of the Festival trying to select films that display a Latin American perspective on contemporary themes, as well as addressing contemporary Latin American challenges. The 2012 Festival, for example, focused considerably on economic issues and some problems that arise from it: drug problems, human trafficking, etc. Other important themes touched by the films this year are: homosexuality and homophobia, the land problem in Latin America and, of course, racial difference and discrimination.

Can you recommend two or three films from this year’s Festival? Which are the ones you liked the most?

It is very difficult to pick only three, but from the films we showed this year I would say: the one about the Cuban ballet-dancer triplets: To Dance Like a Man: Triplets in Havana; Marina, which is a really well-achieved love story; and the Argentinian Tiempos Menos Modernos (Not so Modern Times), which in my opinion is one of the favourites to be the Festival’s best film.

Would you like to send a final message to the London public?

I would like to invite all of those interested in Latin America, as well as in Cinema in general to continue coming and experiencing the diversity of themes, film formats and cinematic expressions Latin America has to offer. Come share all of this with me and continue supporting me and the Festival as you, the public, is what keeps this traditional Festival alive. Thank you and enjoy!

By Fernando Luis González Mitjáns