In the years after World War II, American cinema saw an influx of directors from every corner of the world—Italian neorealist Roberto Rossellini, the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, and the Swiss-French New Wave filmmaker Jean Luc-Godard, to name a few. Latin American directors and their films, however, have had a slower start making their way to Hollywood. Until 2000, they were rarely heard of outside of their country of origin. That has certainly changed. Today, the region’s directors are winning top awards at international film festivals, making millions at the box office, and are being courted by Hollywood. In February this year, Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu won four Academy Awards for his film Birdman, and last year his compatriot Alfonso Cuarón won seven Oscars for Gravity.
The first stirrings of the change began in 2000, with González Iñárritu’s Amores perros (Love’s a Bitch) and Brazil’s Fernando Meirelles and his 2002 film, Cidade de Deus (City of God). But the tipping point came in 2007, when the “three amigos”—González Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón, and Guillermo del Toro—had 16 Oscar nominations between them, for Babel, Children of Men, and Pan’s Labyrinth.
In part, the change came from within the industry. With their novel “slick grit” style, the films have been able to capture new audiences. The style combines slick editing and camerawork with gritty, politically inflected themes, a nod to the 1960s and 1970s era of New Latin American cinema, which focused on telling the stories of the world’s dispossessed. The “New” New Latin American film also involves a fresh take on acting. The actors of City of God were amateurs who grew up on the rough streets of Rio de Janeiro, where the film is set. They were taught to act over a year. Likewise, Gael García Bernal, perhaps best known for portraying Ché Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries, was a virtual unknown when he first starred in Amores
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