El Cine Quema: The Films of Raymundo Gleyzer

Last seen on May 27, 1976, Raymundo Gleyzer was an insurgent documentarian who, in collaboration with his wife Juana Sapire and itinerant collective Cine de la Base, used clandestine filmmaking to challenge capitalism during his native Argentina’s decline into fascism.

Gleyzer was among the 30,000 people disappeared by the military junta that would rule Argentina (with the support of the U.S.-backed Operation Condor) until 1983, leaving behind two feature-length films and a litany of polemical shorts. Today, May 27th is recognized as the Day of the Documentary Filmmaker in his honor.

While Gleyzer’s filmic influences included Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, and Joris Ivens, he also sought to sidestep the glories associated with auteur filmmaking. (Following a presentation at the Cinémathèque Française in which Gleyzer’s short films were programmed alongside Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise, the two filmmakers engaged in a spirited debate, in which Gleyzer found Godard’s film inaccessible and clouded by its uneasy Maoism.) Beyond the mainstream Argentine film industry, Cine de la Base strove to make films for the compañeros in the fields and factories, taking the films on tour to poor neighborhoods, laborer communities and peasant enclaves. The work stands in equal opposition to the Hollywood status quo then and now, as well as to the jargon-intensive experiments that have dominated the Western canon’s dalliances with leftist cinema.

After Gleyzer’s kidnapping at the hands of right-wing paramilitary forces, his wife Juana Sapire fled to Peru (and later Manhattan) with their toddler son Diego. Back in the States, his friend and producer Bill Susman, who had volunteered to fight in the Abraham Lincoln Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, circulated a call to action among the American film community for his release. The signatories were a who’s-who of 1970s filmmakers, critics, and programmers, including Elia Kazan, Francis Ford Coppola, “Terry” Malick, Judith Crist, Jane Fonda, New Yorker Films founder Dan Talbot, and many others – further testimony to Gleyzer’s stature in his own lifetime. The relative obscurity of Gleyzer’s work in the decades after the fact serves as testament to the incendiary threat he posed to the fascist regime.

This near-complete retrospective features several brand-new digital restorations supervised by Gleyzer’s widow Juana Sapire at the Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales, as well as 16mm prints of The Land Burns and Mexico: The Frozen Revolution.

“The artist is an intellectual: a worker who must choose either to use his skill in service of the people, urging on their struggles and the development of a revolutionary process, or to openly side with the dominating classes, serving as a transmitter and reproducer of bourgeois ideology. As intellectuals, we must take the same risk as the working class in our daily lives.”

–Raymundo Gleyzer

Upcoming Programs In This Series