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Fernando Birri Archive of Multimedia Arts - Escritos

Biographical/Historical note

Film director and theoretician Fernando Birri (Santa Fe, Argentina, 1925), who Colombian novelist and Nobel Prize recipient Gabriel García Márquez calls Gran papá del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, is one of the founders of the new Latin American film movement, often described as a form of revolutionary or Third Cinema.

Before entering the world of cinema, Birri worked in poetry, theater, and puppetry. In 1950, he traveled to Italy, the Birri family’s native land, and studied filmmaking at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia di Roma where he was greatly influenced by the style of the Italian Neorealists and in particular the work of Vittorio de Sica and Cesare Zavattini, for whom he worked as assistant director in his film Il tetto (“The Roof”). In 1951, he shot his first documentary film Selinunte in Sicily. Upon returning to Argentina in 1956, Birri was determined to create a national cinematic style based on a more realistic portrayal of the fringes of Argentine society. In his native Santa Fe he began teaching a class in experimental film that later evolved into a complete cinema school – the Instituto de Cinematografía de la Universidad del Litoral. There he filmed the documentary Tire dié (1954), and a neorealist feature film Los inundados (1961). Both films centered on the Argentine lower social classes and denounced their conditions. In the early 1960s, Birri was forced to flee Argentina due to his political views and controversial work. He lived in Brazil for a few months until the government fell under a similar military regime. He eventually ended up settling in Italy until the late 1970s when he returned to Latin America and resumed his teaching career in Mexico and Venezuela. In 1982 he founded the mobile poetic film school Laboratorio Ambulante de Poéticas Cinematográficas in the Universidad de los Andes in Venezuela. In 1984, he was elected honorary member of the Committee of Filmmakers of Latin America. In 1986, he co-founded, with Gabriel García Márquez, the Escuela de Cine y Televisión de Tres Mundos (EICTV) in San Antonio de los Baños, near Havana, Cuba. In the same year he directed Mi hijo el Che ("My Son Che"), a film portrait based on an interview with Che Guevara’s father, Don Ernesto Guevara Lynch. Two years later, in collaboration with García Márquez, he filmed Un señor muy viejo con unas alas muy grandes (“A Very Old Man with Very Large Wings”), which premiered in the United States at the Sundance Film Festival.

In 1995, Birri produced a documentary film for German television entitled Süden, Süden, Süden (“South, South, South”), followed in 1998 by El siglo del viento: un noticiero latinoamericano (“The Century of the Wind: A Newscast from Latin America”), a film based on Eduardo Galeanos’s trilogy Memoria del fuego.

Birri continues his cinematic career in the 21st century. In 2007, he filmed a documentary entitled Elegía Friulana, homage to his grandfather, Giambatista, anarchist bricklayer, peasant and miller who left Italy in search of a better life in South America. He is presently working on a new feature film that will be shot on location in the pampa litoral region of Argentina — El Fausto criollo, an adaptation of the poem by Estanislao del Campo from 1856. He is also developing two new productions — Mal d’America, co-written with the famous Italian novelist Vasco Pratolini, and Gaucho Pampa, a mito-film (mythical film).

Fernando Birri has authored numerous books on film theory and poetry. He is also a prolific artist working in a wide range of media from pencils, watercolors, and collage to computer graphics. He is a founder of the Fundación del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano and a Member of Honor of its Executive Board. He was a Tinker Visiting Professor at Stanford University in 2001-2002, and a visiting professor at Tufts University in 2009. Birri has been and continues to be honored at numerous film festivals around the world. He is married to Carmen and has no children.