Argentine director Fernando "Pino" Solanas screens and discusses his 2007 documentary about his country's achievements in science and engineering.
It's very difficult to find a professor, a judge, a legislator, a high official who recalls these facts. No one knows who these engineers were who created these things.
The latest product in the more than four-decades-long career of Fernando "Pino" Solanas, Argentina Latente ("Dormant Argentina"), appeared in 2007, the same year that the filmmaker stood as a presidential candidate for a small socialist party. Although the documentary looks at poverty, at the sagging public educational system, and at some legacies of torture and dirty war, the main subject this time is Argentina's latent scientific, industrial, and human capacity. The film cries out for a halt to what it presents as the pointless self-strangulation of a resource-rich and always innovative nation, a once and perhaps future path-breaker in fields from ship-building and aviation to nuclear power.
After a March 6, 2008, screening of the film at UCLA, Solanas answered questions from a packed house of about 50 students, scholars, and members of the public.
"The most interesting thing, and the reason I made this film, is that all of this surprises the Argentines in Argentina," he said in Spanish, referring to the achievements of the country's scientists and engineers. "It's very difficult to find a professor, a judge, a legislator, a high official who recalls these facts. No one knows who these engineers were who created these things."
Argentina, which independently enriched uranium for nuclear energy, is the world leader in the construction of reactors for scientific research, according to the film. The country has built state-of-the-art ships, cars, planes, and satellites. At the UCLA event, Solanas said that he'd been forced to overlook significant advances in medicine, biology, and biogenetics for the sake of brevity.
Meanwhile, when technological progress in the form of robots threatened jobs at one Argentinian factory featured in the film, the workers reorganized to compete globally in spite of obsolete equipment. They went on to open a so-called "factory of ideas" to artists and artisans. Innovation has many forms in the film's synthesis of social commitment and chest-thumping patriotism.
So does theft. Solanas in the film excoriates neoliberal trade policies emanating from Washington, the compliant and corrupt administration of President Carlos Menem (1989–99), and to a lesser degree subsequent governments. Argentina Latente is the third installment in a series of documentaries about the nation since the financial crisis that culminated in 2001, and for which the director and a number of economists have blamed those same trade policies. The next two documentaries will focus on public transportation and services, and the environment.
In the world of this film, which presents a series of affecting characters, ordinary Argentines make two kinds of decisions: heroic or simply understandable. Some of the heroes endured torture; later ones organize workers or teach grade school in a broken system. They also remain in their country as scientists and leaders in spite of a brain drain and the low wages described by one interviewee as "punishment." They distinguish themselves with an acute understanding of what Argentina has given them. Others, understandably, have left the country in the last decade in search of economic security and career advancement.
In a given documentary, Solanas told the audience, the goal is "not just to expound the theme, but to bring forth its protagonists, these characters who give it heat, who give it life, who give it humanity."
Asked if he had ever treated Argentina's substantial cultural production, including its film industry, Solanas laughed: "I'm missing that movie. It's missing."
Published: Monday, March 10, 2008