Feeling the Cinema
Rómulo Gallegos | The story behind the scenes.
History is a field that hardly escapes subjectivity, since although it is valid to say that a fact is something concrete, it can be interpreted differently depending on who tells you about it.
This is the case of Rómulo Gallegos, a name that in the collective culture briefly appears as an "express" president of Venezuela - whose investiture obtained the greatest popular support through the vote in the nation's history - that was overthrown in a series of events that led to the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez.
But beyond those facts that appear roughly in the history books of Venezuela, there is a part of history that goes almost unnoticed, like a garment that is kept in the closet with a certain affection but for a reason that avoids being explained is never used; and this is the case of his cinematographic life.
His relationship with art was no secret, novels like the classic "Doña Bárbara" are an obligatory point of reference for those who try to understand the literary history of our country; however, his career as a filmmaker goes almost unnoticed.
He began in cinema in 1925, when he was responsible for the script and adaptation of "La Trepadora", which was widely accepted by the public and the national press.
The romance for this art remained close to politics, serving as Minister of National Public Instruction (later renamed Minister of National Education) promotes the use of film for educational purposes, we speak of the year 1936. In this same year the Venezuelan state already begins to demonstrate a great interest to improve and to adapt the spaces of the National Cinematographic Laboratory, reason why it is transferred from Maracay to Caracas, making a great investment in the same one, but nevertheless it lowers the level of production that it possessed previously, which, perhaps, happened by a geographic topic.
During this time, and through his work as part of the Ministry of Public Instruction, Rómulo Gallegos possessed the progressive vision in educational matters, for which he was overthrown from his position and under the new directive the modification of the Ministry to which he was assigned was initiated, becoming called "Ministerio de Educación Nacional" (Ministry of National Education), where the creation of the educational law and the division of educational stages between basic and secondary begins. At the same time in this entity the program of Educational Cinema begins, which had the mission to instruct the young people of the different stages, by means of the use of the projectors like educational matter, presenting of such form documentaries and related.
In 1938 Eleazar López Contreras inaugurated the Audiovisual Education Institute in San Martin, an institution whose function would be to create educational materials to support the educational management of the Ministry of Education.
However, less than a year later it closes its doors, the reason being still unknown but there are two versions of it: The first narrates the possible closure due to the lack of interest on the part of the new minister of education after the dismissal of its former precursor. The other explains to us that motivated to the interest of Romulo Gallegos to continue the Audiovisual matter, the present minister for that then decides to cede the spaces to him and to get rid of such administration.
Gallegos during this period is in Los Angeles and Hollywood making a visit to be instructed in the mechanisms of commercial cinema and educational cinema, so when returning to Venezuela his appreciation for cinema is broader and has managed to obtain educational resources to know how to manage the space, the actor, and the different elements that make up the cinematographic staging. With all this Gallegos planned to build his films on the basis of his literary works.
In several interviews Rómulo Gallegos talked about the importance of cinema and its industry, however he pointed out how difficult and laborious it must be to build a film company in Venezuela when you don't have all the necessary experience for it. However, perhaps by whim or challenge or as you want to see, in 1940 with the economic support of the state, Rómulo Gallegos founded Estudios Ávila, which became the first official producer of national cinema and whose actions were chaired by President Eleazar López Contreras himself and Colonel Isaías Medina Angarita, who saw an opportunity through industrial cinema and decided to support this company, even knowing the comments said by Rómulo Gallegos in interviews.
According to studies, the company created by Gallegos already worked since 1938 in different spaces of the city of Caracas, however it was not until 1940 that it manages to cover the space that encompassed other state institutions and it is there when the president decides to cede the space and equipment of the Institute of Audiovisual Education to Romulo Gallegos, EA is also considered the first national film production company motivated to that previously the Venezuelan film topic was taken through laboratories or film schools. In this way, and remaining faithful to his style, he dedicated himself mainly to the development of institutional propaganda. In this way the current president Eleazar López Contreras used the hand of Gallegos for his activities, making a rather documentary record of them.
According to studies carried out in the book "Rómulo Gallegos y el Cine Nacional" (Fabelo, 2010:45), in the period from 1938 to 1942 studies Ávila made a total of 43 films of a documentary nature, concerning the Venezuelan state and its form of mandate or social situation, economic, etc., this work had a sting in its last year in which of those 43 films only five were made in 1942. However, as stated above, Romulo Gallegos sought to make the adaptation of his literary works through cinema, which did not happen and through his study only produces the feature film called "Juan de la Calle" where you see the pioneering attempt of social cinema, addressing issues such as crime in large cities and abandoned childhood. All this could give us to understand that Rómulo before the decline of his cinematographic company decided to give himself a time to create a representative work, leaving of such form to a side the documentary treatment and dedicating to the recording and accomplishment of his film "Juan de la Calle".
Gallegos was looking for the industrialization of cinema and wanted to bring works that investigated cultural and social issues but with the onslaught of the then presidential regime was very difficult to realize also understanding that the main benefactors of the production house were the rulers of our nation at that time.
A film magazine (Mi Film) reveals that Ávila Studios already had plans to adapt the works of Rómulo Gallegos, among them Pobre negra, Doña Bárbara, Victoria (La Trepadora), and the film Cantasolo. Many educational short films concerning the history of Venezuela and Simón Bolívar are also contemplated.
The trajectory of Ávila Studies was rather short, in 1942 the company closes its doors and Gallegos is left with the uncertainty of never having been able to bring his film works to the screen.
His last appearance in the world of cinema occurs the same year in the cinematographic adaptation of his novel "Doña Bárbara" taking advantage of the moment generated by its great success, This became the first Venezuelan-Mexican co-production, which enjoyed great success beyond national borders but unfortunately was not produced by Venezuelan land.
There are presumptions that Gallegos did start recording three of his works: Doña Bárbara, Victoria and Cantasolo, however none of the three were made and his files are lost or stored in what would later become Bolívar Films' material, and they were later taken to the screen by Mexican cinema, something that Gallegos was a little disappointed since they were not the representation he expected of his literary works.
There are many versions that narrate the bankruptcy of the company studios Avila, but it seems that the Venezuelan state through the Ministry of Public Works, which was responsible for the protection of cinematographic equipment, decided not to continue with the economic support for the creation of the cinematographic works of Gallegos, so after the closure a large part of the equipment returned to be stored in the ministry, and a small part was sold to the Company Studies America company run by A Bacé.
In addition to this, the change of government in 1941 and the political participation that Rómulo Gallegos was already denoting took him a bit away from the cinematographic sphere, the democratic politics and the new government of Isaías Medina Angarita allowed the creation of political parties and therefore the participation of the famous writer as leader of Acción Democrática, all this may have led to a leadership vacuum within Ávila Studios, which in turn allowed Luis Guillermo Villegas Blanco, filmmaker and entrepreneur, to bring with him the European and American tools and knowledge to found a more established company to approach cinema in Venezuela (Bolívar Films).
It should be noted that in turn other film companies were going into decline and two years earlier (1940), and Venezuela Cinematográfica ceased its activities declaring bankruptcy under the presidency of Rafael Zambrano.
The aesthetics, the rhythms, the camera movements as well as the staging and other elements were something that had advanced much during the productions of Estudios Ávila and that remained in the memory of thousands of Venezuelans who today study the historical importance of the audiovisual productions presented during the period 1938-1942.
Rómulo Gallegos, in his style of art, showed a great sensibility for the themes of society, which ranged from the hard life in the Venezuelan plains (Doña Bárbara, favorite of General Juan Vicente Gómez) and the social decomposition in the big cities (Juan de la calle). His works however marked an endless number of situations occurred in the country where despite the fact that the empowerment and omnipresence of its leaders was framed in each of its tapes, it was demonstrated that the work was of an admirable impeccability.
Thank you for reading. Original content written under previous research during my studies on the history of universal cinema at the National Experimental University of the Arts, Caracas - Venezuela.
|✒ Rómulo Gallegos and national cinema. Ávila films 1938 - 1942. Editorial Cinemateca Nacional.||Source|
|✒ A cinema in search of... so many things. Rodolfo Izaguirre.||Source|