Raymundo Gleyzer

June 6, 2008

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Several thousand light years apart from the world of Hollywood, stands the work of one of the most extraordinary and tragic figures of world cinema, Raymundo Gleyzer. Born in Buenos Aires in 1941, Gleyzer began making documentary films in the 1960s. It was a tough time in Latin America. In an interview, he described himself as: “an Argentinian filmmaker. I have made films since 1963, all of them about the political and social situation in Latin America. I try to demonstrate that there is only one way to bring profound structural changes to our continent: the socialist revolution.”

There was a problem: even if you made the films, how would you get them to the  people whose lives the films concerned most directly? Gleyzer called these “real persons” – the working class, the person getting sick in factories. Censorship in Argentina blocked not only political films, “but also all human relationships.”

Gleyzer created an organization called Cine de la Base. The goal was to produce films and to distribute them. They constructed theatres in neighborhoods with found materials – wood and metal. They started with one cinema for 200 people and had plans to build 50 more. They showed films for free, on factory walls and in the streets. It was a collective, and no one received individual credit: “Sometimes we put on a show in a hall for the bourgeoisie, for five dollars. They like to see what the revolution looks like.”

Cine de la Base had about 100 members who believed in film as a political weapon for popular justice. Gleyzer called film “an instrument of the bourgeoisie.” He thought film had another purpose “Films are films,” he said, “and guns is guns. We are embryonic revolutionaries – we shoot films.”

Some of the films were short documentaries, like “Our Malvinas Islands,” or “Pottery Makers.” In 1971, he made a 65 minute documentary – his best known film in the U.S.- called “Mexico: The Frozen Revolution.” Using rare newsreel footage of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, he traced the betrayal of the 1910 Mexican Revolution to the massacre of students during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

His only fictional film was “The Traitors.” It was a political thriller about the life of a trade union militant who is gradually corrupted by union bureaucracy during the Peronist movement. The film was based on factual events – the careers of six trade union leaders, only one of whom was still alive. The rest had been assassinated.

THE TRAITORS was immediately banned in Argentina. Gleyzer showed it clandestinely to tens of thousands of Argentinians in groups of two or three hundred.  Since the film was banned, it added to its success. Gleyzer said, “Film is a political weapon and the bourgeoisie understand this very well. The artist is an intellectual worker, who, as part of the people, must choose. Either use his skill in the service of the people …or side with the dominating classes, serving as a transmitter and reproducer of bourgeois ideology.  We, as intellectuals, must take the same risk as the working class in our daily lives. Are we really part of the people?”

On Thursday, May 27, 1976, Raymundo Gleyzer disappeared in Buenos Aires. Friends and colleagues made all efforts to find him, and a petition to the United Nations and the Argentine Embassy organized in America was signed by many Americans including Candice Bergen, Francis Ford Coppola, Jane Fonda, Terrence Malick, Jack Nicholson. He had been kidnapped by the military. In response to inquiries from 20 U.S. senators, the CIA said that he had harbored Chilean refugees – fleeing the government of Augusto Pinochet – in his home. No one ever saw Gleyzer again.

He was 34 years old.