Argentina’s Cultural Industry Struggles Under Milei’s Government – 2024-04-22 12:29:34

President Javier Milei’s budget cut policies have raised serious concerns for Argentina’s cultural industry.(AFP)

President Javier Milei’s “chainsaw” approach to budget cuts is not only causing deep financial pain for many Argentines, but also threatening Argentina’s once Oscar-winning culture industry, industry players say.

At home and abroad, actors, directors and musicians accused the self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalist” leader of showing disdain for their industry as he cut funding and attacked those who questioned him.

Milei has said the government must choose between “funding films that no one sees” and “feeding the people.”

He has denounced at least one artist who criticized his funding cuts as a “parasite” who lives off tax dollars at the expense of starving children.

The cultural industry in Argentina, the birthplace of tango, is responsible for around 300,000 formal jobs.

But under Milei, “they are dismantling everything related to culture in general and cinema in particular,” award-winning Argentinian actress Cecilia Roth, who has acted in several films by Spaniard Pedro Almodovar, said at a press conference in Mexico on Friday .

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In addition to the loss in direct support from the state, the industry has also been hit by the fact that the average Argentinian has far less money to spend on “luxuries” such as films or shows as available incomes have shrunk and the poverty rate has risen to 60 percent.

A little hope

Argentina’s Incaa film institute has laid off 170 of its 645 employees in recent months, stopped paying overtime, and has not accepted new projects for 90 days.

Incaa is funded largely by taxes on ticket sales and 25 percent of the revenues of the National Communications Agency that finances dozens of films each year, including eight Oscar nominees and two winners: “The Official Story” and “The secret in their eyes.”

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“Every day the panorama is getting darker,” Paula Orlando, Argentina’s production and audiovisual director, told AFP.

“I’m considering leaving the country,” added the 31-year-old with 12 years of experience in the industry.

“There’s not a shred of hope.”

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Strong prejudice

Voices of concern have also been raised from abroad, from directors such as Almodovar himself, and Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki.

Earlier this month, Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Frenchman Claire Denis, and American Viggo Mortensen wrote an article in which they said Argentina’s film industry was “on the verge of collapse.”

Music and literature have also suffered from Milei’s cost-cutting measures, including the repeal of a law that protected independent bookstores from price competition by big chains.

The actions show Milei and his government carry a “strong prejudice against the cultural industry,” according to Martin Gremmelspacher, president of the Argentine Book Chamber.

Book sales, he said, fell 30 percent in both January and February from the previous year.

The future is dangerous

Luis Sanjurjo, a professor of cultural policy at the University of Buenos Aires, said it was wrong to think that “the market can replace the role of the state.”

“In a serious capitalist country, there is no statelessness” in cultural development, he told AFP.

Sanjurjo previously led the arts and culture industry sub-division in the now defunct ministry of culture, abolished by Milei.

He said it appeared Milei’s ultra-liberal government was “pressing” on the industry amid a global culture war that is increasingly dividing people on issues such as gay rights, abortion, religion, women’s rights and even the politics of civility.

Last week, renowned Argentinian concert pianist Martha Argerich published an open letter deploring the government’s decision to stop providing scholarships to poor artists under a scholarship named after her.

Culture Minister Leonardo Cifelli later said the decision was only a temporary result of an “administrative transition,” without saying when scholarship awards would resume.

“I myself received support from the Argentine State as a little girl,” Argerich wrote.

“If the country doesn’t support and contribute to culture, the future is truly dangerous.” (AFP/Z-3)

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