Luis Scalella: “Cinema without state support does not exist”

Linked to cinema since young, Luis Scalella is the owner and president of Argentina Sono Film, the production company of the legendary Ángel Mentasti and Luis Moglia Barth that inaugurated the national sound cinema with the film “Tango!” and that in 2023 celebrated its 90 years at MALBA with a cycle of classics from its rich and varied history, with great projection during its first decades throughout Spanish-speaking America. Scalella also presides over the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF), based in Brussels, and is the actress’s partner. Flavia Palmiero for 11 years. Topics that she addressed with NOTICIAS in her offices full of movie posters, in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood.

News: Where does your passion for cinema come from?

Luis Scalella: In part, from one of my grandparents, who as an extra job was cinema control, the person who was at the door with a token to count the people who entered. But basically from my dad, who started as a cadet in a film company and ended up owning several theaters. In between he was a distributor and also dedicated himself to the purchase and resale of films for all of Latin America. He brought all the Italian cinema from the time of Alberto Sordi, Ugo Tognazzi, “Nino” Manfredi and Vittorio Gassman. He did not like the production very much, but in the ’70s he made a film: “I killed Facundo”, about the murder of Facundo Quiroga, directed by Hugo del Carril. As a child I went to tour the theaters with my dad and as a teenager I started working at his distribution company, but I only discovered what the world of cinema is on that set, which was my first job as a production assistant. That’s where the bug bit me.

News: How did your career continue?

Scalella: Later I was a distributor and then a producer. I started co-producing some Los Superagentes films with Argentina Sono Film; and now in democracy we premiered “Trapped”, about a women’s prison, which no one wanted to direct. In truth, nothing seemed very played. only a few scenes of pseudo-lesbianism, but everything was aligned—the end of censorship with the government of Raúl Alfonsín, the so-called “uncovering” and a cast with great figures—and it was a great success. Among others, Leonor Benedetto, who had just made “Rosa de Lejos”, and Camila Perissé, who had just worked with “Tato” Bores, the peak of her career, performed.

News: How did you come to buy the “Sono”? What prompted her?

Scalella: I bought the first part in 1992, with my partners at Gativideo, one of the video editors that brought cinema to homes in VHS format; and about six years ago I completed 100%. I was driven by the history of Argentine cinema, which I want to preserve. Here there is no national cinematheque dedicated to that and, sometimes, you see films lying in a warehouse, spoiling. Now I’m trying to restore and digitize all those movies, which are more than 320. Almost everything is recoverable, but one thing is to watch a complete movie and another to restore frame by frame. Luckily, part of it was already digitized when the DVDs were made, so we are improving that quality there.

News: 25 of these films were screened at MALBA. Are they your favorites?

Scalella: We put together this cycle with Fernando Martín Peña, programmer at MALBA Cine, with films by Moglia Barth, Del Carril, Luis César Amadori, Lucas Demare, Manuel Romero, Luis Saslavsky, Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, Daniel Tinayre and others. I mention two gems: “Rosaura at Ten”, based on the novel of the same name by Marco Denevi and directed by Mario Soffici, and “Man from the Pink Corner”, by René Mugica, about that same story by Jorge Luis Borges, who said that the movie is even better than what he wrote. Already restored, “Hombre…” was also exhibited in Mar del Plata, Cannes and at the Lumière Festival, in Lyon; and “Rosaura…” is going to be shown this year in Cannes.

News: As owner of “Sono” he produced more than 20 films. Which ones are his favorites?

Scalella: “The Things of Wanting 2”, a Spanish-Argentine co-production with Ángela Molina, Manuel Bandera, “Susú” Pecoraro and Darío Grandinetti; “Atraco!”, a police officer with Guillermo Francella and Nicolás Cabré; and “Inseparables”, a remake of a French comedy-drama, directed by Marcos Carnevale and starring Oscar Martínez and Rodrigo De la Serna.

News: What do you plan to do with all those films?

Scalella: My dream is to create a national cinema platform. Now, together with Pablo Bossi, from Pampa Films—and in agreement with Héctor Olivera—, I also bought Aries, which had gone bankrupt and was in a meeting of creditors. Between Argentina Sono Film and Aries, which are close to 100 films, you have a large part of the local cinema, because until the ’60s, the most important production company was “Sono”, and from the ’60s to 2000 it was Aries. That they are not only the films of Alberto Olmedo and Jorge Porcel – which you may like more or less, but they represent an era of our cinema – but also great titles such as “El Jefe”, “La Patagonia rebellious”, “Plata Dulce” , “Pasajeros de una nightmare” and several by Adolfo Aristarain, such as “Time for revenge” and “Last days of the victim.” I dream of a platform with all the “Sono”, Aries and Pampa films, which add up to about 500.

News: With the local film industry far from its golden years, how did you come to chair the FIAPF?

Scalella: First I was the Argentine representative, instead of Olivera; later vice president for Latin America; then first vice president for everyone; and since 2009 president, reelected for the fifth consecutive time in 2023. I believe that the Americans did not want a European president and that the Europeans did not want an American one, and electing a Latin American gave the Federation a more global meaning.

News: Do you watch a lot of movies with Flavia?

Scalella: Yes, we love it. In fact, she has accompanied me to several festivals: Cannes, Berlin, Taormina. We also watch movies at home. The issue is that Flavia, when she doesn’t like a movie, she wants to change, and due to professional deformation, I can’t stop watching it. Because I’m not only interested in seeing how the plot is put together, but also in the making, imagining what happens behind the camera.

News: Flavia said that they don’t live together because she has her character and because you are “kind of a bastard.” Is that so?

Scalella: (laughs) We live in separate houses, but we actually live together most of the week. It happens that I get a lot of bad blood with some things at work, but our differences are about nonsense; We are always in fundamental agreement. What brings me out at work are the whims and divisiveness, which luckily are becoming less frequent, because the new generations are more aware of how difficult it is to make films.. Although in return, they are less responsible, for example, in compliance with schedules.

News: How complex is it to produce cinema today in Argentina?

Scalella: Very, because from the beginning of a production to the premiere it can take 12 or 18 months, and here things change month to month. Besides, I am waiting for the situation to normalize at the global exhibition level so that it can be produced again for exhibition in cinemas, because now almost everything is a platform. And it is not the same, because going to the movies is very ceremonial.

News: After announcing an eventual closure of the INCAA during the electoral campaign, the new government confirmed in the omnibus law sent to Congress the continuity of the Institute, but with changes. What do you think of them?

Scalella: The idea of ​​closing the INCAA was an absolute mistake, so I completely agree with its continuity, because cinema is a historical record of the way of life of a country, it is preserving part of our identity. The United States managed to sell its “way of living” to the world thanks to cinema. But I do not agree with the changes, because taking away from the Institute the largest flow of funds that came from the National Communications Entity means its definancing. Unfortunately, INCAA remained a beacon of corruption and of some actors with a certain political orientation, but the solution is not to defund it, but to rationalize resources with a reduction in superfluous expenses and personnel; and give funds in a transparent way to those who really deserve it. Cinema without state support does not exist in any Western country.

News: In addition to cinema, he is passionate about horse riding and is dedicated to breeding show jumping and racing horses.

Scalella: Yes, that is also a family inheritance. Hence, my mother took me as a child to the Equestrian Club, where I learned to ride and jump. So much so that in 1992 I won a first-class national championship. But I never liked playing racing; I like the horse, seeing how it develops and the illusion that I won some prize, like in a movie. My dad said: “We film people don’t like gambling, because when we buy a movie we are already gambling.” Cinema in itself is a bet.

by Sergio Núñez

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