Eva Tarr-Kirkhope: Fixated by film

17 Nov

She claims she is tired, and that’s to be expected after her months of hard work as director of the twentieth London Latin American Film Festival, which launches tonight. But despite her supposed fatigue, Eva Tarr-Kirkhope chatters away happily, driven by an infectious passion for Latin American cinema and clearly excited about what she hopes will be her best festival yet.

In Eva’s words, this year’s festival will be “really, really, really big”, celebrating both LLAFF’s 20th anniversary and the bicentenary of Latin American independence. Over 40 films are showing at various venues and Eva hopes to pull in a crowd of up to 20,000 people, twice the number who attended last year’s event.

Eva Tarr-Kirkhope

But the festival has not always enjoyed such success since Eva and her husband first launched it in 1990 when Latin American film was barely known in London. “Back then the festival only lasted one week. We didn’t really know how to approach it then but it grew bit by bit. The audiences and the amount of films we have now is amazing.”

Originally from Cuba, Eva met her film-maker husband Tony Kirkhope in Havana and moved to the UK in 1979. Studying History of Art at Havana University, she had been influenced by the Cuban revolution’s push for social change and saw the lower classes empowered by education. After the revolution, she worked in Cuban cinema during its Golden Age when filmmakers such as Tomas Piard and Sara Gómez were creating new genres.

Once she arrived in London, Eva found herself slighted for her Cuban education and cultural background. She was also shocked by how little people knew of Latin American cinema. Together with her husband, she set up the London Latin American Film Festival in 1990 to showcase the creativity of Latin American film and to educate Londoners in her culture.

“I take the credit personally, along with my husband, as we were the ones who put Latin American film on the map in London thirty years ago. We realised there was a gap in the market to show a different side of Latin America. We wanted to show that it wasn’t all about tequila and margaritas. We have to show that we have a film culture. We started this film festival with that aim and we’ve managed to introduce London to Latin American cinema. We’ve made it popular. Not one week or two weeks pass without a Latin American film showing in London’s cinemas. Today Time Out’s film of the week is directed by a Mexican, Jorge Michel Grau We Are What We Are. That would never have happened before Tony and I set up this festival in 1990.”

Eva Tarr-Kirkhope’s top 10 favourite Latin American films of all time

Lady from the Shanghai Cinema by Guilherme de Almeida Prado

1. CABEZA DE VACA by Nicolas Echevarria

2. NIGHT ON THE TERRACE by Jorge Zima

3. LADY FROM THE SHANGHAI CINEMA by Guilherme de Almeida Prado

4. SECRET WEDDING by Alejandro Agresti

5. ORIANE by Fina Torres

6. MAN FACING SOUTHEAST by Eliseo Subiela

7. LOLA by Maria Novaro

8. THE BELLE OF THE ALHAMBRA by Enrique Pineda Barnet

9. HOMEWORK by Jaime Humberto Hermosillo

10. THE VOYAGE by Fernando (Pino) Solanas

Oriane by Fina Torres

But at one point it was unclear whether Eva would continue with her beloved festival. In 1997 Tony Kirkhope died at the age of 47. Thanks to her friends who rallied around her, Eva continued to organise the festival with more passion than ever before. “We had a fantastic festival that year before he died. We raised £20,000 for different Latin American charities. It was a very dramatic situation for me. I just put all my love and everything that I had for him and for our life together, I put it totally into the festival.”

Now, having lived in London for over thirty years, Eva and her festival have become an important part of the city’s arts scene. She frequently visits family and friends in Cuba but firmly believes London is her home. “My life is here. I have been here for half of my life and I love London. As far as I’m concerned I’m not just Cuban, I am as much a Londoner. It is something that is difficult to explain but when I am in Cuba I am missing home. When I am here every now and then, when the weather gets really hot and sunny, I get very homesick because it reminds me of Cuba. It’s the same humidity on the two islands. When it’s hot like that I just want to go to the beach like I used to in Cuba.”

So what does the future hold for the LLAFF? Latin American cinema is gaining more and more media attention and with top directors like Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón reaching the heights of Hollywood it’s fair to say that it has now entered the mainstream. But for Eva’s small, non-profit organisation that stages the LLAFF, the recession is proving a difficult obstacle despite the genre’s growing popularity.  “This situation with the credit crunch makes it very, very difficult to get funding. I haven’t got any funding and it is all very hard. Some of it comes out of my own pocket and the rest is donations. I have this beautiful team of people who have all given their time and their love for free. I do not charge any money and I do not pay myself any money. All these people do it for their love of film and Latin American cinema. We don’t know how long we can sustain this.”

Let’s hope that the increased interest in Latin American cinema helps LLAFF gain enough funds for next year’s festival and many more after that.

Image 1: Eva Tarr-Kirkhope

Image 2: Rotten Tomatoes

Image 3: fan-de-cinema

Video: Londonlatinfilmf

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