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The Way of the Termite: The Essay in Cinema

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
7:30 p.m. Tire dié
Fernando Birri (Argentina, 1958–60)

(Throw Me a Dime). Over a plane’s-eye view of Santa Fe, Argentina, a narrator supplies us with statistics about the burgeoning city, down to minute detail. We land on the outskirts, at a train station where children from a nearby shantytown meet each train to earn a few pennies. The children and their parents give their statistics too: “I’m twenty-nine but I may as well be forty,” says one woman. Fernando Birri’s film, a “social inquiry” into a people fighting for their lives, is deceptively polite: by letting the people speak for themselves, he intends to devastate.

—Judy Bloch

• Directed by Birri and the students of the Instituto de Cinematografia de la Universidad Nacional del Litoral. (35 mins, In Spanish with English subtitles, B&W, 16mm, From The Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Preceded by shorts:
A Corner in Wheat (D. W. Griffith, U.S., 1909). A meditation on capitalism. (17 mins @ 16 fps, Silent, B&W, 35mm, From The Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Land Without Bread (Las hurdes) (Luis Buñuel, Spain, 1937). A mock-documentary on the wretchedness of life in a remote region of Spain. (27 mins, English narration, B&W, 16mm, PFA Collection)
Isle of Flowers (Ilha das flores) (Jorge Furtado, Brazil, 1990). A biting commentary on poverty and the food chain. (12 mins, Color, DigiBeta, From Casa de Cinema de Porto Alegre)

• (Total running time: 91 mins)