Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Arts Innovator: Rodrigo Bellot, Bolivia

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In any conversation about Bolivia’s nascent film industry, the first name that comes up is Rodrigo Bellot. The Santa Cruz-born director has almost single-handedly brought Bolivian filmmaking to international attention. Films such as Sexual Dependency have won the hearts of critics abroad and inspired a new generation of Bolivian filmmakers.

One of his recent projects, ¿Quién Mató a la Llamita Blanca? (Who Killed the White Llama?), has broken box office records at home. Llamita, which was produced entirely in Bolivia, is a road comedy that follows a couple hired to transport 50 kilos of cocaine to the Brazilian border. It has already become the most pirated DVD in the country, playing frequently in the restaurants and buses that once showcased standard Hollywood fare. But perhaps Bellot’s most important contribution has been to legitimize Bolivian filmmaking as a valid art form.

His dream found little opportunity to flourish in his homeland. With no studios to work in and no Bolivian filmmaker to model himself on, Bellot, now 30, moved to the U.S. at the age of 16, escaping what he calls the “lamento boliviano”—a reference to the chronic Bolivian complaint about the lack of opportunities inside the country.

Destierro (Exile), Bellot’s first venture into filmmaking when he was still a student at Ithaca College, garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Student Film in 2000. The semi-autobiographical film, a profile of a Bolivian student finding his identity “in a place that had nothing Bolivian,” as Bellot describes it, was turned into a full-length feature called Sexual Dependency—launching Bellot’s commercial career. The film, which follows five teenagers from Santa Cruz and Ithaca coming into their own sexual and sociopolitical identity, also raised Bolivia’s cinematic reputation abroad. It was entered in the Academy Awards—it didn’t win—and has since been shown in more than 65 film festivals, including Berlin and Toronto.

Apart from directing and writing, Rodrigo Bellot has been a casting director for many international films—most recently Steven Soderbergh’s two-part biopic on Che Guevara, The Argentine and Guerrilla. The acclaimed U.S. director’s decision to film in Bolivia was helped by the presence of a growing and talented corps of film artists and technicians, demonstrating “how far the film industry has evolved in Bolivia,” says Bellot. That, in fact, may be the greatest tribute of all to Bellot’s pathbreaking career.

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