Home About The Film Reviews Filmmaker World Sales Publicity View Trailer

Margot Benacerraf

Though self-described as small in stature and with only two films to her name, Margot Benacerraf is one of the giants in Latin American Cinema.

An acclaimed pioneer feminist filmmaker, Benacerraf has been an important inspiration and mentor to artists, writers and filmmakers around the world. After her films jumpstarted international interest in Venezuelan cinema and helped launch the New Latin Cinema, she went on to found Venezuela’s Cineteca Nacional and Fundavisual Latina — institutions dedicated to restoring films and bringing cinema from around the world to her native country.

Benacerraf was born in Caracas, Venezuela on August 14, 1926. Primarily interested in becoming a writer, she studied Philosophy and Literature at the Central University. In 1947, she won the Pan-American Award for an essay on Latin American unity and by the next year, she had written a play that won an award co-sponsored by Columbia University. Part of her prize was the opportunity to come to New York to study writing for the theater. There, when asked to act in a student film, Benacerraf discovered cinema. Captivated by the medium, she decided to emigrate to France in 1950 to study at IDHEC — the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques in Paris.

But in November 1951, she interrupted her class work to create her first film, Reverón, a poetic study of the legendary and eccentric Venezuelan artist. The 20-minute short gained international acclaim when it premiered at the 1953 Berlin Film Festival.

It took several years and a few false starts before she came up with a plan to make a film of her native Venezuela. On investigating the arid north, Benacerraf fell in love with the region and people of Araya and decided to focus her first feature there. After an exhaustive consultation of the historical documents at the Seville and Madrid archives, she began filming in 1958. 

Araya is a vast salt marsh situated on a peninsula off the northeast coast of Venezuela, jutting out into the Caribbean Sea. Five centuries after its discovery by the Spanish, the salt was still being exploited by manual labor. Industrial mechanization was slated to take over the very year that Benacerraf arrived. The filmmaker hoped to capture the salt workers’ lives and their long-ago working methods — just before these changes took place.

Araya was presented at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival with great success, sharing the Fiprisci Critics’ Award with Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour, as well winning the Higher Technical Commission’s Award for its exceptional cinematic qualities. It was the first film from Venezuela to win a major award and marked a major achievement for a Latin American director.

After serving three years as the first head of INCIBA, Venezuela’s National Institute for Culture and Fine Arts, Margot founded the Cinemateca Nacional in 1966. Starting out as a cinematheque, it soon evolved into a nationwide film society movement and then the country’s first film archive. She participated in the Board of Directors of Caracas’ first art film theater, the Ateneo de Caracas. In 1991, with Gabriel Garcia Márquez, she created Latin Fundavisual to promote Latin American audiovisual art in Venezuela. In addition, Benacerraf has received the Venezuelan National Film Award (1995) and the Andrés Bello Order (twice) for her achievements in cinema, the Simón Bolívar Medal of Honor, Order of the Italian Government, Bernardo O’Higgins Order by the Government of Chile, National Order of Merit First Class by France, and other awards from around the world. In February of 1987, the Ateneo de Caracas inaugurated a new theater, the Salon Margot Benacerraf, in her honor. These days, she spends her time on her various cinema activities and lives in Caracas and Paris.


Copyright © 2009 Milestone Films.