Fernando Birri

Fernando Birri

A few words about Fernando Birri:
"He claims to be Argentinean, born in Santa Fe, but speaks of a Latin American passport. Citizen of the cosmos...puppeteer and poet. Actor and painter. Forerunning and visionary film-maker. Lucid theorist of images in motion. Educator and pedagogue. Transmitter of experiences that make him unique in the field of written and audiovisual culture. As he once paraphrased Jorge Cedrón--'my patria is where my shoes are...'" (excerpted from Rafael Alberti)


Fernando Birri was born in Argentina in 1925. He went to Rome in 1950 to study at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. In Italy he worked as an assistant to such great neo-realist directors as Vittorio de Sica and Cesare Zavattini and acted in several Italian films.

On his return to Argentina he founded the Film Institute of the National University of the Litoral, in Santa Fe. With his film students he spent two years making the documentary Tire Die/Can You Spare a Dime? which shows the lives of impoverished squatters living in a hobo city on the edge of the elegant and modern Buenos Aires. He received the Best First Work award at the Venice Film Festival for his feature film Los Inundados a delightful picaresque which follows the journey involuntarily undertaken by a family flooded from their squat outside of Buenos Aires.

Birri's roommate in Rome was Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Marquez promised him that he could have any story he liked to film. Birri recalled a story that Marquez had written specifically for his children and which these very tough critics had disdained, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. Birri collected on this promise in the mid-80's when he and Marquez cowrote the script for the film of the same name.

In 1982 he founded the Laboratorio Ambulante de Poeticas, a mobile film school which he took to Spain, Italy, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua and throughout the Argentine country side. In 1986 he co-founded the Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV in San Antonio de los Banos, Havana, Cuba. In 1997 he received a lifetime achievement award at the International Documentary Film Festival of Leipzig.

In 1998, on the 30th anniversary of the death of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Fernando Birri undertook to track down the legendary freedom fighter and to examine the question of where utopia can be found and what it means. Birri deliberately dissociates himself from doing business with Che's myth, which was given a boost in 1997 with the discovery of Che's mortal remains. On this occasion he said "...Now that Che has been elevated to a myth, we should save him from the altar of demigods and give him back his original form." Birri does not restrict his search to Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Cuba. He extends the hunt to major cities in Europe, like Paris and Berlin, where the memory of Che remains potent and where he became the idol of nearly an entire generation at the end of the sixties.

Birri's most recent film project is an adaptation of Eduardo Galleano's Century of Wind, a transcontinental mosaic of Latin American history in the 20th century. In 1999 Fernando founded the Birri Foundation dedicated to the promoting audiovisual media education and dissemination to upcoming generations of young artists.

photo courtesy of Winnie Lambrecht

Back to home Home