Puerto Rico has been a territory of the US since 1898, and records suggest that scenes of US troops arriving on the island were filmed at the beginning of the 20th century, while the earliest films screened in Puerto Rico were brought there in 1900 by a French representative of Pathé. By 1909 there were permanent cinemas in urban areas, and between 1910 and 1912 Juan E. Viguié Cajas filmed actualities of local scenes in Ponce. Un drama en Puerto Rico/A Drama in Puerto Rico (Rafael Colorado, 1915) is thought to be Puerto Rico’s earliest fiction film. Since the silent era, as in the case of Ralph Ince’s Amor tropical/Tropical Love (1921), Puerto Rico has figured in Hollywood films as an exotic backdrop for tropical romance—a theme which is also apparent in locally made films such as Viguié Cajas’s early talkie, Romance Tropical (1934), recently restored by the film archive at UCLA. In the 1940s, as part of a US-led modernization programme, the División de Educación a la Comunidad (DIVEDCO) was set up: under its auspices local filmmakers were trained, and more than a hundred documentaries promoting Puerto Rican life were made. Despite DIVEDCO’s efforts, however, prevailing economic conditions prevented the growth of a feature film industry, and the island continued to be used as a cheap location for runaway foreign productions: Woody Allen’s Bananas (1971) is one of many examples.
In the 1970s local opposition to US cultural and economic influence produced a national documentary movement and a body of militant films, including Angelitos negros/Little Black Angels (Mike Cuesta, 1980). The late 1970s saw the beginnings of local feature film production, an early success being Dios los cría/…And God Created Them (Jacobo Morales, 1979). Critical documentary filmmaking was sustained through the 1980s alongside socially responsible commercial film production, a key figure being Marcos Zurinaga, whose films include La gran fiesta/The Gala Ball (1986). In the 1990s, Puerto Rico once again became a favoured location for US productions: Amistad (Steven Spielberg, 1997), for example, was made on the island. Increased sponsorship for local arts and culture and the founding of two annual film festivals boosted local production, and Morales’s Lo que le pasó a Santiago/What Happened to Santiago (1989) was a domestic and international success (in 2012, Morales himself starred in the box-office hit Broche de oro (Raúl Marchand Sánchez)). In a climate of international co-production deals, Zurinaga’s English-language The Disappearance of García Lorca (US/Puerto Rico/Spain/France, 1997; aka Death in Granada) was a major production that attracted distribution by the US multinational Columbia. Since 2011, tax incentives have boosted all types of audiovisual production on the island. See also Caribbean, film in the.
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