It’s only when I stopped to count that I realized that this is my seventh trip to Argentina in eight years, something that started when the Buenos Aires branch of FIPRESCI, the international film critics organization, brought me there to give three lectures in the fall of 2000. The couple who became my host and hostess–critics Quintin and Flavia de la Fuentes, both of whom wrote for the monthly film magazine El Amante and would later review some films at the Chicago International Film Festival for the Reader–invited me back after Quintin became director of BAFICI, the Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Film, a remarkable event sponsored by the city every April. Quintin held the job for four years, and to my knowledge it was the only festival to be organized socially as well as intellectually around the principles of film criticism. Much of the programming centered on critical concepts, and a central meeting point–a cafe inside a huge shopping mall–served as the hub of discussions.

The event was also made delightful by certain unique forms of Argentinian hospitality, which are also evident at the Mar del Plata Film Festival: each guest is assigned an “angel,” a young person assigned to serve as overall guide and assistant, procuring tickets and taking one around to the various cinemas, etc. A little more than a year after Quintin’s lamentable departure from BAFICI, I was invited to Mar del Plata, which has been around (with a few interruptions) since the 50s. This year I’ve been invited back by Quintin to speak at a symposium panel titled “Cinema of Tomorrow.” I’ll be joined there by five colleagues: Alvaro Arroba (Spain), Emmanuel Burdeau (France), Cristina Nord (Germany), Mark Peranson (Canada), and Peter van Bueren (Netherlands).

Mar del Plata is a large resort and retirement community on the southern coast of Argentina. Currently it’s late summer here, and though changing money is tedious–I had to walk about 20 blocks and then sign numerous documents–it’s a delightful place and festival. My first order of business yesterday, for instance, was attending a master class given by U.S. director Charles Burnett, the focus of a retrospective here. (Burnett’s films are also being showcased as part of the African-American Auteurs series at the Gene Siskel Film Center this month. To Sleep With Anger, his 1990 feature starring Danny Glover, screens tonight at 6 PM.) Burnett mainly showed clips from and discussed his current film, “Nujoma: Where Others Wavered,” a period film set in Namibia, where he’s been filming the last couple years or so; Glover and Carl Lumbly star. It seems regrettable but characteristic that one often has to go another country to find out about such a project.