10th Annual Cine LatinoIn Focus: Hebe Tabachnik

By Jan Willms
Subject: Hebe Tabachnik, artistic director of the 4th Annual Cine Latino Film Festival

Hebe Tabachnik, artistic director of the Cine Latino Minneapolis Saint Paul Film Festival, knew from an early age that she was going to be involved in film. Born in Argentina, she attended cultural events with her family, watched a lot of TV and went to every kind of film she could see in Buenos Aires.

“I saw films from France, Czechoslovakia and the US. I saw Italian, Russian and eastern European films. And also films from Argentina,” she recalled. “When I was much younger, I would see a film during the day and that was a couple of hours spent in another world.”

Although she has a degree in chemistry, she knew she wanted to go to film school. And so she prepared herself, by working in acting and choreography. “I knew that being in film required knowledge and experience,” she said. “My going to film school was delayed because Argentina was under a dictatorship, and they closed down most of the film schools because they thought liberal ideas were brewing.”

Tabachnik learned as much as she could on her own before enrolling in film school. “It was suggested I learn about acting, because it really helps when you can understand how it works. I acted in some commercials and small plays,” she said.

She eventually graduated with degrees in directing and screenwriting from the Universidad del Cine in Buenos Aires, where she became a professor for the Directing Department.

She said many of the big names in film in Argentina attended there and were classmates of hers.

Tabachnik moved to the United States, and for more than 15 years she has been a film curator, producer and festival consultant. She is a world cinema programmer for the Palms Springs and Seattle international film festivals, as well as a member of the Board of Directors and programmer for Dance Camera West, a dance film festival in Los Angeles. She also has been director and producer of the Guadalajara International Film Festival in Los Angeles, which she considers one of her main accomplishments.

Her work with numerous other festivals throughout her career and her hand-picking of Spanish-language films that will be introduced to US audiences has resulted in her being considered one of the most influential figures in Latin cinema.

Tabachnik said she has been an advocate for good film regardless of region. “I love good stories, and I have given relentless support for new talent,” she said. “I travel a lot and get to meet new directors at a lot of festivals. I meet them at the project level and also at the halfway level of their production.”

She said she is very proud that out of the 29 films being shown at the 4th Cine Latino festival in Minneapolis, 17 of those films are from first or second-time filmmakers.

“When I love a film, I go for it. And distributors know that,” Tabachnik stated, “I fall in love with a film, literally. I tell a director that I know his or her film might go to other festivals, but that at some point I want it.”

Tabachnik considers herself a conduit for connecting the story teller with the audience. “I have been lucky,” she admitted. “I have gotten some films that I didn’t imagine I could get. And sometimes I have been with the creator of the stories from the very beginning”

What does she seek in a film? “It has to resonate in some way,” she explained. “There is a combination of elements—the performances, the setting, the approach to the story that is fresh and unique. I like to see the voice behind that story.” Whether the film is a comedy or a dark comedy or a thriller, she believes it always has to be entertaining.

“Sometimes I can be at a meeting with people, and we are discussing a movie, and I think ‘Did you see the same film I saw?’ The bottom line is that it is like standing in front of a painting or a sculpture or a building. You connect or you don’t. It’s an intangible kind of thing.”

As a child, Tabachnik remembers being fascinated by seeing films with good stories and that is what is still important for her today. She also likes being surprised by a film.

When she looks at the trends in Latino cinema, Tabachnik sees the quality of the filmmaking across the region. “It is remarkable,” she noted. “Filmmakers are able to make any kind of film.” She cited the increase in animation, the variety and diversity of storytelling and the number of female directors. “The quality is rising and rising and rising,” she said.

The other trend she sees in Latino cinema is that great films are coming not only from big city centers or capitols, but an array of new talent is coming from the countryside. “It is fascinating to see this spread of talent, and there are more film schools and festivals.”

As far as her own preference in films that she watches purely for enjoyment, Tabachnik expressed a great love for animation as well as disaster films. She also cites documentaries and films about love as favorites. “I love to cry. I really enjoy that catharsis a film can bring. Getting into the theatre and watching a film is an adventure.”

Tabachnik is relishing her position as artistic director for Cine Latino at the MSP Film Society. She said she met Susan Smoluchowski, executive director, through a mutual friend. “She talked about Cine Latino, and we kept having meetings. At some point she asked me to come over and be a part of it,” Tabachnik related. “I was a juror during the last international film festival, and I loved Minneapolis. I thought the audience was incredible, and their enthusiasm was remarkable. Seeing the passion of that audience helped me to decide to participate as artistic director for Cine Latino.”