This website uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some of these cookies are used for visitor analysis, others are essential to making our site function properly and improve the user experience. By using this site, you consent to the placement of these cookies. Click Accept to consent and dismiss this message or Deny to leave this website. Read our Privacy Statement for more.
Afterthoughts and Postscripts, 53.1: David Martin-Jones and María Soledad Montañez
Share |

Afterthoughts on Auto-erasure

David Martin-Jones, University of Glasgow, and María Soledad Montañez, University of Stirling



Since "Uruguay Disappears” was accepted for publication it has provoked strong reactions, especially during the 2012 and 2013 conference seasons. The idea of "auto-erasure”, the notion that filmmakers in small nations may deliberately erase the nation from films in order to appeal to audiences globally, seems to be one that people either love or hate. Having conducted research into Uruguayan cinema for nearly ten years, we have drawn on this experience to consider why this idea elicits these very distinct reactions, from audiences in Uruguay and various parts of Europe.

The reasons are, we believe, complex, and geopolitical. Amongst other things, they illustrate how integral the place of the nation (and national identity) remains in our understanding of the world, not to mention the importance of identifiable national cinemas amidst a world of cinemas. Even at a time when the world is changing dramatically, on a globalised trajectory accelerated by the end of the Cold War, the notion that some filmmakers might purposefully erase the nation can be controversial. For those who dislike the idea of auto-erasure, it may seem as though this is a potential threat to the idea of a national cinema being able to represent the nation. To be fair, in some contexts, perhaps it is. Connected to this, some may consider auto-erasure to illustrate the triumph of the commodity over (film as) art: as though global market forces are determining the aesthetics of films from countries like Uruguay, reducing artistic agency, and rendering powerless the auteur.

There is also a broader reason for this reaction which concerns how at odds the notion of auto-erasure may appear with the ethos of film festivals (even if, we argue, it is in part a product of the festival circuit as producer), and the valuable role they play in showcasing films from smaller nations. Again, auto-erasure may appear a potential threat to the idea of a representative national cinema, which in turn could make it seem an idea antagonistic towards festivals.

There are doubtless numerous other reasons not to like the idea of auto-erasure, these are just some of the most easily distinguishable from the questions we have been asked.


But for some the issue is much simpler, the objection clearly enunciated. When they see a film like Control Z’s Gigante (Biniez, 2009), they see Uruguay. So how can we talk of any form of erasure of the nation? Very often this point comes from Uruguayans or Latin Americanists, although sometimes it is made more generally in relation to how films are packaged as coming from specific countries. If the film is branded as a "Uruguayan film”, and we know its origin before we even start watching, then how can the nation be erased? Making the case that audiences (especially outside Uruguay) may not realise the identity of the nation depicted in the image has been difficult at times, before we even consider the idea that sometimes Uruguayan filmmakers purposefully erase the nation. Perhaps a little like "auto-ethnography”, when considering auto-erasure, reconciling the view from the "outside” with that from the "inside” is not easy. Ironically, it also took us quite a while to see ourselves from the outside, to realise that some people may think that we are attempting to deny Uruguay its place in its own national cinema.

The spectre casting its long shadow over these reactions may simply be Hollywood. In the global marketplace both small nations and film festivals are involved in the difficult construction of niche markets in relation to the Hollywood behemoth. Perhaps some people wonder whose side we are on, if sides exist that is. Alternatively, auto-erasure may reflect the sense of homogenization which follows in the wake of globalization: auto-erasure in cinema seeming as threatening to distinct national identities as the practices of multi-national corporations can be to national industries and identities. Although our intention has always been to try to surface the importance, usefulness and sometimes the sheer brilliance of Uruguayan cinema, still we can see how an idea like auto-erasure might be interpreted as a pejorative term, akin perhaps to "festival film.”

The reasons why some react more positively to the idea are much easier to pinpoint. Firstly, scholars working in a variety of contexts are starting to notice the same or similar process at work elsewhere, in other Latin American cinemas and beyond. In such instances, auto-erasure is not a scandalous idea. On the contrary, it may even seem a rather banal one. Secondly, as the field turns ever more towards the study of the global politics of film production and distribution,[1] and its impact on aesthetics, the idea of auto-erasure can link up with research into the worldwide patterns of a world of cinemas. In such instances the avoidance of the spectre of Hollywood may well play a part. Auto-erasure can be useful in helping us understand the dynamic interplay between cinemas worldwide. Perhaps this is why some people in the industry – more typically producers and distributors – tend to engage openly in discussion surrounding the "certain tendency” towards auto-erasure that is observable in some world cinemas.

Since this article went into press, auto-erasure in Uruguayan cinema has emerged centre stage once again. Whisky (Rebella and Stoll, 2004) a film by the Uruguayan production company Control Z (whose Gigante provides the case study for the article), has been voted the "Best Latin American Film of the Last 20 Years”. An article on this in the Uruguayan newspaper El Pais, can be found online here:

An English language piece on the Cinema Tropical website is here:

Whisky is one of the key films often brought up during questions when we present on auto-erasure and Control Z Films. Whisky was one of the films which sparked our research interest in Uruguayan cinema in the mid 2000s.[2] We loved it then, and we still love it now. It was in part because of this film that we decided to try to grow the field, at a time when there were only one or two pieces in existence on the topic, either in English or Spanish. Our interest has grown with each article we have written since then. Uruguayan cinema has now found a place at a Symposium on Uruguayan Culture and Politics in London; as well as numerous international conferences; we have plans for a special edition of a journal on the topic (including an exploration of the reasons for the erasing of the nation in the horror film La casa muda (Hernández, 2010) and its relationship to both Hollywood and the festival circuit); and it has triggered innovative new doctoral research. This momentum looks set to continue. Yet in spite of Whisky’s key status for Uruguayan cinema and research into Uruguayan cinema, it should be noted that its recent accolade was awarded by Latin American film festivals. Is Whisky the "Best Latin American Film of the Last 20 Years” or should it be more accurately stated as the "Best Latin American Festival Film of the Last 20 years”? We might legitimately wonder whether it is its depiction of Uruguay which makes it so universally liked, or rather, its likeable universality?

Not all Uruguayan films are characterised by auto-erasure, it is true. Some wear their "Uruguayanness” on their sleeves. But neither are all Uruguayan films necessarily set in a recognisable place called Uruguay. What the international success of Control Z’s films demonstrates is just how revealing auto-erasure can be of the global forces at work in the nation.

[1] As indicated by such texts as: Dudley Andrew, "An Atlas of World Cinema”, Stephanie Dennison & Song Hwee Lim (eds.), Remapping World Cinema: Identity, Culture and Politics in Film (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), pp. 19-29; Lúcia Nagib, "Towards a positive definition of World Cinema”, Stephanie Dennison & Song Hwee Lim (eds.), Remapping World Cinema: Identity, Culture and Politics in Film (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), pp. 30-37; Dina Iordanova, "Rise of the Fringe”, in Dina Iordanova, David Martin-Jones and Belén Vidal (eds), Cinema at the Periphery (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010), pp. 23-45.

[2] David Martin-Jones and Soledad Montañez, "Cinema in Progress: New Uruguayan Cinema”, Screen,

50: 3 (2009), pp. 334-344.


David Martin-Jones is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Glasgow. He is the author of Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity (2006), Deleuze Reframed (2008), Scotland: Global Cinema (2009), and Deleuze and World Cinemas (2011). He is co-editor of Cinema at the Periphery (2010) and Deleuze and Film (2012), the Bloomsbury monograph series Thinking Cinema, and the online web resource

Dr. María Soledad Montañez is a Lecturer in Spanish and Latin American Studies at the University of Stirling (Scotland). Her interests range across diverse areas of Latin American literature, cinema and the visual arts, with a specific emphasis on gender studies. Her most recent publications include articles on Uruguayan cinema in Studies in Hispanic Cinemas (2007), Screen (2009), Latin American Perspectives (2012) and a contribution to Women, Gender and Discourse in Latin America (2009).

comments powered by Disqus

Contact Us

Society for Cinema and Media Studies
640 Parrington Oval
Wallace Old Science Hall, Room 300
Norman, OK 73019
(405) 325-8075