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World View

Woodland Hills collector of South American videos shares them via mail order.

September 24, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Anyone with more than a casual interest in world cinema will tell you movies from South America are very hard to get.

If you are into Mexican movies, you have no problem stocking up on them; most video stores in Latino neighborhoods have separate sections on movies from the land of mariachi.

But besides the odd film that managed to make an impact on North American viewers such as the Oscar winner "The Official Story" or the nostalgic "Orfeo Negro" ("Black Orpheus"), titles from Argentina, Brazil and the other South American countries are virtually impossible to find.

That is, unless you know of Senor Santiago Cadena Ponce's mail-order business.

An avid collector, Ponce has amassed 700 South American movies on videocassette, and from his house in Woodland Hills he is willing to share them.

"My grandfather owned a chain of cinemas in my native Quito, Ecuador," Ponce recently explained, sitting at his desk in a crowded office where he stores most of his collection.

"You could say I grew up inside his theaters," he added with enthusiasm. "And when my grandfather started distributing Argentinian movies in Ecuador, I fell in love with them."

Ponce's business is called "Corrientes y Esmeralda," an homage to the intersection in Buenos Aires where most of the cinema theaters are located.

"Little by little, I assembled a collection," he said. "I can't afford to go on buying trips, but I have contacts in every country. They send me all the new movies as soon as they are released on video."

If you're interested in taking a look at Ponce's collection, you need to call or e-mail him and ask for a copy of his movie catalog.

If you want to rent a few titles, those are mailed to your house at the cost of $5 per movie. You can keep them for two days, after which you need to mail them back to Ponce at your own expense.

On the other hand, if you are looking to buy, you need to ask Ponce for the price of specific titles. The prices range from $10 to $80, with most about $20.

The whole operation takes some time, since videos are shipped approximately two or three weeks after your order is received.

But whether you are renting or buying a title, you're always guaranteed to receive a first-generation copy of the original.

In other words, Ponce will re-transfer each title from the South American PAL-N format to North American NTSC, instead of using an NTSC sub-master to dub from. "That way, the quality of the videos is always preserved," he said.

But be warned: At least a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish is necessary since these films were not picked up by American distributors and thus do not carry English subtitles. What can you expect to find in Ponce's collection? His specialty is the cinema of Argentina, a country that has produced all sorts of films, ranging from the highly artistic and the sublime to the unbelievably tacky.

There are wonderful, undiscovered treasures such as "La Tregua," a 1973 contender for a best foreign film Academy Award. Starring superb actors Hector Alterio (of "The Official Story") and Ana Maria Picchio, the film tells of the tender love story between a middle-age man and the younger, sensitive woman who brings a brief ray of hope to his life.

You will also find the complete filmography of Eliseo Subiela, arguably Argentina's most accomplished director. The creator of "Man Facing Southeast" has directed other wonderful pictures such as "Ultimas Imagenes del Naufragio." And there is the passionate "El Lado Oscuro del Corazon" ("The Dark Side of the Heart"), which was released theatrically in Los Angeles to critical acclaim but never transferred to video.

If you are interested in getting a flavor of the most commercial side of Argentinian film, you should check out one of the many comedies with actors Jorge Porcel and Alberto Olmedo. The pair is a racy Latin version of Laurel and Hardy, and most of their films are hilariously bad.

Even more obscure fare includes vintage TV shows with comedians Pepe Biondi, Carlitos Bala and Juan Carlos Calabro, whose weekly show "Calabromas" followed the same formula for years with giddy, silly results.

But Ponce doesn't cater only to the nostalgic Argentinian. His collection also includes videos from Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Uruguay.

One of Ponce's favorites is a Peruvian film with a poignant environmental message, "The Green Wall."

"It's a great film about how the indigenous people of the Amazon are expelled from their own home as rain forests are destroyed on a daily basis," he said.

The collection also encompasses documentaries on South America; videos on tango, including many on legendary singer Carlos Gardel; and even a few noteworthy soccer games from past World Cup tournaments. Since Ponce uses most of the money he makes to buy new titles and enlarge his collection, he supplements his income by repairing electronic equipment. "I could never survive on [the videos] alone," he said, laughing. "My collection is just a wonderful hobby.

"I get calls from people who can't believe I have this or that movie," he added. "They want to see the old movies time and time again. Some of them had been looking for years for a specific title. That, of course, is the best part of my business."

BE THERE

Corrientes y Esmeralda. (818) 716-0274. E-mail: scadena759@aol.com. Web page: www.cineargentino.com

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