(Toss Me a Dime)
Director: Fernando Birri
Production: Instituto de Cinematografia de la Universidad Nacional del Litoral; black and white, 16mm blown up to 35mm; running time: 33 minutes. Filmed 1958–1960 in Santa Fe, Argentina. Released 1960.
Screenplay and photography: Fernando Birri and the students at the Instituto de Cinematografia of the Universidad Nacional de Litoral, Santa Fe, Argentina; editor: Antonio Ripoll; sound: Mario Fezia; assistant director: Manuel Horacio Gimenez.
Guillermo Cervantes Luro (
); Voices of Francisco Petrone and Maria Rosa Gallo.
Mahieu, Jose Agustin, Breve Historia del Cine Argentino , Buenos Aires, 1966.
Micciche, Lino, editor, Fernando Birri e la Escuela Documental de Santa Fe , Pesaro, Italy, 1981.
King, John, and Nissa Torrents, The Garden of Forking Paths: Argentine Cinema , London, 1988.
Sendrós, Paraná, Fernando Birri , Buenos Aires, 1994.
Pussi, Dolly, "Breve historia del documental en la Argentina," in Cine Cubano (Havana), October 1973.
Couselo, Jorge Miguel, "The Connection: 3 Essays on the Treatment of History in the Early Argentine Cinema," in Journal of Latin American Lore , volume 1, no. 2, 1975.
Burton, Julianne, interview with Fernando Birri in Fernando Birri e la Escuela Documental de Santa Fe , edited by Lino Micciche, Pesaro, Italy, 1981.
Pereira, Manuel, "Carta a Fernando Birri," and "Pequena critica agradecida a Tire die ," by Rigoberto Lopez, in Cinema Cubano (Havana), no. 100, 1981.
Lombardi, Francisco, "Fernando Birri y las Raíces del Nuevo Cine Latino-americano," in Hablemos de Cine (Lima), March 1984.
Acker, Alison, "Pictures of the Other Americas: From Protest to Celebration," in The Canadian Forum , vol. 66, December 1986.
* * *
Though seldom seen, even in Latin America, Tire dié , a 33-minute documentary, is the most revered and influential of the hundreds of documentary shorts produced throughout the continent during the quarter century of the New Latin American Cinema movement. Most viewers know only the fragment presented in Fernando Solanas' and Octavio Getino's three-part feature documentary on Argentine politics, The Hour of the Furnaces (1969), but the example of director Fernando Birri's approach and philosophy can be detected in dozens of other films. In its genesis, mode of production and distribution, in its style and subject matter, in its successes and in its shortcomings, Tire dié blazed a trail that the entire New Latin American Cinema movement would continue to explore.
The film begins with an aerial shot of the provincial city of Santa Fe, Argentina. A voice-of-God narrator (anonymous, omniscient) intones over these perspective-of-God images in a style reminiscent of traditional, authoritarian documentary. As conventional descriptive data (founding dates, population) give way to the less conventional (statistics concerning the number of streetlamps and hairdressers), the parodistic intent becomes clear. The neat grid of organized neighborhoods gives way to random shanties, as the narrator declares, "Upon reaching the edge of the city, statistics become uncertain. This is where, between four and five in the afternoon during 1956, 1957, and 1958, the first Latin American social survey film was shot."
The railroad bridge which the aerial camera surveys just prior to the credits is the site of the first post-credit sequence. From God's vantage point, the camera has descended to the eye-level of the children who congregate there every afternoon. A little boy in a closeup stares directly at the camera, then turns and runs out of the frame. Other children appear in close-up, looking and speaking at the camera in direct address. Their barely audible voices are overlaid with the studied dramatic diction of two adult narrators, male and female, who repeat what the children are saying. This initial sequence ends as the camera follows one of the boys home and "introduces" his mother and then other members of the community.
The primary expectation deferred and eventually fulfilled by the film's intricate structuration is the arrival of the long and anxiously awaited train to Buenos Aires. The interviews in which local residents discuss their economic plight are repeatedly intercut with shots back to the tracks and the growing number of children keeping their restless vigil there. The eventual climax of expectation (subjects' and viewers') has the bravest and fleetest of the children running alongside the passing train. As they balance precariously on the narrow, elevated bridge, their hands straining upward to catch any coin the passengers might toss in their direction, children's voices on the soundtrack chant hoarsely, "Tire dié! Tire dié!" ("Toss me a dime!"). The final shot holds on the solemn, soulful face of the three-year-old, protected by his mother's embrace and her assertion that "he is too young to participate in the tire dié ."
The first product of the first Latin American documentary film school, the Escuela Documental de Santa Fe founded by Birri in 1956, Tire dié was a collaborative effort the evolution and ethos of which recall the Italian neo-realism of the post-war years and anticipate certain aspects of the direct cinema of the 1960s. After selecting theme and locale from preliminary photo-reportages, Birri divided 60 students into various groups, each of which was to concentrate on a particular inhabitant of the riverside squatters' community under study. With their single camera and cumbersome tape recorder, the group made daily visits during a two-year period to the marginal community where the film was set. All the residents of the riverside squatters' camp attended the film's premiere along with municipal and university dignitaries. In response to consultations with the film's subjects and general audience questionnaires, the original 59-minute version was edited down to 33. A primitive mobile cinema kept the film circulating throughout the region.
Tire dié exemplifies the attempt to democratize the documentary form by giving voice and image to sectors of a culture which had previously been ignored and suppressed. Given the film's obvious commitment to direct visual and verbal address, the intervention of the anonymous male and female mediator/narrators is unexpected and disconcerting. Investigation into the film's mode of production reveals that this expedient derives not from prior design but from deficiencies in the original sound recording. Tire dié sought to give the effect of synchronous sound without the technical facilities to do so. The over-dubbing of social actors by professional actors is the central—but not the sole—contradiction of this social document: it brands a seminal attempt to democratize documentary discourse with the unwanted but unavoidable stamp of residual authoritarian anonymity, just as the intricate patterns of editing call assumptions of transparent realism into question. In its contradictions, as well as in its achievements, Tire dié stands as a landmark of Latin American social documentary.