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Estrellas exploits the ironies that arise when the science fiction genre is wrenched from its customary coordinates in the highly modernized metropolises of the developed world. A playful documentary, it focuses on the efforts of an entrepreneur, Julio Arrieta, who sets up a theatre company in a Buenos Aires villa (shantytown) to provide work for its inhabitants as authentic-looking extras in films about poverty, corruption or violence. Julio embarks on an enterprise of a rather different nature, however: to make a science fiction film in the villa. He asks: “¿Acaso los villeros no tenemos el derecho de tener marcianos?” (Don’t we have a right to have Martians here in the shantytown?) The question, rhetorical and amusing, nevertheless emphasizes the stark anachronism of creating science fiction in a space often considered to be one of modernity’s wastelands. As in the later District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009) and Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011), science fiction films set respectively in a Johannesburg shantytown and a deprived London tower block, the contrast serves to heighten themes of social exclusion and prejudice.

Scenes from the making of the science fiction film are incorporated in Estrellas, and the directors lose no opportunities for fun, highlighting the amateurish character of the project. In filming breaks, the bored “aliens” engage in desultory fisticuffs; shooting is interrupted by noisy kids and the incoherent singing of a local drunk. The spacecraft used in the film, shown here, is assembled from a miscellany of unwanted junk: the body of an old Citroën, bicycle handlebars and a floor-polisher, attached to the side to simulate a fulminating weapon of attack. The film’s (mis)appropriations of the science fiction genre are deeply and deliberately implausible. If Estrellas parodies hackneyed representations of the villa, it also exposes the embeddedness of science fiction, futuristic visions and alien encounters within certain (North American and European) narratives of technological modernity.

Text: Joanna Page

Directors: Federico León and Marcos Martínez
Estrellas (Argentina, 2007)