Argentina's National Institute for Cinema and Visual Arts announced Thursday that filmmaker Fernando Birri died in Rome at 92 years of age.
Birri directed 17 films and was a key figure in Latin America's move towards what he called "a national, realist, critical and popular cinema."
Birri was born in Santa Fe, Argentina. In 1950, he went to Rome to study at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, or Experimental Film Center. In Rome, he met Latin American artists such as Colombian writer Gabriel García Marquez, Brazilian filmmaker Nelson Pereira dos Santos and Cuban filmmaker Tomas Gutierrez Alea.
His relationships with them would later be cemented by joint projects across Latin America.
After finishing film school in 1956, Birri moved back to Argentina, where he founded the Documentary School of Santa Fe at the Litoral National University. Shortly after, he released a short documentary titled "Tire Die," a collective work with his students. The film depicts impoverished children from Santa Fe who followed trains as they approached the city asking passengers to "toss me a dime."
That same decade, he received an award at the Mostra de Venecia for his film "The Flooded," which narrates another story of poverty and destitution. Birri's commitment to social justice extended beyond his native Argentina. He helped found the Documentary School of Sao Paulo in Brazil and in Cuba, together with Garcia Marquez, he created the International Film and TV School of San Antonio de los Baños.
Among other emblematic works are "ORG," a story of exile and "a manifesto of cosmic communism," as Birri described it, and "My Son, Che," which tells Ernesto Che Guevara's biography as narrated by his father. The former was released in 1979 and the latter in 1985.
Cuba's Foreign Ministry and countless film schools have lamented his death and celebrated his life's work.