In his Buenos Aires apartment on Callao Avenue, dozens of shelves house hundreds of books. And on shelves and furniture, careful portraits show images that, in one way or another, are linked to his native Berisso, and to a past that, as he himself says, “allowed me to see history pass from the window of my house ”.
Oscar Barney Finn is a man of the world. A teacher, screenwriter, producer and director of cinema, theater, television and opera, he lived in Paris, was awarded scholarships by the governments of France and the United States, is an Irish citizen and as such a member of the European Community, in addition to having traveled countless cities around the planet. However, Berisso is always present in it.
“It’s because there are my roots and my memories – he says – and a family and affective past that even today, at 83 years old, I continue to investigate, because I come from an Irish ancestry on my father’s side, and Basque and Galician on my mother’s, in short, a history of immigrants like those of so many others who made the history of Berisso”.
Bernardo Antonio Finn, his father whom everyone called “Barny”, had been born in Mercedes, the son of Thomas Finn, who had been born in Ireland and had arrived in the country around 1880, “because the Irish at that time had settled in the province of Buenos Aires, in the area of Mercedes, Suipacha and Luján. Grandpa Thomas had 8 children, four boys and four girls, but for some reason things went poorly for him economically in Mercedes, and he came to work in the salting sheds in Berisso, at the beginning of the last century, and it could be said that my story begins there. which I continue to investigate, because for that I traveled several times to Ireland, to find my roots”.
That force to delve into the past led Oscar, whose middle name is Barney, to trace the history of the Finns in Ireland and until he reached a house located in Westmite County, in the city of Ballymore, in the center of Ireland, which belonged to his great-grandfather.
Primary school would take place at No. 29, Martín Güemes, at 123 between 60 and 61
“In my search, an Irish ambassador to Argentina, named Bernard Davenport, and a writer who had researched the life of the Irish in Argentina, in a work he wrote in Gaelic, helped me a lot, who brought me closer to maps, fields and even data from a 1911 census. That’s how I met a relative named John Finn, who was waiting for me at the airport when I arrived, and then another named Michael Finn, who allowed me to put together an affective map and get to that house, which was destroyed, but from which I brought back a stone that I keep with great affection”.
That search for family origins continues to this day “because there is also the maternal branch – he is enthusiastic – that although it is of Spanish origin, many of its members were already based in Ensenada even before La Plata existed. And in that my grandnephews are helping me, who are also interested in family history, Felipe, Santiago and Julián, sons of my niece Julieta, who is the daughter of my brother Héctor Eduardo Finn, who is five years younger than me and who continues to live in La Plata”.
BERISSO, THE ORCHESTRA OF LADIES AND THE TRAM 25
Oscar Barney Finn loves the city of Buenos Aires, says he has enjoyed the city of La Plata enormously, but places his sense of belonging “in that Berisso who had a devastating force.”
“I was born on October 28, 1938 in a house on Valparaíso street, at number 368, where I lived until I was 4 years old, and then we moved to Villa Argüello, at 60 and 123 streets, and my aunts lived in Montevideo and Leveratto, near the Cine Progreso. So both to visit them and to go to La Plata, we used tram 25. I remember that when I was very young, while we waited for the tram to turn around, I listened to the sound that escaped from the Sportman club, where An orchestra of ladies performed. It was a group made up of women who played the bandoneon, piano and violin, with a singer, who accompanied the social gatherings at the Sportman with their music. I couldn’t go in there because it was for grown-ups, but I listened fascinated to those tangos and other songs that the ladies played while we waited for the tram”.
From those Berissense times, Barney remembers as if it were yesterday “the San Miguel oratory; to the Dresta’s country house, where we went to buy vegetables; to the Zorzi’s pharmacy, where Teresita gave piano lessons; to the Beloqui confectionery; to the Trabajadores de la Carne club, where I saw ´Los Cinco Latinos´ perform for the first time; and the Center for Students and Graduates, the Ceye, which was an important part of my early childhood and adolescence.”
Meanwhile, primary school would take place at No. 29 Martín Güemes, “at 123 between 60 and 61, almost in front of my house, in a neighborhood where everyone knew each other, including the teachers who taught us, and that when I wasn’t there because I was sick or something like that they greeted me through the window, with houses without keys, a very different world from today. And when I say that from there I saw history go by, I am also referring to that tram 25 in which, among other things, I saw the wagons loaded with people from that October 17, 1945 go by.
The time would come later “to put on long pants, which was something real, because we boys put on long pants when we finished primary school, to enter secondary school. I did it at the Colegio Nacional de La Plata, and I was already entering another world, where everything was different, which meant a great change for me. However, I always remained linked to Berisso”.
“Berisso had an incredible life, the refrigerators, the spinning mill, the oil company…”
In those days, Barney moved between his studies in La Plata and social life in Berisso, especially at the hands of one of his aunts, a movie lover, with whom he watched movies that fascinated him at the Progreso cinema.
“Dad also liked movies, and he always told me about movies that had made an impact on him, like ´Blood and Sand´, with Tyron Power; ´Pelota de Trapo´, with Armando Bo, because dad really liked soccer and in fact he played for the Estrella de Berisso club; and ´Beaugespe´, with Gary Cooper, which was about a story of brothers in the Foreign Legion. All of this fueled my passion for cinema, although as a child I spent my time inventing stories and situations, and in elementary school I always acted in all the school acts”.
From that time, Barney recalls that “Berisso had an incredible life, the Swift and Armor refrigerators, the spinning mill, the oil company… Dad already worked at Armor and I have memories of the great dining room he had, of the international ships that left from Puerto La Plata, and I still have some things that are very dear to my feelings, such as the telegrams that his colleagues sent to dad for my birth, gifts from when he married my mom – Blanca Rosa García Aberastegui, who was head of the telephone company, when they were not automatic and the characteristics were Paz, Rocha and Tacuarí -, or the boxes of some casatta ice creams that were made at the Armor and that were unforgettable”.
THE SOCIAL CLUBS, “THE RETURN OF THE DOG” AND THE CINEMA
While in his apartment in Callao the objects of that past are always present, in the memory of Oscar Barney Finn the memories pile up when talking about Berisso.
“In the 50s there was a great social life – he assures – in a few blocks there was the Piccinelli bar and the Bruzone bar, but also the Muro bar and the Tyrrel bar, which later became the Social Club: the club Bernardino Rivadavia, which burned down, and fundamentally the Sportman, which dominated the scene. There were a few blocks that formed a circle on Montevideo Avenue, and so we all ended up turning the dog around when he left.
Over time, that Berisso Cineclub would be quite an event, with the great step of figures
“Also – he says – there were the dances that took place in the Progreso cinema, which they called ´the overalls dance´, and even the Armor refrigerator had a club where Canaro went to play. There was also a place where movies were shown on Sundays, on 122, where ´El Rancho de Goma´ later worked, where I saw ´Escuela de Sirenas´, with Esther Williams”.
The cinema was already so ingrained in Barney’s life that, while he was still very young, it occurred to him to make a Cineclub in Berisso.
“I had finished high school and didn’t know what career to pursue. The only thing I knew was that I liked the movies and traveling to Buenos Aires, for the movies, so I signed up at the UBA to study dentistry, which the UNLP didn’t have. In those years there was a film club in La Plata that worked in the Select, and Alfredo Linares, Harold Tejeiro and Iván Etcheverry helped me a lot to make one in Berisso, and we were so successful that in a short time we had 500 members. We made allegorical stained glass windows, we hired a ´sandwich man´ for the promotion, we looked for movies everywhere and we got together in the Social Club with Juan Carlos Cruz, who was Lito’s cousin and as fanatic as I, as if we were waiting for the newspaper for the magazines movies that told about the actors, along with records of posters and photos, and in the end, for me, Dentistry ended up being an excuse to go to Buenos Aires to get movies. I left her on the run, but it happened that another aunt lived in Buenos Aires, Nelly Finn, who introduced me to theater, and that’s how I saw Delia Garcés in ‘La Espada’, ‘Trees Die Standing’ at the Odeon, with Ernesto Bianco and Nelly Meden, and also a lot of Opera”.
Over time, that Berisso Film Club would become an event that would be attended, as jurors or guests, by figures such as Tomás Eloy Martínez, María Vaner, Duilio Marzio, Emilio Alfaro, Walter Vidarte, María Rosa Gallo, María Elena Walsh or Ernest Sabato. “In all that movement, – remarks Barney – Berisso also contributed great actors to the national scene, such as Federico Luppi, Lito Cruz or Juan Manso”.
Later, the life of Oscar Barney Finn would travel along better known paths, with courses at the Paris Film School and at the Theater of Nations; as a teacher in different schools and universities; as President of the Association of Film Directors, or as a jury at the Biarritz and Mar del Plata Festivals. And also, of course, with his filmography, which he began in 1974 with “The Ballad of Returning”, with Ernesto Bianco, Julia von Grolman and Elsa Daniel; which followed in 1978 with “Comedy Broken”; “Beyond the adventure” in 1980; “From the Mysterious Buenos Aires” in 1981;
“Count to ten” in 1985; “Four Faces for Victoria” or “Stolen Moments” in 1989, having directed actors such as Oscar Martínez, Héctor Alterio, Olga Zubarry, China Zorrilla or Eva Franco, among many others.
And the theater, where he directed, among many others, works such as “Oh Dear Tennessee”, “Love Letters”, “Eva and Victoria”, “The Last Moons”, or “The Beauty Queen”, along with actors and actresses like Alejandra Boero, Bárbara Mujica, Luis Brandoni, Graciela Borges, Rodolfo Bebán, Claudio García Satur, or Thelma Biral, to name a few.
Also television, where he directed productions in which figures such as Alfredo Alcón, Inda Ledesma, Soledad Silveyra or Miguel Angel Solá participated, or the Opera, where he especially highlights “´La Traviata´, which we staged in the new building of the Teatro Argentino of La Plata, where I enjoyed Paula Almerares”.
And this present that finds him, at 83 years old, working on rehearsals for a new production that he will present at the theater “El Tinglado”, by an Irish author. “We rehearse every day – he says – because we have a premiere on September 15, with actors who are not so well known but who are very good, such as Cecilia Chiarandini, Pablo Mariussi, Alexia Moyano and Diego Mariani. I live planning permanently, and planning a work continues to excite me, in addition to never failing to have something to do”.