Whose film is it, anyway?

A few years ago, I became aware of a beautiful short video entitled “Historia de un Letrero” (The Story of a Sign), by Alonso Alvarez Barreda. Each year, the Canadian National Film Board, in cooperation with the Cannes Film Festival “Short Film Corner” and YouTube, hosts an online competition where 10 short films are posted on YouTube, and the winner is selected based on the number of “likes.” The 4th such competition in 2008 earned this short video the prize. It is truly deserving.

The version with the most views seems to be this one at ZappInternet, but I’m not sure if it’s the original or not, and Zapp’s videos won’t embed properly at WordPress, so I chose the one above.

However, in hunting around for the original version to share with you, I ran across this extract from a Mexican television show which claimed that the film was a bald-faced plagiarism of another work, a Spanish piece entitled “Una limosna por favor” (An alms, please) by Francisco Cuenca Alcaraz, which featured at the 2006 Notodofilmfest, in the category of films under 30 seconds.

You can judge for yourself – the idea is, evidently, the same. However, despite the Mexican production’s sensationalist umbrage, the concept of reworking an idea in a new format is old news in Hollywood; just about every Disney fairy tale was written by someone else and already done in another version by someone else. Alvarez himself never claimed to be the originator of the idea, and the Cannes award is not for original screenplay but for overall creative impact.

No such screams of anguish were heard when Historia de un Letrero was remade in English by redsnappa on behalf of Purple Feather under the title “The Power of Words.”

This film was almost an exact duplicate of Alvarez’ work, but set in Scotland instead of Mexico, and indeed billed itself as an homage to the previous film. From all I have been able to determine, the issue of plagiarism is moot, as even the 2006 clip is based on a folk story that significantly predates it.

Whichever version you prefer, the story is both powerful and moving. Thoughts are things, and words have power. Use them for good.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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