Although she only made two films, Margot Benacerraf is considered one of the most important figures in Latin American cinema. She started her career as a writer, winning an award from Columbia University to study playwrighting in New York. Acting in a student film there introduced her to cinema, and she went on to become one of the first Latin Americans to study at the Institut Des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques in Paris. Her two documentaries, the short Reveron (1952), about Venezuelan painter Armando Reveron, and Araya (1959), a look at the work of salt miners in Venezuela’s Arayan peninsula, spurred the first international interest in that country’s film industry. Hailed for its innovative application of magic realism to the documentary form, the latter shared the Cannes Film Festival’s FIPRESCI Award with Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour (1959).
Although Araya marked the end of her filmmaking career, Benacerraf spent the rest of her life mentoring younger filmmakers and preserving Venezuelan cinema, first as founder and director of the National Film Library and then as co-founder, with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, of Fundavisual Latina. She is the subject of the 2018 documentary Madame Cinema.