“LAFFito” celebrates Latin American films and culture

By Andrea Flores, Staff Writer

Last semester’s xenophobic chalk writings on the Main Quad and the xenophobic messages associated with this year’s election often leave Latinx students feeling underrepresented.

The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, commonly known as CLACS, hosted the ninth annual Latin American Film Festival on Sept. 26 and Oct 3. 2016.

Kasia Szremski, associate director for CLACS and director of Huanangue Valley Archaeological Project, believes that through featuring different aspects of Latin American culture through a specifically Latin American lens, the festival can help students feel more represented on campus.

“In other words, there are not films made in the U.S. about Latin America and thus told through a U.S. lens (i.e. the movie has to test well with white, middle class audiences), they are films that are made in Latin America (in this case in Guatemala and Brazil) for a local audience so the cultural representations are more authentic,” Szremski said.

Two films were shown as a part of the festival. On Sept. 26, “Ixcanul” from Guatemala and on Oct. 3, “Nise: The Heart of Madness” from Brazil were shown at The Art Theater in Downtown Champaign.

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    This year, the film festival was shorter than in years past, so the festival was called LAFFito.
    In the Spanish language, adding -ito at the end of a word signifies that something is small.

    According to Austin McCann, general manager and programmer at The Art Theater, this event is popular. He worked alongside Angelina Cotler, previous CLACS associate director.

    “This is the start of my fifth year with the co-op. It’s one of the events people look forward to the most,” McCann said. “We see a lot of different people during this time. It’s a concentrated program to get a lot of people in the community.”

    The festival is a part of the mission of CLACS to spread awareness of Latin American culture through campus and central Illinois.

    “The goal of the festival is to highlight the cinematographic talent that is coming out of Latin America,” Szremski said. “Here in the U.S., people tend to assume that films made outside of Hollywood are low-budget and poorly made but that is not the case. There is a huge amount of talent in Latin America and some really incredible films are coming out of Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Mexico, to name a few.”

    CLACS is in charge of organizing the films, coordinating with The Art Theater, and looking for sponsorship and handling promotions.

    The funds for the festival come from the Title VI NRC grant from the Department of Education and also through a sponsorship with departments in LAS and the University community, Szremski said.

    Assistant Professor and Librarian for Latin American and Caribbean Studies Antonio Sotomayor agrees that LAFFito is a great event for the community.

    “From my point of view, it’s still a great event to showcase the good resources that we have in film from Latin America,” Sotomayor said. “We recently acquired a database that has Latin American films from all over. I’m invited in LAFF to keep going and go well. From the librarian perspective, we are looking forward to supporting the study of film in Latin America.”

    Even though this year’s festival is shorter, Sotomayor is supportive of CLACS maintaining the tradition while the group undergoes a leadership transition.

    “We work hard to compile these [resources] and make sure they’re recognized,” Sotomayor said.

    Next year, CLACS plans on returning the festival to being a full week long.

    “There were several movies that we would have liked to show, such as The Embrace of the Serpent which was an Oscar contender that came out of Colombia last year, but we had limited funds for this LAFFito and so only chose two movies,” Szremski said.

    McCann was excited to choose the two movies, which have great reviews, he said. He wanted these films to be of high artistic quality, but also satisfy the audience.

    “’Nise’ is an awesome movie. It’s a bit about art and institutions, and it’s got a social critique,” McCann said. “The movie shows art as a method of healing for those of us who are similarly feeling mistreated in society. I think that’s a beautiful gift that the movie is giving us.”

    Last week, McCann said the film “Ixcanul” was a hit.

    “The first film was a little more sparse and a little bit darker, but it’s a film with outstanding reviews and made in dialogue with an indigenous community,” McCann said. “Guatemala is usually not represented a lot. It got a great response.”

    Even though cinema from Latin America is fairly new, the culture is vibrantly shown in these two movies, McCann said. CLACS will continue to hold the festival in order to bring that vibrancy to campus.

    “At the same time these movies touch on these shared themes of what makes us all human and in that way can really bring people from diverse cultural backgrounds together,” Szremski said.

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