Latin American, Caribbean studies aim to educate public with 5th annual film fest

The fifth annual, seven-day Latin American Film Festival kicked off Friday, September 21, at the Art Theater in Champaign.

The event, hosted by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, features five award-winning films and one documentary from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Spain/Cuba, and Panama, all subtitled in English.

Angelina Cotler, associate director of the center, has coordinated the festival for the past five years. Cotler said the event took around six months to plan.

The festival differs from year to year because the films are always newly-released, she said.

“Some of them have never been screened in the U.S. or only once,” she said. “For example, ‘Father’s Chair,’ the Brazilian film, has only been screened at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.”

She said she tries to screen films that are from different genres and countries. This year, the film festival features a love story, a thriller, dramas, and a documentary about the environment in Panama.

“I contact distributors throughout the world,” she said. “I follow international film festivals to learn which are the best Latin American films. And I watch around 25 films in order to select six.”

Dara Goldman, director of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, helped promote the festival. She said the target audience was University students and faculty members along with others in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Graduate student Carlos Bulnes Garcia said he heard about the film festival through his friends.

“It sounded interesting because I am from Spain and came to this university to further my studies,” he said. “Being a foreign student made me interested in other countries besides Spain and the Americas. Even though I am not from Latin America, my friends and I thought it would be interesting to learn more about foreign countries.”

He also said he was excited to hear a film in Spanish for the first time in a long time, even if it was a little different from what he spoke at home.

Goldman said the feature films were not chosen to depict daily life in Latin America.

“You can understand something about the kind of questions, the kinds of hopes, the kinds of problems that are expressed by the various Latin American cultures,” Goldman said.

Attendance at the festival has increased over the last five years. Cotler said 1,027 people attended in 2011. She attributes the yearly increase in audience members to the increasing publicity Latin American films are receiving.

Cotler said her goal is to keep people coming to watch the films while also teaching about the diversity of problems and realities in Latin America through their films.

“It is also a good way to learn about culture and listen to different languages,” Cotler said. “Last year, for example, we had (movies in) four languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Quechua, and Aymara.”

Goldman said besides enjoying the films on an entertainment level, she hopes after watching the films, viewers will understand something about Latin American cultural expressions.

“Personally, I get a sense of diversity of Latin American cultural expression,” Goldman said. “I think there are a subset of ethics that tend to be promoted in the U.S., and I think sometimes people going to the festival are surprised by the array of things they see.”

_Jessica can be reached at [email protected]_