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CineLatino Film Festival brings cultural diversity to Denver

Photo: Korina Rojo – CU Sentry

From Sept. 21 to Sept. 24, the CineLatino Film Festival took place at the Sie Film Center. Hosted by the Denver Film Society, the festival is a four-day long celebration of the contributions Latino filmmakers have made to the film industry. There were 13 different titles being shown, which included films from a handful of Central and South American countries, such as Peru, Mexico, and Cuba.

According to Brian Latimer of NBC News, Latinos are the most likely demographic to attend movies, but also the least represented on screen—they are among the least represented demographic given speaking roles in both television and film. Only 5.8 percent of speaking characters in media are Latino or Hispanic. The lack of Latino representation in modern filmmaking, as well as September being National Hispanic Heritage Month, inspired the Denver Film Society to create an event celebrating and honoring Latino culture.

Many of the films shown at the CineLatino Film Festival were featured in other internationally recognized lm festivals such as the Palm Springs, Seattle International, and New York Film Festivals. Additionally, these films have won awards for their revolutionary filmmaking. The inclusion of these films and the recognition at these festivals is what gained them a spot in this year’s CineLatino Film Festival.

“We don’t have a submission process for the smaller festivals,” said Denver Film Society’s Artistic Director Brit Whithey. “Our team attends other film festivals. They also look at what other film festivals are occurring across the country and see what’s playing out there to curate the final lineup at our festival.”

CineLatino is not a conventional film festival. There is no red carpet or star-studded premieres. There are not crowds of paparazzi or any indication that a film festival is occurring at all at the Sie Film Center. Instead, the inside of the theater is filled with a quiet excitement about what the four-day festival holds.

The goal of this festival clearly isn’t to be a hub of celebrities and news. Its goal is to give small films that focus on a love for their respective cultures a place on the map.

“These films normally wouldn’t be shown outside of film festival screenings,” Whitney said. “If it weren’t for something like CineLatino, it’s likely that none of these films would be shown in Denver. They don’t really have a proper outlet, and we want these films to be seen.”

The weekend began early on Thursday Sept. 21 with a celebration of Latin American cuisine and culture with the documentary film Ceviche’s DNA a film all about the popular Peruvian seafood dish, ceviche.Ceviche’s DNA focused on the country of Peru in particular, but also discussed the influence of the rest of the world on their culture. The film set the tone for the entire festival, focusing on celebrating a nation’s own customs and cultures while also honoring the global impact of individual cultures that can bring people together.

“What made me want to come to the festival was the focus on Latino culture,” one attendee at the showing of Ceviche’s DNA said. “So many people think that only means Mexican culture, but really it’s so much more diverse than just that.”

The weekend continued Friday with a film from Mexico titled Todo Lo Demas, or “Everything Else,” written and directed by Natalia Almada. Todo Lo Demas was one of the three films at the festival that were directed by women. This film a serious drama changed the tone of the weekend, bringing forward a serious reality for Latino women. The film addresses issues of extreme poverty, loneliness, and violence against women. This film was such a stark change in tone from the opening night’s Ceviche’s DNA that many attendees left in the middle of the screening.

he told a story of a prisoner misinterpreting the director’s call of “cut” as needing to cut Jean

The tone shifted back to a lighthearted environment, also drawing back the crowd, with a showing from another Mexican film, You’re Killing Me Susana. This comedy focused on the clash between Mexican and American cultures while a man goes searching for his wife.

Saturday was the busiest day of the festival, with five films screened, including a documentary, drama, and action films. One of the most popular films of the day— and the festival as a whole—was Chavela, a documentary about Chavela Vargas. Vargas was an incredibly influential Costa Rican singer who revolutionized popular Mexican music after moving to the country. Vargas not only influenced the culture of Mexico, she also became a pioneer for women’s rights in Latino culture as she did not try to hide her homosexuality during a time when being so in Mexico was incredibly dangerous. The film took a look at her unconventional life and return to the stage as a performer later in life.

The day ended with a 25th anniversary screening of one of the most notable Latino films: El Mariachi, directed, written, produced, edited, and shot by Robert Rodriguez, who has gone on to direct Sin City, the Spy Kids, and the Machete series. The film was introduced to the audience by a member of the board for the Denver Film Society who explained the complexities and just how impressive this film is on a technical level.

“El Mariachi represented not just this wonderful, incredibly well made and put together slice of Mexican exploitation cinema, but it was made for under $7,000,” a member of the Denver Film Society said. “It was bought by Miramax films for a lot more than that and put out into thousands of theaters across the country. If you look at the ratio of production to box office, it has become one of the biggest hits of filmmaking ever.”

The festival came to a satisfying conclusion on Sunday with a showing of the film Woodpeckers. The movie is from the Dominican Republic and retells the harrowing true love story in which prisoners learn their own sign language to communicate across separate the male and female compounds. After the film, actor Jean Jean held a question and answer segment after the film. He tells the audiences stories of what it was like filming on location in these Dominican prisons and acting with real prisoners. When an audience member asked him if he ever felt unsafe on location, he told a story of a prisoner misinterpreting the director’s call of “cut” as needing to cut Jean. No injuries happened and Jean, and the prisoner later laughed about the misunderstanding. “Even with all of that, I never felt unsafe,” Jean said through a translator.

Even though the festival is now over, the Denver Film Society hopes that its impact on audiences is not. All throughout the weekend, the film society encouraged the viewers to take action with the recent natural disasters that have occurred in some of the nations represented by the festival. Each film’s pre-show included information on how to donate to hurricane relief for these various nations, displaying a statement before each film: “While our eyes and ears are entertained, our hearts are broken at the very recent devastation to Mexico, Puerto Rico, and other connected areas that the films of the CineLatino festival celebrate.”

The CineLatino Film Festival was an incredible celebration of Latino culture. From honoring food, hispanic icons, and revolutionary films, the festival succeeded in its mission of bringing forward films that audiences normally wouldn’t watch in theaters. The festival celebrated the diversity of Denver and brought National Hispanic Heritage Month to a satisfying conclusion.

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