The North Carolina Latin American Film Festival is returning for its 36th year on Thursday, celebrating the power and artistry of Latin American films and stories.
The festival will last through Oct. 18, with an additional film showing on Oct. 31. All events and screenings are open and free to the public, with some occurring virtually and others in person in various locations in the Triangle.
Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, the festival's director, said that after such a tumultuous year, this festival's film lineup will feature overarching topics such as COVID-19, systemic racism and economic downturn.
The festival aims to provide a space for Latin American films to reach a wider audience. It is produced and organized by the Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at UNC and Duke University, and supported by the U.S. Department of Education and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
“Cinema and media provide the opportunity to immerse ourselves, take ourselves out of our comfort zones and to try to be close to the stories of others,” Rojas-Sotelo said. “And then, in that sharing, we have a better understanding of this common experience that is life.”
Rojas-Sotelo said he could not name just one favorite from this year’s films, but he mentioned "Heroes of the Pandemic" as a standout.
"Heroes of the Pandemic" is a short film co-directed by two UNC alumnae: Andrea Patiño Contreras and Victoria Bouloubasis. The film tells the story of numerous Latin American residents of the Triangle, whose occupations range from a pastor to a doctor. They step up during the pandemic to serve the Latin American community.
Patiño Contreras and Bouloubasis met while studying at UNC and have continued to work on projects together since.
Patiño Contreras said there is a lack of equal representation for Latinx individuals in the film industry.
“I do realize that, especially with COVID, we saw that it's an industry that has a lot of blind spots,” Patiño Contreras said. “And really, more people need to come to the table to document and tell the story of the nuanced world that we live in, and we're missing that a lot, so I’ve been really proud of being there.”
Rojas-Sotelo said the N.C. Latin American Film Festival is meant to help close that gap by spreading awareness and stories to audiences who may otherwise not be reached.
“I also think about when I go to festivals myself or when I watch films, or just when you consume a story that you've never heard or read about something new, it's such an enriching experience,” Patiño Contreras said. “I know this is important in that way, and I hope that people feel that way and feel that these stories will, in some ways, have something to do with their life — perhaps something they didn't know — and maybe it activates something in them.”
Rojas-Sotelo said the Triangle is a great host location for the festival, since the region is dynamic and has a diverse, evolving population. He said the festival is highlighting a diverse group of filmmakers this year, including women as well as people from Afro-Latinx backgrounds.
Featured movies include "Guie’dani’s Navel," a coming-of-age film that explores the racism and subjugation Indigenous people experience in Mexico, and "Negra," which tells the story of five Afro-descendant women from southern Mexico and their experiences with discrimination and self-acceptance.
“I hope it makes a lot of Latinx folks feel seen in their own backyard," Bouloubasis said. "But I also feel like those who don’t identify as Latinx can understand the different histories related to their neighbors, but also the creative work, the art and the beauty of these cultures."
Rojas-Sotelo said it is important for the public to attend the film festival in order to gain an understanding of their communities and the people around them.
“I think that by seeing (Latinx communities) in their own context, using this wonderful medium of cinema, then we can find the common tracks that make us human," Rojas-Sotelo said.
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