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'Ser Plantas': Film festival explores Latin American relationship with ecology


“Ser Plantas," or “being plants," is the focus of the 38th North Carolina Latin American Film Festival, whose films explore the current ecological issues confronting migrant and Indigenous peoples of Latin America.

The NCLAFF is presenting a collection of 18 films for free at locations in Durham and Chapel Hill. The festival, which is run by the Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at UNC and Duke University, runs throughout the month of October.

From documentaries to short animated films, the festival is intended for a wide variety of audiences, Jennifer Prather, the communications and program assistant at the consortium, said.

“We want to build bridges, we want our community to know and enjoy the stories,” Manuel Sánchez Cabrera, a UNC Ph.D. student and co-curator of the festival’s film list, said. 

Since its inception in 1986 under the consortium's former Director of Educational Outreach Sharon Mújica, the festival has offered many chances to enjoy classic and contemporary films. 

After each showing ends, the floor is opened for audience questions. The curator typically answers questions, but occasionally, the films’ directors are brought in to facilitate discussions.

“In the space of the theater, there is this commonality of experience — we are all experiencing the same thing,” Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, the current NCLAFF director, said. “Then, we can reflect on that.”

Most of this year’s films are contemporary, he said. The films focus on the environment and how climate change is affecting political and social movements, specifically in Latin American Indigenous communities.  

“Plantas came from the fact or the idea that we are one with the environment,” Sanchez Cabrera said.

Films like “Gods of Mexico” and “This Stolen Country of Mine” highlight the ongoing harm of ecological colonization and forced modernization of land.

“There, in the territories, we have Indigenous peoples resisting this encroachment of their territories because they do have a relationship that is different to the relationship Western societies have,” Rojas-Sotelo said.

The narratives of the films chosen are atypical compared to those in most Western studios, Sanchez Cabrera said.

Rojas-Sotelo said that the idea of entertainment sold by the mainstream movie industry is put to the test when compared with the more critical production coming from many of the NCLAFF filmmakers. 

One film, “Bulls and Saints,” takes place between North Carolina and Michoacán, Mexico. The work features a divided family in the difficult process of reverse migration as they try to return to Michoacán.

Rodrigo Dorfman, the film’s director and a UNC alumnus, is a Durham resident and documentarian who explores Latino migration into the American South, which he calls the Nuevo South.

“I wanted to make sure that we could present a narrative of the migrant experience that was not part of the headlines,” he said.

Dorfman has been showing his films at the NCLAFF since 1998. His first interaction with documentaries was at a young age, after being exiled from Chile. He said that watching his first documentary was a pivotal moment in his life, and he was later inspired by the experience to become a filmmaker.

“You make films in order to process,” Dorfman said. “Right? You process your life, you process your feelings, your ideas.” 

Dorfman said he is unhappy with the depiction of immigrants as victims and encouraged others to instead focus on the solutions that Latino immigrants bring to the U.S.

“These people are bringing with them the spirit of Latin America that says, ‘No, community matters,’ and we can do this together,” Dorfman said.

The films will be shown in Chapel Hill at The Chelsea Theater and the Nelson Mandela Auditorium at the FedEx Global Education Center, with more locations in Durham

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The festival is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is open to the public.

Films are being shown through Oct. 17.

“Come to the theater,” Rojas-Sotelo said. “Come to the spaces in which we all find commonalities. Find other voices and incredible experiences and possibly friendships that you can make pre, during and after a screening.” 

@dthlifestyle |