Chicago Latino Film Festival is Back

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by Katarzyna Olcon, Global Connect Blogger

CHICAGO – It is that time of the year again when thousands of people gather in the Landmark Century Centre Cinema and Instituto Cervantes, and approximately 200 people from the Latin American film industry, arrive in Chicago for the Chicago Latino Film Festival.

This year more than 140 movies from 20 countries will be shown. “Chicago Latino Film Festival is the largest and oldest Latino film festival in the world,” says Pepe Vargas, the director of the International Latino Cultural Center, the group that presents the festival.

Vargas is one of the people who started the festival 28 years ago. Interestingly, the first movies were shown in the same building where the U.S. film industry started – Essanay Studios – now the house of St. Augustine College.

The festival attracts Latinos and non-Latinos alike. “Over the years the audience has grown from 500 in the first year to 47,000 in 2011,” says Vargas.

For Moraima Crespo, 31, originally from Cuba, this is the third year she attends the festival. “I used to go every year to the Latino Film Festival we have in Cuba, and I enjoy having the same opportunity here in Chicago,” Crespo shares. “I love Latin American movies,” she continues and adds that the festival is also a great social event: “I get to meet a lot of interesting people there and network with Latinos who share with me similar experiences and interests.”

Maki Mori (25), an international student from Japan, is attending the festival for the second time this year. She says movies give her a vivid glance into countries and cultures different from her own: “I like going to the fest because I can see things differently through the perspectives of other cultures and people in the films.”

Mori works with Latinos in her social work internship, she also finds the festival beneficial to her training: “The film festival is a great opportunity to strengthen my cultural competency. As I watch the movies I feel like I learn about and experience the background of the people I work with and become a more aware person.”

The festival could not take place without the hundreds of volunteers who welcome the public, check the tickets, and translate during the Q&A sessions that follow every movie.

Crespo also decided to volunteer at the festival this year. “I want to help for a cause that I believe in,” she explains, “The festival is a way to educate people about all the issues that Latin America is facing and show what our reality back home and our experiences in the U.S. are.”

The festival includes four special nights, including the Opening and Closing Night, which feature traditional dishes, music and dance performances from the Latin American country the movie of the night represents. Crespo believes these events and the festival in general expose the richness of the Latin American cultures, traditions and language: “It is an exposure to Latin American cultures in a more complex context. It deepens our daily experiences with other ethnicities in a grocery store.”

Crespo believes that the festival gives Latinos a chance to be presented in a different light: “It shows people that we are able to make movies,” and adds that she is especially excited to see the Cuban films again this year.

The movies are shown not only in theaters but also in colleges and universities in the Chicagoland area.

Rodrigo Carraminana, a math professor at St. Augustine College and one of the International Latino Cultural Center board members, reports that bringing the film festival to higher education institutions is very important to promote the Latino culture. Carraminana brought the festival back to St. Augustine College a year ago, and this year the college is showing more than ten movies.

Carraminana has been involved in the Chicago Latino Film Festival for 15 years, and he believes that every year the festival gets better. “More and better quality movies are sent for review and approval every year, and more people attend the festival. From the 47,000 people who attended the festival last year, more than a half of them saw at least two movies.”

“The most rewarding and exciting part of festival is the possibility of interacting with the people who were involved in the creative process of producing and making the film,” says Carraminana. The directors, actors and producers are available for Q&A after the showing of every movie, and they interact with the public in formal and informal settings. “In majority of film festivals only the elite gets a chance to speak to the film directors etc., here every viewer can do that,” he says adding that he is excited to have film directors go to the St. Augustine College during their film screenings.

“I think Chicago is the perfect city to have the largest Latino Film Festival in the world, not only because of the large Latino population of 2 million in the greater Chicago area, but also because Chicago is the crib of the U.S. film making,” comments Carraminana.

The 28th Chicago Latino Film Festival goes on this year from April 13thuntil April 26th.

For more information about the International Latino Cultural Center and the Chicago Latino Film Festival go to:http://chicagolatinofilmfestival.org/.