by Parama Chaudhury
LaCinemaFe, the first annual Latin America Cinema Festival of New York, got underway on January 28, 2002, after being postponed due to the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Organized by Armando Guareno, the purpose of this festival is to showcase Spanish and Portuguese language films in this city where so much of the culture is bound up in these two traditions. The primary location for the screening is the Anthology Film Archives on the lower east side of Manhattan, and some screenings are also taking place at the Natives Theater in Queens.
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When I arrived at the Anthology for the opening cocktail party and press conference, there must have been at least a hundred people in the ticket line and most were spilling out of this modest-sized art movie house. The press pass got me in quickly enough, but then the party floor seemed to be absolutely packed. The vodka was free-flowing and fried food never smelled so good, so, hey, I wasn’t complaining! After trying in vain to locate the organizers and eavesdropping on neighboring conversations to figure out who the jury were and what the industry buzz was, I finally managed to walk over to someone knowledgeable, who pointed out Mr. Guareno to me. But before I could get within tapping distance of his tan leather jacket, I spied the very crowded screening room. Without waiting to talk to the busy Mr. Guareno, or asking whether there was separate press seating, I got into my NYC-subway mode, and pushed and shoved my way to a seat up front.
OK, so I failed to get the organizer to answer the main question that pops into the mind of a festival-goer: why another fest? Hopefully, I will navigate the crowds well enough to get to him at some point in the festival. At least I had found a seat for the screening of Beatriz Flores Silva’s En la puta vida (translated as “The Tricky Life” in English, but so much more colorful in Spanish!) Besides, it’s much better to encounter an enthusiastic movie-loving crowd than a dour-looking bunch of critics. Plus, this is New York: unless you have the opportunity to whip out your best survival techniques, it doesn’t feel like home. Now for the movie… As the lights dimmed and the film finally started, I realized that the beautiful young woman who had been sitting next to me a few minutes before was Mariana Santangelo, the star of the movie. Another missed opportunity! Given the box office success of this movie in its home country, Uruguay, Ms. Santangelo is surely on her way to some measure of fame.
The festival itself is comprised of two main competitions — the first-time filmmaker category and the official competition — and several themed sessions. These include an Argentinian retrospective, a Women and Film section and three special screenings. There are also three panel discussions: “Women and Latin American Cinema,” “How to Distribute Your Film” and “Co-production in Latin America.” Several countries with whose cinema most Americans are not familiar — Venezuela, Uruguay, Peru — are well represented here. This is the main contribution of this festival, and we hope that in the coming years, the organizers will solidify their vision of the festival and bring us both classic films from underrepresented countries, as well as new films and films by new filmmakers.
All of this augurs very well for the future of this festival. Also, once I got through the crowds on opening night, the organizers turned out to be very helpful, and the PR people provided me with all the information I needed. Each day, the audience was greeted at the door by cheerful and enthusiastic ushers who handed them a ballot — the audience gets to judge each film, en route to the announcement of the “best film” audience award — and a hearty “Enjoy the film”, which is such a refreshing change from all those jaded festival organizers who look like they would rather be anywhere else. All of this means that LaCinemaFe might become the next big festival in New York, and we should start marking our calendars for next year’s event.
Next time: Reviews of films from Uruguay, Venezuela and Spain.
Parama Chaudhury is a graduate student, an ex-writing instructor and a budding freelance writer, based in New York City.
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