The 21st Chicago Latino Film Festival
by Michael Rank
A Celebration of Film, the Latino Way. Official site here.
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Above the loud buzz of the room, and through the haze of the small shots of Chevas being passed around, a message was being delivered Wednesday night in an alley off North Avenue in Chicago, “The Latino community welcomes you.”
From the start of Wednesday evening, the aura around the Chicago Latino Film Festival feels different. The stigma that tends to exist around some film festivals, that need to exclude everyone but the group it was meant for, was gladly lacking. It seemed like more of a gathering of family, albeit a gathering where everyone was dressed extremely well. The show runners mingled with the crowd, exchanging handshakes for hugs, treating everyone as if they’ve been friends for years. The words of Pepe Vargas, the founder of the film festival did not ring false. Everyone is welcome to join in the celebration, because we are family.
This was only a hint at what is to come though. Call this the mini-celebration. On April 8th, the Chicago Latino Film Festival takes over the Thorne Auditorium on the Northwestern University campus for the official kick-off gala featuring the movie Cachimba from the combined talents of Chile, Spain and Argentina. The director Silvio Caiozzi, as well as the producer Guadalupe Bornand, will be on hand to join in the gala event and to introduce their film.
This first of four gala events is a stark contrast from the humble roots this festival came from. Twenty-one years ago this festival was shown on concrete walls. To finally take over such esteemed Chicago art houses as Piper’s Alley and the Landmark Century is a true testament to the heart of the people behind this festival. The quantity of countries and films participating in this years festival are also a testament to its growth. Nearly one hundred films and shorts from nearly twenty countries will be screened throughout Chicago.
The festival has several special programs this year that really seem to reinforce the words of Vargas. A Made In Chicago segment focuses on Latino life as seen by Chicago film makers. The Student Segment features films from students in the Chicago area. Programs focusing on women, gay and lesbian, shorts, and animation film makers also dot the two weeks.
Speaking of students, grammar and high school students will be able to enjoy the festival, thanks to free matinee showings of the films. Over 3,000 students are reached through the program, fostering an appreciation of the Latino culture, and maybe, possibly igniting the passion of film in some of those seat warmers.
But, where would the festival be without the films? With nearly one hundred films showing, let’s look at some of the highlights:
Cachimba: Called a “comedy drama,” this film tells the story of Marcos, a bank employee and art history fan, discovers a secret stash of art from a little known Chilean artist while on vacation. Desperate to preserve the works, he fights the biggest enemy to art, indifference.
Bye Bye Brazil: Ever a sucker for the time when the “old world” was slowly replaced with the technological revolution, this reviewer can’t wait to check out this Brazilian film that focuses on the traveling circus Carnival Rolidei. The director, Carlos Diegues, mirrors the economic decline of this band of performing artists with the rise of industrialization in Brazil, and what they do to survive.
Orfeu/Orpheus: Another Brazilian film, Orfeu tells the story of the local King of Carnival as he struggles to resolve his blossoming love for a woman that isn’t his fiancé and his responsibilities to the festivities around him. This film is also part of the festival’s Soundbites on Celluloid, which if anything, means this film will be full of the imagery and sound that Carnival is known for.
Perder es Cuestión de Método/The Art of Losing: This Colombian/Spanish film had me at mutilated corpse. This comedic mystery follows journalist Victor Silanpa, his occasional companion Emir, and a young prostitute named Quica, as they work to get to the bottom of just where the corpse came from.
Deus é Brasileiro/God is Brazilian: This film has the honor of closing out the festival on April 20th. After having one too many days of dealing with all of humanity’s failings, God has decided to take a vacation. Unfortunately, he needs to find a temporary replacement to fill His otherworldly shoes. Deciding to search Brazil for His replacement saint, He enlists the help of Taoca to guide Him through the country and through the adventures that ultimately follow.
The festival itself ends with another gala, this time a Brazilian fiesta, which seems fitting. Why just start the festival with a bang? The entire two weeks is a festival of Latino culture. Come on and join the party. Everyone is welcome.
For more information on films, events, and ticket information go to http://www.latinoculturalcenter.org/Filmfest/.
Chicago Latino Film Festival Journal Entry: Cachimba
If the theme for the kick-off for the 21st “Chicago Latino Film Festival was We are family,” than the theme for the actual event itself is “Live Your Dream.” And to some degree that’s what everyone there was doing on Friday night. Even me. The film festival circuit is new to this reviewer. I’m the new kid on the block, as it were. At times you may find me excited, overwhelmed and trying as hard as possible to do a good job. When I went Friday night to review the first film of the event, Cachimba, I wasn’t expecting to be ushered into the gala event preceding the filming, as my attire was easily witness to. With a quick buttoning of my over-shirt, hoping I was at least slightly presentable, I made my way into the big party.
Performers wandered the crowd. I caught glimpse of a mime wrestling her umbrella away from an imaginary breeze before she was swept away, lost to the masses. A Mexican Harp instrumentalist was gallantly playing his instrument, all but drowned out by the noise of the party surrounding him. Even still, he chatted with people as he played, a smile on his face. There may have been a man on stilts, as well. Or, he was just very, very tall.
Having arrived late to the party itself, I only captured a quick feel for the room before we were ushered into Northwestern University’s Thorne Auditorium. A theater usually reserved for lectures was, for this night only, going to be the topper to an evening’s worth of fun, alcohol, and camaraderie.
We were in for a special treat, as the director of Cachimba, Silvio Caiozzi, was in attendance along with his partner and producer, Guadalupe Bornand. Silvio revealed that he was a graduate of Columbia College’s film school nearly 30 years ago, and the return to Chicago made him extremely nervous. He felt as if he were a student returning for his final exam. Based on the warm reception of the movie, I’d say he passed.
What about the film itself? Cachimba is adapted from a short story by José Donoso called Still Life With Pipe. This comedic drama follows Marcos (Pablo Schwarz), a man tired of his dead end job in the bowels of a bank. Upset with himself for never following his dreams, he quits his job and steals away with his self-conscious girlfriend Hilda for a romantic weekend. At the beach, the couple accidentally discover a museum filled with works by the Chilean painter Larco, known as Chile’s greatest artistic hero.
Marcos becomes obsessed with making sure the paintings are preserved and delivered to the country’s public consciousness. As usual, it’s the easiest ideas that provide the most difficult. Faced with a group of old men far more interested in furthering their own goals than what’s best for the situation at hand, Marcos and the gallery curator must take matters into their own hands.
Sprinkled into this otherwise straightforward movie, are a couple fantasy sequences that show what Caiozzi could have done if he wasn’t restrained to working from an adapted screenplay. While they provided comic relief on a base level, they also revealed a deeper world for these characters. Images on the screen turn into paintings before the audience’s eyes. A night on the couch between Hilda and Marcos becomes a night of passion in luscious red, silken sheets. These few scenes worked for me more-so than other parts of the movie, because they showed more than one-sided obsession. They revealed the characters as real people, trapped in their dreams.
It’s something that is easily understandable as an artist, especially in today’s world of American Idol and Survivor. No one cares about you until you’ve been given you’re Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Most people enjoy it while they can, because they quickly disappear into the ether soon after. Artists of old were no different. The public’s interest in the arts is fickle and fleeting.
However, there’s something amiss in Cachimba. While Marcos may represent the true struggle of man against human nature, he is quickly overshadowed by Julio Jung’s portrayal of the museum’s curator, Felipe. Felipe is a lonely drunk of a man who, years after his master’s passing, still guards Larco’s work with fierce pride and dedication. Unlike Marcos, a character who wilts when faced with mounting opposition, Felipe cares about nothing besides preserving the art and the history of Larco. When faced with losing the paintings, Felipe is the only one most interested in saving the history of the museum, and the pieces that reside with in.
Ultimately, he may be the true heart of the film.
21st Chicago Latino Film Festival: Noche Mexicana
Not being able to get up to Chicago as often as I’d like to for the Latino Film Festival, I’ve been making it a point to attend the big gala events. These are the nights guaranteed to give a writer something to write about the day after. Not only do they give you the chance to see the pick of the litter for a given country, but it gives you a small glimpse into that country’s culture.
Saturday night was Noche Mexicana at the Thorne Auditorium. Arriving an hour before the movie, I could sense that tonight’s celebration was one of legitimate partying. The festival is winding itself down, over half way done. The volunteers have been more than helpful, but you can see the effects of nine days of movies and festivities taking their toll. The professional demeanor has worn itself off. I walked into the middle of a mariachi sing-a-long shortly after getting through the doors. People were swaying arm in arm, singing at the top of their lungs. Noche Mexicana was una celebración victoriosa, a victory celebration. Chips and salsa flowed from the tables (including one spicy enough to make even this lover of spicy foods nod in silent defeat to the chili gods).
It was also the night I decided to bring a guest, my girlfriend, with me. I wanted to show her what I’ve been writing about on and off this past week. It’s one thing to tell someone, “It’s like a big family reunion!” and another thing to SHOW them. It turns out Noche Mexicana was the perfect event to introduce to the culture I’ve been visiting once a week. The movie was preceded by even more mariachi serenading, which caused the auditorium to explode. Walking down the aisle to the front of the stadium, you would have thought U2 or the Rolling Stones happened to stopped by. Instead the mariachis did their thing, and had the audience eating out of their hands. People were singing, clapping, whooping, and just generally having a good time. When two ten-year-old dancers came out onto the stage, the place went even crazier.
I discussed with my girlfriend how amazing it was to come to events like this. As a caucasian, I am the outsider, the minority, in these parties. For my sociological world, mariachi bands are usually something you see in an upper-class Mexican restaurant. If you’re lucky, the restaurant also serves a decent margarita to enjoy while listening to the music. Being at Noche Mexicana, I saw first hand the way mariachi is appreciated by the culture. They were treated like rock stars, and rightly so. Those musicians carried with them more talent than a majority of today’s rock stars.
This all happened before the movie even came on. I was looking forward to the movie just so I could have a breather. It’s very easy to get swept up in the crowd mentality in such a jovial situation. With the kids dancing, the mariachi band playing the Mexican Hat Dance, and the audience going crazy, how could I not join in?
Luckily, the movie started, and we all found a way to calm down enough to get swept up in the magic of El Mago (The Magician). Directed by Jaime Aparicio, this quiet film tells the final days of Tadeo, a street magician burdened with years of emotional baggage, as he comes to terms with his diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, and eventually with life. Traveling with him is his friend and assistant, Felix, a blind man with an above average libido. When not peddling magic, Felix is forced to deal hashish by his landlord. As Tadeo begins to reconnect with his past, he is forced to perform one final magic trick on everyone around him.
Unlike the last film I talked about, where I ultimately had trouble connecting with the main character, Tadeo is someone who easily evokes empathy in the audience. He may be a man with a haunted past, a past which may have altered his future, but it didn’t destroy the kind hear that beats beneath it all. Scenes with his pet canary, especially when he introduces a love interest into the cage as he himself discovers love is especially sweet. The scenes are quiet and introspective, providing a nice contrast to the crumbling world around him. Tadeo spends his final days discovering the world again, which in this case means befriending a single mother in his apartment complex, searching out the son of his deceased friend, and looking for a lost love.
I may have connected with Tadeo on a deeper level as well, as I suffer from my own neurological illness, in this case Multiple Sclerosis. My disease may not be terminal, but I can relate to a man who can see the end a little clearer than others. There is a need to rediscover life, no matter what level you attain it. You finally realize why they say life is precious, because you’re finally given that freshness date you never think will appear.
Tadeo is desperate to keep his disease to himself, revealing nothing to even his closest friend Felix. It’s a nice nod to the idea that a man who doesn’t use all his senses can truly “see” things, because Felix realizes what is happening, and quietly provides support to his friend. Unfortunately for Tadeo, things don’t go as smoothly as he hopes they would in his final days. His reintroduction to the world, and the revelation of his illness to his friends, only complicates things. Finally , he decides to perform his final trick on the world.
In one of the more touching moments, and one that should come as no surprise to anyone reading this review, we see Tadeo’s final moments as he’s reunited on the shores of Acapulco with everyone who has passed before him. It caps off the movie with a quiet dignity, much like the quiet dignity held by Tadeo throughout the film.
El Mago is a true gem of a movie, providing a main character with true depth and emotional appeal, something not scene in many of today’s movies. As his story unravels, we learn more about the decisions he made, and what brought him there. He is not an angel, but something more impressive, a decent, if flawed, human.
Michael Rank is a freelance writer and graphic designer living in the Chicago area.
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