NC Latin American Film Festival
UNC’s Institute for the Study of the Americas, Chapel Hill
Duke’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Durham
By now, Latin Americans make up 9.6 percent of North Carolina residents. While this is a smaller proportion than the rest of the country, the population is growing at a faster rate than any other group in the state. Rarely, though, are those spikes in statewide representation reflected in academia. At UNC-Chapel Hill, as of 2018, less than 5 percent of full-time faculty were Hispanic. This number has increased since 2007, but it still doesn’t represent the 10 percent of Latin American students at the university.
The thirty-fourth-annual NC Latin American Film Festival will take place October 20 through November 2. Films will be shown throughout venues in the Triangle, with variations in genre, country, and language. It takes place through a collaboration with Duke University’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Study of the Americas.
The festival launched in 1986 as a way to connect the growing Latin American population in the state and the academic community. Today, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Study of the Americas has more than fifteen hundred short and feature-length films available for public use, according to Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, the festival’s director for the last ten years, who helped start a Latin American short film festival in Pennsylvania during his doctoral program at the University of Pittsburgh. Now, as a teacher at Duke, he is able to “show the realities of Latin America through film.”
Since 2012, the festival has shifted to focus more on indigenous populations in Latin America, as a way to lift up the voices of people that are often ignored by modern media, news, and art. This year, in conjunction with the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages, there will be a series of short films created by indigenous filmmakers.
Mãtãnãg: The Enchanted Woman, an animated short from the Maxacali in Brazil, was created with the help of the entire village, from designs to the post-production process. Director Charles Bicalho, who will attend the screening, says this is the second animated movie he had ever produced.
“It was a completely different process because we did the illustration workshops in the village with more than fifteen people,” Bicalho says. “I mean kids and women and the guys, everybody was illustrating.”
The fifty-minute short animates the folk story of Mãtãnãg, a woman who ends up in the village of the dead with her husband’s spirit. Bicalho and a Maxacali shaman developed the screenplay. When it came to production, animation felt like the perfect medium to tell the ancient tale.
“We can use the animation language to tell any kind of story we want,” Bicalho says.
On the other hand, some films take on stories closer to real life. DisemPOWERed is a documentary by mother-and-son duo Sandy Smith-Nonini and Roque Nonini that follows the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, exploring how the country’s dependency on oil, debt, and corruption within the national electric company led to blackouts that lasted for months.
“It was very corrupt because the governors and ruling parties had come to use the electric company as a sort of a piggy bank to do their favorite financial projects,” Smith-Nonini says of Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority.
The movie tells the story of Puerto Rico’s economic collapse through the Puerto Ricans that the filmmakers met through three separate trips. Some of the film’s subjects were without refrigeration for insulin or kidney dialysis, while others are early power-plant retirees who are now fixing lines for their villages.
María López, former programming director for the Chicago Latino Film Festival, says she thinks that film, but especially short film, are more accessible to the public.
“With the digital age that we live in and social media, everybody has a much shorter attention span,” López says. “You’re most likely to just want to watch a short video. This is why short films are my favorite way of telling and presenting Latin American stories.”
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