This fall, a number of film festivals in New England are celebrating the work of talented filmmakers eager to share their craft. One of those festivals, here in Boston, also coincides with Latino Heritage Month to showcase stories by and about Latinos.
CineFest Latino Boston is dedicated to using the medium to celebrate the culture while exploring the hardships they face. With its first annual in-person event, which runs through October 5th, the festival's lineup tells previously unheard stories from a variety of countries, including Mexico, Peru, Brazil and Colombia.
CineFest Latino Boston’s founder and executive director, Sabrina Aviles, joined All Things Considered host Arun Rath to discuss what festival-goers can expect. The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: So, this is the first annual in-person event. Tell us about the journey and how this materialized.
Sabrina Aviles: Prior to my work at Cinema Latino Boston, I ran a previous Latino film festival. I was their director for about six years, and then I just decided to branch off and start my own Latino film festival.
Given the fact that I am, first and foremost, a Latina woman who also happens to be a filmmaker, I thought that because of that and because of the contacts that I have on an industry-wide level and also on a community level, I thought it was an opportunity to really merge those two worlds and create something that I see hopefully morphing into a festival that not only embraces issues around social justice, and around the challenges that we face as a community, but also that truly celebrates the arts and who we are as artists. Because a lot of times, people first find out about the Latino culture through arts and culture. And then after that, after they've gotten their foot in the door if you will, then they find out that we are a rich and very complex group of people.
Rath: What kind of material is going to be presented? What are the genres you're covering?
Aviles: From the get-go, I've always wanted to and love to program films around art. So, there will be several dance films: two highlighting flamenco and one around the themes of not only Tango music but also around Argentina's history with "los desaparecidos"—you know, "the missing."
We also want to make sure that the communities that live here are represented. So, we're opening, for example, with a film from Puerto Rico called "The Fishbowl"—"La Pecera". And then we have countries represented, such as Peru. Mexico is always a default—their industry is very rich—and so we have a lot of wonderful films from Mexico. We have shorts that represent places like Panama for the first time and places like Ecuador as well. So, you know, we just try to make sure that not only do we seek out quality films, but we want to make sure that there's enough representation so that our films mimic what the community makeup is like.
Rath: That's awesome to hear about because Boston typically doesn't get enough credit for our diversity and particularly the diversity of the Latino community. It's amazing to hear about that being all reflected. Tell us about some of the filmmakers there.
Aviles: There's a huge film that, actually, we're partnering with Roxbury International Film Festival. It's called "Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Story." It is basically a story whose protagonist, Nikki Giovanni, is African American and she's a poet. But one of the filmmaking team, Michele Stephenson and her husband, Joe Brewster, is of Panamanian descent. And I saw the film at Sundance [film festival], and it just had an amazing message.
I spoke to my colleague Lisa, and I told her I think it would be really wonderful because we have Latino filmmakers who don't necessarily always make films about the Latino experience, but we also have non-Latino filmmakers who make films around the Latino experience. But in this case, Michele is half Latina herself, making a film that I don't think is only about the African American experience.
But the themes in the film are very universal, around themes on colonization and how colonization really has impacted all communities of color, whether we acknowledge that or not.
There's a diversity of Latino filmmakers that you'll see in our shorts program. The one from Ecuador, which was at Tribeca [film festival], is actually made by an alum of the film festival.
Rath: Are the films all documentaries or different types?
Aviles: They're a combination of documentary and fiction. We always have more documentary entries. I would say there's more fiction in the shorts, but we have four feature-length fictions. The other feature-length films are documentaries, so there's more representation on the documentary side in feature-length, and there's more fiction representation on the short side.
Rath: What are some of the things that the fiction films take on?
Aviles: Every year, when we create the shorts program, we always try to come up with some sort of theme or message, and I thought it would be interesting to honor who we are—culturally and as artists—to maybe use either titles of films or expressions in Spanish that harkened to our culture.
So, for example, in the shorts block number one, there's a lot of themes around solitude and loneliness and being an immigrant here. There's themes around being an immigrant in the United States and not feeling quite like you're part of the United States. There is another film around having lost a husband, so the themes of that program was about solitude in its many iterations. Hence the title, "Cien Años de Soledad"—"One Hundred Years of Solitude", which talks about solitude, but it also hearkens to the novel by Gabriel García Márquez.
Rath: It sounds like you're hitting a lot of notes here. This is a pretty wide spectrum of work, genres and approaches.
Aviles: Yes, it is. My programming team and I pride ourselves on creating a potpourri of different styles of filmmaking. If you're going to come to our film festival seeking something that is more commercial, you probably won't find it here.
It's not that I'm opposed to it, but I think that more and more so, given the landscape of the industry, there is not so much opportunity to amplify the independent voice. I would like our festival to be known as a place where we challenge our audiences because there are a few films that are absolutely beautiful, but they're not the easiest. They're not fast food. It's this sort of sensory experience where you really have to be patient with what you're seeing, but the payoff is amazing.
At the same time, I think what you'll find is that the richness of our films is also kind of a metaphor of the richness of our culture because even though we're all Latinos or Latinx or Latin American, each culture has its own idiosyncrasies. Each culture has its own history. Even the way people talk from country to country is very different, not only in dialects but in the words and the expressions that they choose.
So, I think that the festival is that—it provides you a way to enter into those cultures and see how complex we are. I've always said that the main goal of this film festival is to debunk the stereotypes and have films serve as a springboard to much deeper discussions on what's going on in the respective countries.