This Friday marks the kick off of the Chicago Latino Film Festival, an assembly of film screenings, workshops and special events all focused on celebrating the vast diversity of Latino culture. This year’s festival boasts over 100 films, in a wide array of genres, from all over the US, Latin America, Portugal and Spain.
This year is the 27th time the festival has been brought to Chicago, marking a decisive need and desire for a festival of this kind.
“I think it is the content that makes it successful. [The films] all relate to a Latino audience and the perspective comes from a Latino filmmaker. It’s the content that drives the audience to our theaters. It’s nostalgia for their homeland, and then seeing a film in front of them, the colloquial dialog that they’re used to, the jokes they’re in on,” said Berenice Vargas, Executive Assistant for the International Latino Cultural Center. This festival is the third CLFF that Vargas has been affiliated with.
She also noted that while some 60% of the audience is Latino, the other 40% is comprised of people that are there because they want to experience other cultures. One of the main goals of the festival, in fact, is to stimulate the audience’s awareness of the multitude of nationalities, social and racial backgrounds that can be categorized under the catchall description of “Latino”. She stated one of the things the organizers hoped audiences took away from the festival was a sparked curiosity about other cultures, or insights into a culture they may not have already been familiar with. Also helping to educate the audiences are a number of Q and A sessions after the films, where directors, actors and other people associated with the films are on hand to discuss their work with movie goers.
Not only does the CLFF enlighten and educate the audience about the cultures and subject matter featured in the films, but it also helps bring awareness to the films and filmmakers themselves. According to Vargas, while festivals like the CLFF are intended to bring films to the attention of interested film-goers, they are also getting the attention of distributors as well. “Sometimes, the only way to showcase [the filmmakers’] years of work is through fests,” she states. “We give those filmmakers the opportunity to reach a larger audience.”
And quite a large audience it is. Over 35,000 audience members will partake in the the CLFF events over the next two weeks. New events like the College Night Dance Party aim to make the festivities more accessible to a younger crowd. However there will always be familiar faces that return for a night of cinematic escape. Vargas shared a story of an older Cuban woman that contacted her. The woman has been coming to the festival for years and was concerned that she did not find a schedule for the festival mailed to her home like in years past. She shared with Vargas the joy she had coming to the festival, not only to view Cuban films, but films from all nations. She looked forward to the CLFF each year, she said, as a chance to have a good time, to laugh, to break away from the everyday mundane.
The city of Chicago has made it clear that the CLFF has, for the last 27 years, been an entertaining and educational structure for and about the Latino community. Here’s to 27 more years and beyond…