Last Sunday morning, Richard White Auditorium on East Campus was crowded with Duke students and members of the Durham community who came to watch the movie “La Jaula de Oro.” Translated as “The Golden Dream” in English, the movie depicts a Native American boy and teenagers from Guatemala on their journey to immigrate to the U.S. Through the protagonists’ struggles, the movie draws attention to the thousands of Latin American children who try to cross the American border for better opportunities.

The screening was part of the 2017 North Carolina Latin American Film Festival, which started at UNC-Chapel Hill 31 years ago. Duke became involved in organizing the festival with UNC 25 years ago, creating the joint organization called The Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Since then, the festival has been presenting different aspects of Latin American experiences through 20 to 30 movies, ranging from short films to documentary films, as well as opportunities for the audience to interact with Latin American filmmakers.

Each year’s festival has a theme, which usually tends to a problem within Latin American societies that is worthy of attention. This year’s theme is Latin American children who try to immigrate to the U.S. on their own. Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, who has been directing the festival for the past nine years, said that “La Jaula de Oro,” the film screened on Sunday, is the perfect representation of this year’s theme.

The film uses the documentary genre to to present fictional stories of young Latin American migrants. Sotelo said that the film, based on 600 actual interviews with young migrants, appeals to the viewer with strong visuals and narrative and shows the struggles specific to young migrants from different backgrounds.

“We cannot put every single migrant to the same [group]. Here we have an indigenous person who doesn’t speak Spanish, and two young [Guatemalan] men that represent the diversity in the background [of young migrants],” Sotelo said, referring to diverse protagonists of the movie.

The festival also addresses problems that many young migrants go through regardless of their specific backgrounds. “Sin Nombre,” for example, depicts the stories of young migrants who are recruited by international criminal organizations. Eleven of the movies screened at the festival deal with the challenges of educating young migrants.

The movies featured in the festival are not merely forms of entertainment. They often address problems of Latin American society, including inequality and migration, and feature real people who directly suffer from those problems, just as in documentaries.

“In Latin America, there is a long tradition of cinema as a social tool for transformation and as a way to construct the ideas of nations that are in process of development,” Sotelo said.

Omar Foglio, a Latin American director, addressed his experiences as a Latin American director as well as a viewer. As a part of Dignicraft, a company that produces films and works on collaborative art projects with Latin American artists regarding human justice and dignity, Foglio, with other Latin American directors, mainly worked on documentary films about Latin Americans. 

One of their documentary films, “Tata Padrinos,” translated to English as “Godparents,” premiered Saturday as a part of the festival. The directors followed through the life of a Mexican family who had been living in North Carolina for 20 years and managed to maintain connections with their Mexican community. Depicting the difference between the communal life in indigenous communities in Mexico and the more individualistic life in the U.S., the film presented both Mexican and American parts of the family’s identity. 

Having worked with various members of Latin American societies in the U.S., Foglio emphasized the importance of actively interacting with the subjects of his documentaries and making personal connections with them.

“We don’t do film just for the sake of being filmmakers,” Foglio said. “We do films to engage people and have conversations, open doors and give voices.”

Foglio added that he also hoped to diversify the representation of Latin Americans in films.

“I’m in my early forties, but since I was a teenager, I have never identified with the kind of content that was provided to us as a part of Latino community,” Foglio said, recalling his experience of watching Latin Americans represented in mainstream movies. 

Mentioning that 68 ethnic minority groups with different languages and customs are all classified as “Mexicans,” Foglio said he hoped the audience to discover diversity within a group of people generalized as “Latino.”

With the opportunities to directly communicate with Latin American directors and watch different genre of films, the festival introduced new aspects about Latin American communities to the North Carolinian audience.