Going into its 35th year, the North Carolina Latin American Film Festival (NCLAFF) is offering programming as diverse and nuanced as the region it celebrates.
From Oct. 9 until Oct. 18, the annual event, which is presented by the Consortium in Latin American & Caribbean Studies at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, will offer nightly films that highlight the best of Latin American cinema over the past 35 years. As a feature of this year’s virtual setting, festival director Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, the director of the festival since 2008, also implemented a series of academic webinars into the programming, gathering filmmakers and film scholars from across the nation for conversations around “Latin American and Caribbean Film in the Era of Neoliberalism (1985-2020).”
The webinar series, which kicked off Oct. 9 with discussions on the globalization of Latin American cinema and Indigenous and Afro-Latino voices in film, will continue on for two more sessions on Oct. 10 and 17. The conversations will center on “Teaching Latin America through Film” for both university-level instructors and K-12 teachers.
“What we want is [for] conversations to happen, to open up spaces to have these dialogues. That can be intercultural dialogues, interdisciplinary dialogues and intergenerational dialogues, too — lots of films are about youth, young people, these journeys,” Rojas-Sotelo said. “Road movies — plenty of road movies in which the hero has to move through a landscape and something will happen to change him. We have to move together — we are in a huge road movie, all of us, and we have to go through hardships to get somewhere. If you go along with other people, it’s much better.
According to Rojas-Sotelo, the festival’s intention has always been to “show the complexity” of human experiences within Latin America and the Caribbean, a region made up of 33 countries with multitudes of cultures among them. Like many event organizers this year, Rojas-Sotelo and the rest of his team were tasked with finding ways to maintain the integrity of the festival — including its community-building efforts — through a suddenly-virtual format.
“It’s a great opportunity because we’ve been able to open up the conversation,” Rojas-Sotelo said. “We have a number of students from Duke and UNC and a number of community members not only in North Carolina but also from New York and Washington and then Puerto Rico ... That means that our idea of building community is still there, but in another way.”
The festival also aims to preserve the communal experience of movie-watching. Starting with "La historia oficial" (The Official Story), an Academy Award winning film that touches on ramifications of Argentina’s last military dictatorship in the 1970s, NCLAFF will stream 10 movies over the next 10 nights. In efforts to maintain some aspects of a traditional cinema outing, the organizers will not allow new attendees into the streams after the first five minutes of the movie. Additionally, they suggest attendees come with snacks and stream the films on a large screen to get a more immersive experience.
“When you go to the cinema, you are in front of the screen, the screen speaks to you — you’re able to share that within yourself, but also with other people,” Rojas-Sotelo said. “That is the power of cinema — that you are experiencing something individually, but also collectively.”
The hope is that recreating the immersive environment of a movie theatre will encourage festival attendees to pay attention to and deeply engage with the content of the films. Rojas-Sotelo described this year’s screening lineup as “some of the most important films created in the last 35 years." From international blockbusters to small independent documentaries, all of the selected films reflect issues that have deeply impacted Latin America over the past three decades. Prior to 1986, when NCLAFF was founded, mid-20th century Latin American cinema was largely characterized by the revolutionary Tercer Cine (Third Cinema) movement, which criticized colonial and capitalistic ideals and their manifestation in Hollywood films.
“Third Cinema [was] a very independent kind of political cinema that used to talk about the people, el pueblo. It used to represent the needs of the people — it was a cinema connected to revolution,” Rojas-Sotelo said. “And suddenly, because of the opening of the markets, Latin America’s communism lulling to democracies, the economic instability, political instability, things changed. A great wealth has been built, but a great poverty has been built, too: the distance between the classes has become larger and larger. We are becoming global, film is becoming global, but at the same time some of these small stories are still there. The emergence of Afro-Latino stories, LGBT themes, female cinema — all kinds of new voices that are coming up in this wave of global cinema. That’s the kind of thing we’re looking at.”
“I work at Duke University and I understand that, probably without even realizing, we are part extractive industries. Our work is to go somewhere and bring back things and to then look at them . and create knowledge. We are extracting something from somewhere. We have a responsibility to give back,” Rojas-Sotelo said. “We try to be very critical about the stories that we’re trying to tell because things are not just in the past and they disappear. They come and haunt us in the present. The [NCLAFF] is always trying to pay attention to those stories. Representation is very powerful — the way we speak in powerful spaces like this … is very powerful. We have to make sure that there’s space for those voices.”
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The NCLAFF is free and open to the public. Films will begin at 7 p.m. and can be accessed by registering at nclatinamericanfilmfestival.org