At 15, Cine Las Americas, the international film festival featuring titles from Mexico and Latin America, is coming of age.
“It takes time to know who your audience is,” says Eugenio del Bosque, executive director of the highly successful Austin film festival. “We have been at this awhile now.”
The festival is known for screening documentaries and dramas that illustrate the challenges of life in Latin America. As a result, del Bosque says, Cine Las Americas has been labeled a real tearjerker. This year’s festival includes lighter films, as the event moves towards “a sense of balance.”
“The movies we show are usually very charged with issues, political drama, immigration policies,” del Bosque explains. “We have always liked to give voice to those concerns, and it is still important for us to present these issues. But we are also giving voice to comedy now.”
This year’s festival opened with the bawdy crowd pleaser ¿Alguien ha visto a Lupita? In the film, Lupita (Dulce Maria) lets her uncle view her naked body in exchange for a video camera, escapes a mental hospital, gets impregnated by a guy named Angel and performs miracles like Chauncey Gardiner in Being There as she treks from the tequila dives of Mexico to the evangelical churches of America. Though funny, the film still manages to bring up border violence, poverty, the superstitions of Latin America, as well as a deep critique of celebrity culture.
“We are not showing hollow comedy,” del Bosque adds.
¿Alguien ha visto a Lupita? seems to have everything—references to Lolita and Blade Runner and the Virgen de Guadalupe. And it may well represent the type of film that will be the festival’s future. Director Gonzalo Justiniano, who had already shot parts of the ¿Alguien ha visto a Lupita? in Latin America and was ready to continue shooting in Los Angeles, was on the Cine Las Americas jury several years ago. He was so enamored by the vibe and the visuals of Austin that he decided to complete filming in the city.
Films by and about Latinos are being closely watched by Hollywood, del Bosque says, because of the growth of the Latino population in the United States. Yet many of the films get little screen time. “Every year I see about six or seven Latino-based films get play in Austin, movies like Machete or the Will Ferrell comedy Casa de mi Padre,” he says. “And a lot of them play toward stereotypes.”
Out of the 550 films screened for Cine Las Americas this year, the festival organizers choose 100, “and there are a lot of good Latino films out there, a lot we don’t get to show,” del Bosque says.
Among the more anicipated films this year are El Invierno de los Raros (The Winter of the Odd Ones Out), directed by Rodrigo Guerrero, an Argentine drama about six outsiders bound by their search for love, and Trisha Ziff’s documentary La Maleta Mexicana (The Mexican Suitcase), which tells the story of exiled photographers who documented the dangers of fascism in Spain under General Francisco Franco.
As Cine Las Americas continues, del Bosque trusts that the people will be able to deal with the kind of cinema he solicits. “We like to give voice to very specific films, and I could never determine for our audience what they know or can get out of a film,” he says. “Whether it be a movie about the struggles taking place in Argentina or a film that tackles the plight of the Mapuches of Chile, who are loosing water because of Spanish companies building dams.
“Our service is to the audience, but it is also to the filmmakers, and if we keep doing what we are doing then Austin wins and the filmmakers win,” says del Bosque, who likens Cine Las Americas to a youth on the verge of adulthood. “I think of the festival as a 15-year-old kid, still a very troubled individual, but one with a conscience, one that is starting to form judgment, one that is maturing.”
Cine Las Americas continues through Sunday in Austin. For more information, visit cinelasamericas.org