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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Cinema Latinisimo BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN TWO INGREDIENTS are necessary for a successful film festival: imaginative programming and an adventurous audience. In its 16th edition, CineFestival, San Antonio’s annual exposition of Latino film and video, offered almost 100 works not likely to be encountered in the shopping mall theaters that have been proliferating throughout the county like fire ant mounds. Most are available from independent distributors and/or are already scheduled for theatrical circulation; information can be obtained from the from a few glamorous eventsopening night festivities that included a premiere of the Mexican film Cabeza de Vaca or an awards ceremony presided over by Cheech Marina zealous viewer could count on 19 days of solitude. It was a sweet-and-sour 16 for the oldest surviving festival of Latino cinema. Sponsored by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, in San Antonio’s westside barrio, the 1992 CineFestival, which ran Jan. 23 through Feb. 14, was a succes d estime, but the few able to do the estimating were outnumbered by a typical audience for Home Alone. Though they did not adjudicate anything quite as consequential as Roe v. Wade, the nine jurors for CineFestival had a case load as heavy as the Supreme Court nonet. Several works, including Cuban director T6mas Gutierrez Alea’s The Last Supper, the 1977 feature, about an 18thcentury slave revolt, that was a seminal force in the resurgence of Latin American cinema, were screened out of competition. But enough works were entered to drive a lucid judge to Visine. Not only did jurors have to view and grade each entry in the brief interval between submission and exhibition. They also had to be more adept at taxonomy than the IRS. “Latino” is the only qualification for general eligibility, but CineFestival’s definition is so generous that it encompasses works either by Latinos, about Latinos, produced in Latin American countries, or about Latin American countries. If Oliver Stone ever does a biography of Cheech Marin, it could be entered in CineFestival, as could a biography of Oliver Stone by Cheech Marin. Pace Dan Quayle, a knowledge of Latin is less necessary to a Latino filmmaker than intimacy with one of the Hispanic or Portuguese cultures of the Western Hemisphere. Though French, too, is derived Steven Kellman is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Texas-San Antonio. 18 MARCH 13, 1992 from Latin, Haitian and Quebecois works do not show up at CineFestival. But those that do have to be assigned to one of seven categories: documentary, made-forTV documentary, animation, experimental, first film/video, feature, and short feature. Winners of CineFestival’s Premio Mesquite and honorable mentions are determined for each classification, while the coveted Special Jury Award is bestowed on the one work from any category that best exemplifies the spirit of CineFestival. It is often an unruly spirit, as in the case of Border Brujo, a manic monologue written and performed by Guillermo Gomez Pena and directed by Isaac Artenstein. With minimal change of clothing, Pena] alternates among 15 distinct personalities who, in Spanish, English, Spanglish, Nahautl, and tongues, ponder the polarities of North-South, SpanishEnglish, myth-reality, and self-other. The only other recent work that comes close to resembling Border Brujo is Eric Bogosian’s Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and the only category in which judges could possibly consider it would be something called Performance Docmentation. So they created that label and awarded Border Brujo a Premio Mesquite in the new classification. 0 ver the years, CineFestival has been particularly strong in documentaries, nonfiction accounts of political struggle in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, and elsewhere in the hemisphere. Though this year’s festival offered fewer documentaries about Latin America,. nonfiction film and video continued to be a powerful part of the program. The Premio Mesquite for documentary went to Carlos Loarca, the portrait of an exuberant and remarkably accomplished self-taught painter. For Loarca, painting is “one of the very few ecstasies that we can experience in this world as we are alive,” and the 15-minute video, directed by Danna Peterson and Jonna Ramey, does a persuasive job of illustration. Loarca, who lives in San Francisco, left Guatemala in 1956, but his native myths persist in the presence of a black dogwho, according to Indian legend, is the patron of cantina drunksin many of Loarca’s vibrant canvases. Gustavo Vasquez’s Free From Babylon, honorable mention in the documeritary category, is the portrait of another extraordinary personalityJoseph DiLerbert aka Treehouse Joe, a middle-a&d man who opted out of the alienating complexities of technology for the simplicity of a treehouse he constructed near San Diego. Honorable_mention also went to another study in stubborn construction: Casita Culture. Narrated by salsa star Willie Colon, Cathe Newcum’s video examines the proliferation in New York City of more than 40 casitas, “little houses” with a distinctive Caribbean architecture that have become cultural oases for Puerto Rican immigrants. Casita Culturealso won the CineFestival Special Jury Award. An inn is the icon for the winner in the category of madefor-TV documentary; Natatcha Esteban& calls her WGBH portrait of Mario Bauza Notes From the Mambo Inn. The film traces the development of the 80-year-old musician from precocious stints with the Havana Symphony and with nightclub bands in Cuba to emigration in 1926’and emergence as a hero of Spanish Harlem, the leading proponent of Afro-Cuban music. Ignoring his personal life, Notes From the Mambo Inn, is the story told through interviews and performancesof Bauza’s public career in jazz. Honorable mention in the same category went to Carolyn Hales’ Tierra o Muerte: Land or Death, an analysis of the ancient struggle over land rights to the New Mexico region of Tierra Amarilla. Narrated by Luis Valdez, the video traces the current clash between commercial development and conservation, between private speculation and communal culture, to the differing attitudes toward ownership and society held by the Indians, Mexicans, and Yankees who have laid claim to the bare but stunning valley, now one of the poorest counties in the United States. Tierra o Muerte is both a lucid case study and a . haunting corrido about dirt and death. The award for novice work went to Home Is Struggle, Marta N. Bantis’ attempt to tell the parallel lives of Hispanic women, from a wide variety of countries and backgrounds, who have settled in New York. Honorable mention went to a fascinating piece of ethnographic cinema: Huichol Sacred Pilgrimage to Wirikuta. Larain Boyll managed to apprentice herself to a shaman of the Huichol Indians in western Mexico, and her film records the ritual pilgrimage of 1,000 miles and the sacred hunt for peyote that the surviving Huichols undertake each year. Harry Gamboa Jr.’s Vis-A-Vid won in the category of experimental work. The 13.5-minute video consists of four vignettes that emphasize the absurdity of Chicano life in Los Angeles. Luis Valdovino’s The World of Dance, which won honorable mention in the same category, is a wrly irreverent spoof of both ballet and cal