Arts & Culture

Iberian film fest seeks to break stereotypes

By
Contributing Writer
Monday, October 1, 2012

The third annual New England Festival of Ibero American Cinema, which played Sept. 27 and 28 at the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, addressed in various forms the diverse cultural and emotional experiences of the Iberian diaspora. The full program included more than 60 short and feature films from Latin America, Spain and Portugal, many of which had their New England premieres on Brown’s campus.
Selections were drawn from 20 countries, with titles in Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, English and French, and were all produced by Ibero filmmakers. Three juried awards with cash prizes, recognizing achievement in short, documentary and feature filmmaking, will be given at the festival’s conclusion Oct. 3. Screenings and panels also took place at Yale.
“The goal is essentially to promote Hispanic culture … and to promote the works of young prominent filmmakers,” said Leonel Limonte, president of NEFIAC.
The festival focuses on “creating a space” for young artists with limited resources to exhibit their work in front of a wider audience, he said.
The selection committee looked for Ibero films with aesthetic and narrative excellence rather than films that specifically address social issues in the Hispanic community, he said.
Much of the festival’s programming was concerned with “breaking with the stereotype … that everything coming out of Latin American countries is focused on poverty, discrimination and all that,” he said, noting that “a lot of the filmmakers lately are interested in showing more universal stories.”
Thursday and Friday nights’ offerings were varied in media and tone. Standouts included Arian Enrique Pernas’s “Uvero,” an animated short that examines memory and space in an abandoned fishing community by transplanting old photographs into a reconstructed landscape. Another highlight, and the only feature film in the schedule, was “Juan of the Dead,” which reimagines a political satire of Cuba as a live action zombie apocalypse.
Despite this, the festival suffered from poor attendance, with as few as eight people attending on Friday night. Some sessions had no audience at all.
The festival originated at Brown in 2008 as “Desde Cuba: New Cinema,” a program of Cuban short films organized by Christine Limonte ’11, daughter of the current organizer, and has  spotlighted Ibero cinema since 2010.
NEFIAC has since moved the majority of its programming, including most of the feature films, closing night and the presentation of awards, to Yale, where organizers noticed greater enthusiasm from the faculty and a heightened interest from the community.
“I’ll take my resources to the people who are responsive to them,” Limonte said.
At least part of the attendance problem at Brown can be explained by logistics and timing. Jose Torrealba, who directed the festival for the last two years, was unable to assume a direct role this time around.
“I was not able to make any kind of publicity,” he said. “Everybody’s pretty much at Yale now.”
Richard Snyder, director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies who attended the screening of “Juan of the Dead,” said, “In the past when Jose (Torrealba) was here, we played a stronger role … but the center is busy with lots of stuff.”
Much of the center’s faculty has been focused on preparing for today’s “Democratization: Lessons from Leaders,” a lecture featuring the former presidents of the Dominican Republic and Chile, he said.
Limonte also offered the “paternalistic view” that United States academics adopt towards Latin American cinema as a possible explanation for the disinterest. Scholars tend to lump it under the umbrella of Hispanic culture, he said, instead of film on its own terms.
 “When you bring up a Latin American film festival, automatically everyone will tell me, ‘Talk to Latin American studies,'” he said. “But the French Film Festival is done at Modern Culture and Media, because it’s a film festival. … I think some of these departments are very Euro-centric.”
Still, organizers and attendees alike were disenchanted by the absence of Brown students in the theater.
“This year, it’s kind of sad,” said Sandra Gandsman, a Providence resident who has attended the festival in the past and whose husband teaches at the Alpert Medical School.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Susan Gordon, who with Carol Gjelsvik ’59 had come from Wickford to see the films.
“I think it’s just the culture,” Limonte said.
NEFIAC screenings will continue at Yale until Oct. 3, with the juried awards presented on closing night. The organizers will also present “Posters from an Island: A Collection of Posters by Cuban Designers,” a lecture by Sara Vega of the Cuban Film Institute, Oct. 5 at 4 p.m. in the Watson Institute for International Studies.

  • Anonymous

    Fabulous summary. What a wonderful, clear description. I felt like I was there….