From uno to nueve: Phila.'s Latino filmfest
April 23, 2013
by Tirdad Derakhshani

The Philadelphia region supports film festivals targeted to virtually every fan base and demographic, from gays and lesbians to Asian Americans and African Americans to horror geeks. Except, that is, for the region's growing Latino community.

It's an oversight that local cineastes David Acosta and Beatriz Vieira are trying to remedy.

"It has been such a void in the city and the region," said Vieira, vice president for philanthropic services at the Philadelphia Foundation. "And there is such a breadth of film and video work coming from Latin America and the Latin community in the United States."

Last spring, the duo founded the Filadelfia Latin American Film Festival with a single film, Brazilian writer-director Julia Murat's Found Memories, to see whether there was local interest in such films.

Their experiment paid off. This weekend, the festival returns for its second year, with a roster of five shorts and four features, all with English subtitles where needed.

Saturday's screenings will be at International House in University City, Sunday's at the Gershman Y on South Broad Street.

"We want this to become a festival known for thoughtful projects . . . and for supporting emerging Latino artists," said the Colombian-born Acosta, who is a public health administrator for the City of Philadelphia.

Features this year will include 7 Boxes, a mystery-thriller from Paraguay; Violeta Se Fue a Los Cielos (Violeta Went to Heaven), a documentary about Chilean singer Violeta Parra; and Unique Ladies, a profile of San Diego's first all-female lowrider club.

"Car clubs are so male-dominated, especially the lowrider clubs, that women usually aren't allowed to join," said documentary filmmaker Gloria Moran. "So a few of them broke off, and they formed their own club. It expresses their power as women, and it's such a rich expression of working-class women's lives in action."

Another documentary, Lemon, tells the story of Tony-winning playwright and poet Andrew "Lemon" Andersen.

Orphaned at a young age, Lemon was on the streets and selling drugs by 13. The Brooklyn native turned things around after three stints in jail when he was cast on The Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway.

After suffering another crisis, Lemon was left virtually destitute until Spike Lee saw one of his one-man shows. The filmmaker helped Lemon mount his autobiographical one-man show at the Public Theater in New York.

"We followed Lemon around for four years, beginning in 2008, just as he was beginning to turn his life around again," said co-director Beth Levison. "There are so many incredible highs and lows. I just think it's an incredible story of determination and achieving one's dreams."

Festival programmers also lavished great praise on director Sonia Fritz's moving drama América, an adaptation of Puerto Rican author Esmeralda Santiago's 1997 novel América's Dream.

Coproduced by Edward James Olmos, the film stars Lymari Nadal as América, a 28-year-old Puerto Rican woman who has been in an abusive relationship with a married man since she was 14. She watches helplessly as her daughter, now 14, seems headed in the same direction. América escapes to New York, where she becomes a nanny. Yareli Arizmendi plays fellow nanny Marie, who becomes her confidante.

"I was very drawn to this [film] because it's about women we see every day on the street, taking care of our babies, working in our homes. But we know nothing about them as people," she said. "We need to tell these stories and to tell stories that are about mainstream events but from our point of view."

Arizmendi said films by Latinos continue to be ignored by the Hollywood elite. "The problem isn't that there's not enough talent. There is so much talent out there," she said.

What's needed, Arizmendi said, are more Latinos in positions of power who can greenlight projects: "The more we get trained in the craft of storytelling and filmmaking, the more we will become a real force to be reckoned with."