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    A scene from El Nominado. in La CinemaFe
    A scene from "El Nominado."

    Fest grows fast

    In its third year, La CinemaFe continues to bring an eclectic representation of films from throughout Latin America to New York, only this year they're not leaving the theater when it's over.


    For the third year, La CinemaFe festival is bringing New Yorkers an eclectic variety of films from throughout Latin America, in a lineup that this year seems a little bit upside-down. In many cases, it's the less-polished, less-Hollywood films that have the most impact.

    Fifteen features and 11 documentaries from Latin America, Spain and the United States.

    Related links: Official site
    La CinemaFe 2004
  • Festival overview
  • Afroargentinos
  • Nina
  • Paloma de Papel
  • El Polaquito
  • Washington Heights

  • La CinemaFe 2003
  • Official site
  • Among the highlights are two stark, realist films that come from very different settings but have a surprisingly similar ethic. "El Polaquito" traces one Buenos Aires street kid's struggle for survival in an oppressive street culture that routinely chews up overmatched youths like him. And "Paloma de Papel" ("Paper Dove") follows a young Peruvian farmboy who is kidnapped by Shining Path guerrillas and terrorized into their ranks. The Andean mountains are a world away from the urban underworld, but both of these boys' stories are presented with heart and a bleak empathy.

    Somewhat less successful are the slicker productions like "El Nominado" (pictured above) and "Marasmo." The first is an obvious parody of reality TV in which contestants locked in a remote, camera-infested fortress go out of control and start killing each other. Predictably, in this overbroad comedy/slasher picture, the public laps it up and the caricatures of executives back at the network are gleeful over the ratings boost. The second film attempts to turn a Colombian war story into a sexy melodrama, with results that undermine any serious point that might have been made about the country's rampant violence and its human implications.

    After the festival, the Clearview 62nd & Broadway theater will be re-christened "Cinema Latino" and will move to all-Latin programming. Guare–o thinks New York is ready.  

    It's only one of several films emphasizing the sexy side of Latin cinema, mixed in among the political and social significance. To name a few: The Colombian "Malamor" recounts the deadly consequences of a love triangle involving a mother, a daughter and her boyfriend. "Desnudos Desnudos" (actually from Spain) deals with the entanglements arising between a photographer and three women who answer his call for nude models. And a number of gay-themed films are included in cooperation with the gay and lesbian film festival NewFest, including "Dias de Boda" about a male-male-female triangle; "El Misterio de los Almedros," about two macho detectives assigned to pose as guy for an investigation; and the self-explanatory documentary "Lesbianas de Buenos Aires" about lesbian life in Buenos Aires.

    "Sex sells," admits festival organizer Armando Guare–o. "I think, for better or for worse, Latin America right now is assimilating a lot of the Hollywood industry, and they realize that for them to be able to sell the film they have to have some strong sex scenes. But there are still a lot of filmmakers that they still make the film they want, and I think this is the idea of our Latin American cinema — that a filmmaker is free to express himself. They don't have to [give up] control or be excluded."

    This year's festival, like any good suspense flick, has a twist at the end. After finishing up with the closing-night feature "El Juego de Arcibel," a thought-provoking, politics-infused prison drama set in an unspecified Latin country, La Cinemafe will wrap up its festival but not leave the building. The Clearview 62nd & Broadway theater will be re-christened "Cinema Latino" and will move to all-Latin programming. Guare–o thinks New York is ready.

    "The idea is very simple. There are so many Latin-American people — Hispanic or Latino, whatever you want to call it — in New York City that we need a theater to represent our culture," Guare–o says.

    Sitting in the Clearview theater across the street from Lincoln Plaza, where the U.S./Columbian/Ecuadorean production "Maria Full of Grace" is still playing to strong crowds after a month and a half, Guare–o predicts that the new theater will also enjoy success with a non-Latin audience. Perhaps the mass audience that previously devoured Spanish-language works such as "Like Water for Chocolate" and "Y Tu Mam‡ Tambien" will be ready to look deeper.

    "There are a lot of good films — better than 'Y Tu Mam‡ Tambien,' better than 'Like Water for Chocolate.' They don't have the opportunity to come to the United States," he says. "It's really interesting what is happening now because there are a lot of distribution companies or DVD companies buying Latin American films. They buy it to remake the film, or to declare as [a business loss], but there have always been great films. But now, because of the spending power, money talks, so now they're bringing the Latino films to the USA. But there have always been great films. Always."

    Festival articles




    Argentina has no black problem because it has no blacks. At least that's what mainstream society has told itself, but the "Afroargentinos" in this documentary tell a different story of their country's past and present.



    Promising young director Heitor Dhalia takes the themes of Dostoyevsky's classic novel to the tenements of Sao Paulo but comes up empty in drawing lessons from his story of a feud between a goth misfit and her elderly landlord.


    Paper Dove

    A grim realist depiction of the chaos in an Andean village and in one boy's life when Shining Path guerrillas sweep through and force the helpless youngster into their ranks.


    El Polaquito

    The key to this bleak portrait of an exploited Buenos Aires street kid is the lack of contrived hope.


    Washington Heights

    The wonderful "Washington Heights" uses the very familiar setting of a bodega as an entrance into the less well-known lives of New York's Latino immigrants.

    AUGUST 14, 2004

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