Latino Film Festival is back in Philly and bigger than ever
The Philadelphia Latino Film Festival (PHLAFF) is back in the city of brotherly love June 19 - 21 with a greater diversity of films and programming, under new direction and bigger than ever.
“We have a weekend packed with different kinds of programming to celebrate the diversity of expressions and offerings of Latino cinema,” said Marángeli Mejía Rabell, who was named director of the festival this year.
The opening party this Friday includes the screening of “Tengo Talento," a series of short films by Eli Jacobson-Fantauzzi, about the search for a new generation of jazz, hip hop and folkloric musicians in Cuba; live music by Timbalona and Agudos Clef, and a cocktail reception — all packed into two hours.
“You can come have a drink after work, do your pregame with us, enjoy the shorts, get in the mood with some live music, and then go enjoy a night out,” Mejía Rabell said.
The variety of films reflect a diversity of both U.S. Latino and Latin American filmmakers.
On Saturday there’s a screening of “Beast Of Cardo," by Virginia Sanchez Navarro, about a young Dominican woman who is forced to return to her hometown and to the double-faced society that she had left behind.
Next is “Lorca, Coffee with a Side of Juju,” a short film about the deconstruction of the body, memory and sound, by local musician Daniel de Jesus and David Antonio Cruz, a multidisciplinary New York-based artist.
Then comes “Cuatro Lunas,”’ a Mexican film in which Sergio Tovar Velarde tells four stories about love and self-acceptance, starring four gay men of different ages, from an 11-year-old boy to an old man.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated films is “The Liberator,” a Venezuelan-Spanish co-production that tracks the struggle of Simón Bolívar’s fight for independence in Latin America.
On Sunday, there’s a screening of “Canción de Barrio," a documentary by Alejandro Ramirez that follows Cuban music sensation Silvio Rodriguez through a concert in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Havana and a tour in the island — which unveils the tough Cuban reality.
Next is “The Lookout,” in which Venezuelan filmmaker Gordon Milcham tells the story of a woman who marries a LAPD detective obsessed with the murder of his late wife during a robbery.
Then comes the U.S. premiere of “The Last Colony,” in which Juan Agustín Márquez, a Puerto Rican filmmaker from Los Angeles, explains the debate on the status of the island as a U.S. territory and presents different viewpoints about the current Free Associated State and the independence and statehood alternatives.
The festival closes with “Yo Soy la Salsa," a Dominican documentary about the life and career of music sensation Johnny Pacheco — who coined the term "Salsa" to denote the genre — and the history of the genre.
The movie forum formerly known as the Filadelfia Latin American Film Festival (FLAFF) — with an “F," like the name of the city of brotherly love in Spanish — was founded in 2012 by David Acosta and Beatriz Vieira. This year the festival was revamped and its name was changed to Philadelphia Latino Film Festival (PHLAFF) — with a “Ph."
“The change was a collective effort with a lot of respect to our founders who had the vision that Philadelphia needed a festival like this to take place on an annual basis,” Mejía Rabell said. “Philadelphia has been very strategic about developing a brand and presenting the city as a major market so rebranding the festival was the right thing to do and it was the right moment to do it.”
Among the new board members is Jennifer Rodriguez, director of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs (MOIMA); Josue Duarte, vice president of Marketing and Production at Esperanza; Rafael Alvarez, who works for councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez; and Jessica Lopez, former editor of Where Philadelphia. Founding members José Benítez and Sandra Thompson remain in the board.
“We wanted to bring in more diversity, people who are dynamic, well connected, that could inform our planning and make sure that what we are bringing to the table are things that all ages and all groups will feel is powerful, energetic, that celebrate our heritage but also celebrate our experience as Latinos in 2015," Mejía Rabell said.
Additionally, this is the first time the festival has a communications team, which is led by Adriana Arvizo, who recently left Visit Philadelphia after being appointed director of communications for the Pennsylvania Department of State. Other members of the team include blogger Leonor Robles Brennen, from Redsoles & Stilettos; Cecilia Huesca, from Philly Alternativo; Laiza Santos, in charge of social media, and Didier García, as art director.
Besides screenings, some of which include Q&As with filmmakers, there will be two panels; one about film as a tool for social change, and another in which emerging women artists will talk about how they’ve carved their own path.
“Some folks are going to be joining us via Skype and we are also going to be showing and sharing the conversations via Periscope, which enables folks from the region who don’t have the capacity to be with us, to join us,” Mejía Rabell said.
The festival also includes the second edition of the LOLA Awards, which were established last year and recognize a different genre every year. This time the awards called for submissions for short films and will recognize the best among 30 submissions received. The chosen film and the finalist will be featured in a screening later this year.
In its new stage, PHLAFF is looking to consolidate its presence by offering yearlong programming.
“We want to make sure that the brand continues to grow not only by asking the audience to come to a screening during the festival but also taking screenings to them, hosting movie premieres during the year or community screenings in parks," Mejía Rabell said. “This will hopefully lead to a continuing and ongoing diversification of our audience and our team, and the engagement of different sectors of the community. That includes young people who are open to expanding and exploring other ways of bringing Latino cinema to our community and the community at large."
For movie lovers, there is a variety of ticket packages to access all events during one, two, or the three days of the festival, including the opening party. Individuals tickets are $12 and film buff passes for three films are $30.
“Latino film is for everybody,” Mejía Rabell said. “We want all Philadelphians to really engage and be a part of it."