BY VERONES PADILLA
SC Staff Writer
Dr. Annie Mendoza of the Modern Language Department, in conjunction with the Office of the Dean of College of Arts & Sciences, the Student Activity Association, the Departments of History, Sports Management, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and the Frederick Douglas Institute of ESU, brought the first annual Latino Heritage Month Film Festival to Beers Lecture Hall.
The film festival—which ran from September 19 to October 17—explored the diverse history, politics, culture, race, and ethnicities of Latin America, Spain, and the United States.
The film festival was made possible by a grant from Pragda—a film distribution company dedicated to promoting Latin American and Spanish culture.
Dr. Mendoza said a Latino Film Festival was missing from the ESU Community.
“It was something that I saw was lacking here at ESU and the community, so I thought why not?” said Mendoza.
All the films screened were feature films and current films.
“The films are still making their rounds through film festivals throughout the world,” said Mendoza.
The grant sponsored the cost associated with the rights to screen the movies selected. The movies were carefully selected to showcase a wide variety of Latin American and Spanish representations.
The goal was not just to show movies from Spain, Mexico, and Argentina, each of which have a large film industry of their own, but to expand the festival to include global films.
“The goal was to bring movies from places we don’t usually see like Ecuador, Costa Rica, and a displaced Sahrawi population in the Sahara,” said Mendoza.
The Latino Film Festival kicked off the month long event with “Negro,” a documentary by Dash Harris, who is originally from the Poconos. The documentary explores identity, racism, and the African diaspora in Latin America. The movie delved into the deep-seeded color complex amongst Latinos all over the world.
On September 24, the Film Festival screened “Wilaya,” the story of a teenage girl forced to leave a foster home of 16 years in Spain for her native Saharan village. This story shows how cultures inform identities, and how adaptation is crucial for survival.
The next film screened was “Infancia Clandestina (Clandestine Childhood),” a story about the Argentinean military dictatorship of the mid 70s and early 80s, and the life of a young rebel family fighting the oppression.
“Con Mi Corazon En Yambo (With my heart in Yambo),” tells the story about Director Fernanda Restrepo’s brothers who were illegally detained and tortured by Ecuadorian police.
“El Regreso (The Return)” screened on October 3 is the story of a man, Antonio, who returns to Costa Rica after living in New York for a decade. When Antonio returns home, he is forced to confront the issues he ran away from a decade before—a broken family, a dying father and a country immersed in violence.
“Harvest of Empire,” the festival’s most attended film, told the story of how American military and economic interests influenced Latino countries, their policies, and the mass migration of Latinos into the U.S.
Dr. Bonar Hernandez of the History Department was instrumental in bringing “Harvest of Empire” into the film festival.
“The films underscore the history of political conflict, social inequality, and U.S. intervention that has historically affected Latin America,” said Hernandez.
The films take a look at the legacy of violence and corruption that often drives the surges of Latino immigration into the US.
“It is extremely important for our campus community to put into historical perspective the recent waves of immigration from Latin America,” said Hernandez. “ Historical perspective can allow all of us to gain a deeper understanding about the humanity of the millions of people who have come to the United States up until today.”
“Agui y Alla (Here and There),” tells the story of a Pedro—a man returning to his small village in Mexico after years of living in New York.
The film festival concluded with “The Clemente Effect,” a documentary about Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente.
“We chose ‘The Clemente Effect’ because it has direct ties to the community. There is a large Puerto Rican population at ESU as well as in the Pocono area. And of course, Clemente was a Pittsburg Pirate,” said Mendoza.
Mendoza boldly proclaimed that this was the First Annual Latino Film Festival, because she hopes to make it an annual celebration during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Mendoza said the films bring students exposure to new things, to worlds they didn’t know about before.
“The power of film can open our eyes to different languages, cultures and history. The movies we chose show the plurality of what it is to be Latino or Latin American or Hispanic. That there’s no one ethnic identity for what it is to be Latino. They represent the diversity of what it is to be Latino,” said Mendoza.
Student reaction was largely positive and many admitted they learned much more than they expected to.
“I learned how easy and, sometimes inadvertently, we label everything that surrounds us. This movie festival was an eye opening experience and it kept—if only just for a few weeks— the light shining on those touchy topics that we all know are present in everyone’s life, but we keep them in the dark as if we pretend they don’t exist.” Debbie Della Ragione, a Spanish major, said.
Mendoza’s hope is to enrich the students’ personal and professional perspectives. She champions exploring new cultures through language, believing the films and their artistic expressions are a perfect tool for this kind of learning.
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