Cuban zombies, a trek through Patagonia, and a biopic on famed Chilean superstar Violeta Parra. I'm in.
Latin Wave: New Films from Latin America, now in its eighth year, runs Thursday through Sundayat the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.With three days, nine films from 12 countries, including films from Cuba and Paraguay, it looks like a stellar line up, and a marvelous chance to see what's going on in the film world in Latin America.
This year, the festival has been curated by Diana Sanchez, an international programmer for the Toronto Film Festival and a consultant on film festivals worldwide. Sanchez stopped by to help us orient to this year's Latin Wave Festival.
CultureMap: What are the trends in Latin American cinema and how do we see them represented in the festival this year?
Diana Sanchez: Film production is growing, and countries that we aren't accustomed to seeing films from are now nurturing small industries. A case in point here is the first feature from Paraguay - 7 Boxes. I attribute this very much to the fact that neighboring countries are fostering cinematic production.
CM: How many festivals did you attend to cull this particular group of films?
DS: I don't only do festivals. To try and find the newest films I visit a country and organize meetings and private screenings with local producers and national film agencies. Last year, I traveled to Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, Panama, Colombia, and, of course, to France for the Cannes Film Festival.
CM: What are you looking for in a film?
DS: I'm trying to present a panorama of what is going on in the region, so I'm looking to see that different countries are represented and films that will reach audiences and give us a glimpse of another culture.
CM: Last year what surprised me was how many of the films were mainstream and not art house films. Are there any films in the series that were of the blockbuster variety in their home countries?
DS: Yes, there definitely are. The Violeta Parra film, Vioteta Went to Heaven, 7 Boxes and Juan of the Dead have all been local hits.
CM: I was curious about the film about Violeta Parra, which screened at Houston Cinema Arts Festival last year. She is not a household name here, but I imagine there was huge interest in the film in Chile. I'd like to know more about this film and why you selected it.
DS: I love the way that this artist's life is represented. It's based on memoirs by one of her children, and you can see that she put her music above and beyond any other facet of her life. It's told in a very non judgmental way - interesting for a culture that expects woman to hold motherhood sacred. The music in the film is breathtaking, all sung by the actress Francisca Gavilan. The film also won the jury award at Sundance when it played there.
CM: A Cuban film about zombies caught my attention. Yours too. Can you tell us what we have to look forward to in Juan of the Dead? It looks pretty funny from the trailer.
DS: I love watching Juan with an audience because people are in hysterics throughout. It's an irreverent, smart and hilarious comedy that depicts Cuba, I think quite accurately. It's also a window onto a new generation of Cuban filmmakers who have fresh new stories to tell.
CM: Carlos Sorin was part of the very first Latin Wave. I see that he is back with Gone Fishing. Since my son just got back from a trip to Argentine Patagonia, this film is on my list. Can you give us a glimpse into Sorin's work with non-professional actors.
DS: It's funny because when I've presented the film with Carlos he always remarks that they are not non-professional actors because they are all playing themselves (barring the main characters). So the waiter is really a waiter and the shark fishing teacher is really a shark fishing teacher and the female boxer is really a female boxer. He finds characters and incorporates them into the story he wants to tell.
CM: For the first time, a film from Paraguay has been included, and I understand 7 Boxes is a low-tech thriller. What interested you about this film?
DS: This film is just such a surprise. It's a fast-paced thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat. But instead of car chases, we have wheel barrow carters doing the chase scenes. That it is from Paraguay is a bonus because seeing films from countries that produce so few films is always a treat.
CM: It's great that the festival includes directorial debuts like Colombian William Vega. Bring us into La Sirga (The Towrope), his first feature.
DS: This is a film that I saw last year in Cannes and I was very moved by it. It's a film about Colombia's armed conflict, yet it's conveyed so poetically - suggestively. It tells the story of a young woman who works at her uncle's guest house, working tirelessly to prepare it for tourist season. But nobody ever comes to the town. She and the housekeeper try valiantly to stop the leaking in the home, but the rain keeps making it's way through.
CM: What are you looking forward to in bringing this collection of films to Houston?
DS: I'm looking forward to continuing the work that Monika Wagenberg started with MFAH and the Proa Foundation, and for the growth of the cinema from Latin America to be related through the films. I'm also looking forward to audiences wanting to see even more films from the region.
Enjoy some Cuban Zombies in Juan of the Dead.