OPEN MIC: An Antidote to Lost Opportunities

Alejandro A. Riera, of the Chicago Latino Film Festival, on giving Latin American cinema the respect it deserves, and working with GFI to bring new Global Lens films to the Windy City

As we celebrate our third year with GFI, Global Lens Series Manager Jeremy Quist asked me to reflect on the state of Latin American film distribution in the United States. And the more I thought about the subject, I found myself asking: When will Latin American cinema get the respect it deserves?

Yes, our cinema has an illustrious history that dates back to the silent era and includes such high points as the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema; the rise of Brazil’s Cinema Novo movement in the 50s and 60s; the emergence of post-Revolutionary Cuban cinema in the 60s and 70s; and, more recently, what some critics describe as the “New Argentinean Cinema.” And yet, even when countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela — not exactly film production powerhouses — are coming out with powerfully moving visual narratives, Latin America cinema keeps getting short shrift by media, critics and film distributors alike in this country, even though the growth of the Latino population outpaced any and all estimates.

Case in point: Miss Bala, Gerardo Naranjo’s extraordinary film about a beauty pageant contestant who unwittingly finds herself caught in the middle of a bloody war between a Mexican drug cartel and the DEA. In Chicago, Fox Searchlight unceremoniously, and with very little advertising, dropped the film at a suburban theater, showing it for only a week even though Chicago has the second largest Mexican population in the country — a community concerned about the high cost their home country is paying in that drug war. A film that, with the right marketing campaign, and the right amount of Latino (and non-Latino media coverage), would have earned Fox Searchlight a pretty penny or two. But, since it lost its chance at an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film this year, they figured that by releasing it at least for a week they were fulfilling whatever contractual duties they had. In other words, a lost opportunity.

Which is why the Chicago Latino Film Festival, after 28 years, is so important to Latin American and Spanish and Portuguese cinema. Not only has it given these films and its artists the respect that they deserve… The Festival reconnects audiences with their home countries. We show them, through our programming, that we speak a multitude of languages. We project onto the big screen specific and crucial moments of our continental history as well as the cultural and social idiosyncrasies that define each one of our countries.

The Chicago Latino Film Festival, now running until April 26, is more than a showcase for the best films coming out of Latin America, Spain, Portugal and the United States’ Latino enclaves. We provide a space where Latinos and non-Latinos alike meet and share their ideas, their experiences, their emotions and their stories. Because once those lights go down and the first images begin to flicker on the big screen, all national boundaries are erased. Cinema knows no frontier: It’s still the most egalitarian of art forms.

The Chicago Latino Film Festival’s and the Global Film Initiative’s missions may be phrased differently, but they are the same: To bring audiences and filmmakers from all walks of life and nationalities together, under one roof, through the art of the moving image. The four films that we are showing in association with GFI — Sergio Teubal’s The Finger, Paula Markovitch’s The Prize, Gustavo Pizzi’s Craft, and Carlos Osuna’s Fat, Bald, Short Man — reflect the vitality, ingenuity and breadth of contemporary Latin American cinema. They are also the product of some of the most exciting new voices coming out of the region. Voices that deserve to be seen and heard. We only need to open our eyes and ears.

Alejandro A. Riera is the media relations coordinator for the 28th Chicago Latino Film Festival and writes about film for, a Chicago-based website, and about Latino culture on his blog,

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