The Latino Experience Through the Big Screen

The IFP/West Los Angeles Film Festival showcased films by, for and about us?and the world

By Rosalba Ruiz
Published on LatinoLA: July 3, 2002

The Latino Experience Through the Big Screen

Recently I found myself at La Tropical nightclub, Latin America?s most famous dance club, where thousands of working class Cubans meet to dance away their everyday hardships and afflictions to pounding, sensual, multifarious Afro-Cuban beats.

It was like being in a surreal, but at the same time very real world. That world was in black and white though, and it had been beautifully photographed by David Turnley.

La Tropical was one of 15 films showcased in the IFP/West Los Angeles Film Festival that were either produced by Latinos, or produced by international filmmakers about the Latino culture. This documentary, directed by Pulitzer-prize winning photojournalist David Turnley, takes the audience to Havana, into the lives of a few La Tropical?s patrons and performers.

During the course of the film we meet an interracial couple whose love couldn?t be, a young man who can?t afford to be a father yet; a despaired musician, and a loving mother working to pay for her daughter?s medical care, among a few others. Every person in the film had a dream, a struggle that was set against present day Cuba. La Tropical's characters had a lot in common with those in the film Loco Fever, except these struggles and ambitions were set against the background of an isolated fishing village on the southern coast of Chile.

In his second feature film, Andr?s Wood tells the story of a town where, for a few precious days each year, fishing bans are lifted for the loco, an endangered shellfish renowned as an aphrodisiac. As the story unfolds, we catch glimpses of the villagers? everyday lives as the town erupts into chaos when the possibility of easy money infects them like a virus. Romances blossom and rivalries erupt with intensified passion. The story is so candid, and the acting so convincing that, just as in La Tropical, that we are immersed in that world.

The two films I had the privilege of watching were part of the International Showcase of this year?s festival. Other Latino-themed features included: Washington Heights by Alfredo Villa, winner of the Best Narrative Feature Audience Award; Bolivia by Israel Adrian Caetano; Vagon Fumador by Veronica Chen; and Palindrome by Phillippe Barcinsky.

The festival organizers did a superb job in selecting films that painted an accurate portrait of the Latino experience. Festival attendees had the option to visit other places in Latin America, such as Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico, and at the same time get to know a diverse array of individuals, of personalities, of hopes and dreams? all through the big screen.

The films told stories that not only portray positive images of Latinos; they also depict us, very accurately, as human beings.

About Rosalba Ruiz:
Rosalba Ruiz is a LatinoLA correspondent. This is her first published review.

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