Latino and Palestinian film festivals offer great viewing

Five Cuban films and a documentary about Elvira Arellano, who sought sanctuary at a Chicago church to bring light to the barbaric U.S. immigration laws, are among more than 100 films from 22 countries at Chicago’s 26th annual Latino Film Festival, April 16-29.

On the same dates, the 9th annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival will offer 16 films, opening with the winner of this year’s Dubai Film Festival, “Zindeeq.”

The Latino Film Festival will present 76 feature films and 55 short films representing 22 countries, at Landmark Century Cinema, 2828 N. Clark (Clark & Diversey) and Instituto Cervantes 31 W. Ohio (Ohio & Dearborn). For details see the festival web site. or call the festival hotline at 312-409-1757.

The Palestine Film Festival will offer 10 feature films and six short films, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State (State & Randolph). See the Siskel Center web site for more information.

All films not in English will have English subtitles. Following some films, directors and actors do question-and-answer sessions. Sometimes these Q&A sessions are magical.

The Latino Film Festival features several special events, including a combined opening night and Noche Mexicana, a Night of Spain, and Night of Brazil.

Also, according to Brenda Salas Varney, the Latino Film Festival’s media coordinator, a women’s program will show 11 full-length films and a gay program will show seven features. A “Made in the USA” program will present eight feature films and 10 short films including “Immigration Nation; The Battle for the Dream” featuring Elvira Arellano and her son Saul, who took refuge in a local church to spotlight immigration laws that force parents and children to separate. “Little Village,” “Otra Vida,” “Rising Up,” “Growing up Latino in Chicago,” “Six Weeks of Change,” and “The Southside has Many Beauty Queens” all are set in Chicago and its neighborhoods. “We think there is something for everyone, especially Chicagoans,” said Salas Varney.

The Latino Film Festival is sponsored by the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago (ILCC). The director and founder of the festival and the ILCC is Pepe Vargas. At Columbia College, as an ESL student, Vargas organized the first festival in 1985 with 17 movies and only a wall instead of a screen to project them on. The festival became an attraction for both homesick immigrants and people hungry for knowledge and experience not found in Hollywood blockbusters. Not only does Vargas bring some of the best films to Chicago, but the ILCC also sponsors dance, comedy, theater, art, singing and poetry events.

In an interview, Vargas said, “The film festival and other special events are a way to show our talent and allow others who aren’t ‘Latino’ to share with us. Every year the film festival attracts a larger audience, the films get better because we have a larger choice to pick from and because of immigration we can have Latino films from Canada, France, Italy, etc. sharing that immigration experience. We are the oldest and largest Latino film festival in the US.

“The goal of the ILCC is to actually have a physical space where we can showcase this talent. Women’s, Gay and Lesbian, Made in Chicago, the Latino Art Beat National Film and Animation Competition are all programs within the film festival. We do outreach with high school and college students that involve thousands of people.

“We know how bad the economy is and many people don’t go out as much and spend money on entertainment but the festival has actually increased the number of people coming within the last three years to more than 50,000. We’ve had to cut back and in a way that has allowed us to organize hundreds of volunteers, a small but wonderful staff, board of directors that are not paid and unwavering support has allowed us to move forward.”

Palestine Film Festival features include “American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein.” A son of Holocaust survivors, a critic of Israel/U.S. foreign policy and a tenured DePaul University professor (a Catholic institution), Finkelstein was fired because of his outspokenness. “Impunity,” directed by Edward Salam, looks at the consequences of Israel’s assault on Gaza. “Degrees of Incarceration,” directed by Amahl Bishara is a documentary about the shocking fact that 40 percent of Palestinian males have served time in Israel jails. Preceding the film is the short “Walled Horizons,” a documentary featuring Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, whose album “The Wall” created youthful rebellion. He offers commentary about the wall separating Palestinians from Israel, and from their own backyards. The short was produced by the United Nations in Jerusalem.

There is a pleasure and poetry that is unique to the Chicago Palestine Film Festival. It’s based on the deep conflict between Palestine and Israel, and the contradictions within Palestine and Israel. Some of the movies have a second level of controversy, such as “City of Borders,” a documentary about the only gay bar in Jerusalem. So you have the Israeli expansion and the control of Jerusalem at issue, along with how the mainstream cultures both of Palestine and Israeli view gay and lesbian relations.

Both the Latino Film Festival and the Palestine Film Fesitval run from April 16-29. So, you might consider being at two theaters on the same night. Some films are just that good. Enjoy!

Molly Pacheco contributed to this article.

Photos: Upper, Poster from the Latino Film Festival. 

Bottom, A scene from “Voices Beyond Walls,” to be screened at the Palestine Film Festival.