Third Latin Film Festival Emphasizes Contemporary Works

Lawrence’s Spanish department presented its third annual Latin American and Spanish Film Festival this past week, Wednesday, April 9 through Saturday, April 12. The festival was held entirely in the Warch Campus Center, mainly in the cinema, and was open to the public as well as to Lawrence’s students and faculty. It included receptions, film showings, a panel, and two fantastic Q&A sessions with talented young directors.

As the third event of its kind at Lawrence, this year’s film festival was a great success. Although the previous two years centered around specific themes such as music and sex, this year’s festival intended to showcase a broad and vibrant range of films from contemporary Latin American and Spanish-speaking directors.

The festival kicked off Wednesday night with an evening showing of Michel Franco’s After Lucia (Después de Lucía), a Cannes prize-winning Mexican drama about a father’s relationship with his adolescent daughter following a tragic loss. After the film, there was a lively opening reception in the Mead-Witter room. Following this reception was a showing of the Argentine historical drama The German Doctor, directed by Lucía Puenzo and based on his novel Wakolda. This film was particular within the Spanish film festival because a substantial portion of its dialogue was delivered in German, due to the shady origins of its titular character. The German Doctor acted as the final event of the festival’s opening evening.

A showing of La Playa DC, a Colombian film about a mixed-race boy’s struggles with exclusion and racism, began Thursday’s events. The film’s director, Juan Andrés Arango, appeared after the show to discuss his work and to answer the audience’s questions. Later, attendees gathered in the cinema to view the Uruguayan Ana Guevara’s So Much Water (Tanta Agua), a dramedy about a family vacation gone awfully wrong.

The festival’s penultimate day, Friday, began with a panel of Lawrence film students along with Lawrence’s resident artist filmmaker, Catherine Tatge. The students on the panel were a wonderful opportunity to get a glimpse of what might be in store for Lawrence’s film program. Each student is currently working on or recently finished a large, work-intensive documentary project about social justice issues in the Fox Valley, and expressed great enthusiasm for the nuance, growth, cooperation, and learning inherent in the program. Every student was quite complimentary of the school’s budding film program and brand-new film facilities in the Hurvis center, and hailed the possibility of a future film major for Lawrence students. Zach Ben-Amots, in particular, stressed how “rare” an opportunity it is for students to have access to the new Hurvis Center studios and equipment: “Without these facilities and equipment, I don’t think we would have been able to do anything close to this.”

Ms. Tatge, who herself graduated from Lawrence in 1972, spoke about how much she enjoys the interdisciplinary nature of the program and its courses. In particular, Tatge expressed that her “favorite thing about the program is the students.” Her enthusiasm for the Latin American and Spanish film festival was also clear. In fact, Tatge told the audience that she would “encourage students to do a film in Spanish.”

After the Film Studies panel, the audience was treated to a viewing of Adrián Saba’s The Cleaner (El Limpiador), a melancholy but somehow hopeful Peruvian drama about a forensic cleaner’s serendipitous interactions with a child during a mysterious epidemic. During the Q&A afterwards, the director spoke about his intentions and method in making the film, and his pleasure at its success. Audience members expressed their appreciation of Saba’s work, Catherine Tatge declaring herself “highly moved by the film.”

Finally, the organizers showed White Elephant (Elefante Blanco), a 2012 Argentine film directed by Pablo Trapero. This film concerned two priests who work to improve conditions in their Buenos Aires slum, and was a satisfying final event for Friday night.

The festival’s last day consisted of two film showings punctuated by a closing reception. The penultimate film, the Chilean Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria, depicted a middle-aged divorcée who is determined to maintain a vivacious lifestyle in defiance of her age and loneliness. For the last showing, the festival’s organizers chose Cannibal (Caníbal), a Spanish thriller about a tailor who also happens to be a murderer.

Each event had a substantial turnout, with audience members drawn from all over Appleton, as well as from nearly every country represented in the festival. Each of the eight films was a carefully selected example of Latin American and Spanish-speaking cinema, and the audiences’ great enthusiasm for the diverse range of works was often clear. Considering the interdisciplinary nature of the Spanish program, this festival was a wonderful way to connect with the rest of Lawrence, and with the Appleton community as a whole.