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Debut of CineLatino puts a different lens on cinema

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According to the U.S. Census, 17.1 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino. In Colorado, the number is even higher, with Hispanics and Latinos making up 21 percent of the state’s 5.26 million residents. But even with a reach that spans one in five Coloradans, Hispanic and Latino culture remains foreign to many Coloradans. It’s understandable, since learning about another culture, even one that seems familiar, can be a daunting task. But for those who prefer skipping the book and watching the movie for class, this is your week.

Thursday, Sept. 25 through Sunday, Sept. 28, the Sie FilmCenter in Denver will host CineLatino, a four-day film festival that collects eight features, three documentaries and one interactive web series, all revolving around and focusing in on the Latino experience and expression.

Sie’s Programming Manager, Ernie Quiroz, who recently marked his first year at Sie, curated CineLatino. Prior to moving to Denver, Quiroz lived and worked in Phoenix, Ariz., working for the Phoenix International Film Festival and Phoenix Art Museum, where he first conceived of CineLatino.

“I actually started doing CineLatino back in Phoenix, I ran it at the museum for three years,” Quiroz tells Boulder Weekly. We spoke about the recent renaissance of Latin American movie making, a movement that really took hold when three major Mexican directors, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro garnered recognition here in the states and on the world stage. But, CineLatino isn’t just to capitalize on the recent success and democratization of Central and South American movies; it’s a chance for Quiroz to embrace his own Hispanic heritage.

“I went to a high school that was pretty, you know, upper-middle class, not a lot of Hispanics,” Quiroz says. “It was very 90210, the kind of high school that kids literally got BMW and Mercedes for their 16th birthday and I was totally not that at all, you know? So I kind of hid my Hispanic heritage. I was ashamed of being Hispanic, ashamed of being poor and going to this school.”

But, as Quiroz grew older, he wised up. 

“I tried to — on a personal level — try to get in touch with my Hispanic heritage, and that kind of followed with film,” he says. “Here is a way to show these films, and celebrate that, and hopefully get other people in the community to celebrate that as well.”

Cinema is best when it is personal and that is equally true of festivals. Each one has a unique identity, a signature touch. Sundance is quirky, Cannes is glamour, Toronto is Oscar, Telluride is passion and on and on. Los Angeles Film Festival has an entire sidebar dedicated to Angeleno-themed films, Ebertfest is chocked full of the movies Roger Ebert loved and championed, and even Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema — which played at the Sie last month — is a collection of 21 handpicked movies. Quiroz programs CineLatino in a similar vein.

“I look at Sundance, SXSW, the big festivals,” Quiroz says. “I’ll also look at distributors from Mexico, from Argentina, from the bigger countries, kind of see what they have, what’s hitting the circuit and then it’s just watching a lot of movies.” 

But in the end, programming just, “Comes down to, what do I like? What do I think the audience will like?” 

Cinema isn’t just about giving the audience what they want, but giving them something that they didn’t know they needed. That is what Quiroz is hoping for with CineLatino, and his slate is diverse enough that it just might work.

Blurring the lines between narrative and documentary, some of the movies of CineLatino have roots in the real world. This is especially true of Heli, which won the award for Best Director (Amat Escalante) at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Dealing primarily with Mexican drug cartels and a brother and sister who inadvertently get involved, Heli is a tough watch, but a beautiful and powerful movie that addresses life and all of its ugliness head on. Please note this one is not for the faint of heart.

The Desert, an Argentine film from director Christoph Behl, is a riff on Jean- Paul Sartre’s No Exit and the apocalypse. One of the documentary entries, Food Chains, takes a look at the rough and downright awful world of the immigrant farm worker. One movie Quiroz singled out specifically is the documentary Who is Dayani Cristal? from producer and star Gael García Bernal.

“They find this body in the middle of the desert and [Bernal] tries to recreate, what did this person go through? — the actual, physical ordeal of coming across the border and wandering around in the desert,” Quiroz says. “What would drive someone to do that? And try to understand from this person’s perspective of what was going on. Why did he do that? To hopefully give this anonymous person, to give them a voice.”

All of these movies give Hispanics and Latinos a voice, and it is a powerful one.

The festival kicks off Thursday night, Sept. 25 with Water and Power with special guests writer/director Richard Montoya, actor Nick Gonzalez and iconic Mexican-American actor and director Edward James Olmos, whose company produced the movie. As Quiroz puts it, “He’s not officially listed as a producer, but he’s a big champion of the film.”

If that is not enough Olmos for you, then you can watch one of his seminal performances on Saturday, Sept. 27 with Zoot Suit, a 1981 narrative about the Zoot Suit Riots in L.A.

Zoot Suit is not available on DVD or Blu-ray, so here is your chance to catch this contemporary classic, on the big screen, on 35mm at no cost. That’s right, Quiroz really wants you to come out and see Zoot Suit, so he’s opening the doors for free.

The timing for CineLatino couldn’t be better. Sept. 16 was the annual celebration of Mexican Independence Day and September is Hispanic Heritage Month.

Tickets, passes, showtimes, guest speakers, reception information and much more can be found on the Sie’s website, www.denverfilm.org.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com