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The Latin American Film Festival Offers Dallas a Vision of the World

The inaugural LAFFD is happening this month, showcasing Latin American features that may not otherwise get theatrical distribution in the area.

The inaugural Latin American Film Festival of Dallas (LAFFD) will take place February 29 – March 3 at Spacy, a “microcinema” in Tyler Station. LAFFD aims to be one of the first festivals of its kind in the country. Others may include or spotlight particular Latin American features, but LAFFD sets itself apart by only curating films with ties to Latin America.

“Over the last couple of years, I’ve been…taking note of the…lack of film distribution for a lot of Latin American cinema in the United States,” says Jhon Hernandez, the festival’s director. “There’s a few films that maybe will break through and that might play local theaters, but there’s a lot that just will never exist here in Dallas.”

While some of these films may ultimately end up streaming, Hernandez wanted to find a way to get them a proper screening in Dallas with an audience. 

This aligned perfectly with Tony Nguyen’s hopes for his microcinema, Spacy, when he opened the venue last year. Nguyen saw Spacy as a place where the Dallas film scene could be challenged and stimulated, and hoped to be a home for films that may not fit the programming bill for multiplexes. LAFFD is Spacy’s latest proof of concept, a festival that will offer a landing pad for international features that too often fly under the radar in the United States.

“Whenever Spacy opened last year, I just thought there was an opportunity there to do something,” says Hernandez, who brought the idea for LAFFD to Nguyen. The two workshopped Hernandez’s initial pitch, at one point considering hosting monthly screenings instead of taking the much more demanding festival route. In the end, they decided to go all in. 

“I think just in general…[we’re] trying to cultivate the idea that there [is]…an ecosystem of these casual moviegoers [who] enjoy these different ideas and different cultures that…you maybe wouldn’t see everyday, especially in these larger multiplexes,” says Nguyen. “Those stories are just generally not really…seen.”

The festival’s lineup, which features films from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the United States, includes a North American premiere, two U.S. premieres, and three Texas premieres. 

It was important to Hernandez that the festival not just exhibit new releases, but also reflect on the vibrant history of Latin American cinema. Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival hosted a retrospective on Mexican cinema last year, inspiring the LAFFD team to pull in a classic Mexican film from the “golden age” of their cinema, Take Me in Your Arms.

“And last year, when we were putting together the program, it was the 50th anniversary of the coup d’etat in Chile,” adds Hernandez. Because of this, they sought out films made under the dictatorship in that country. “I thought it was important to establish that…link to the past and…reaffirm that the films made in Latin America, not just right now, but in the past, also are very important and worth knowing.”

More broadly, the programmers wanted to challenge preconceived notions of films that come from Latin American countries. “A lot of current Mexican cinema has to do with the violence going on in that country, and…the drug trade,” says Hernandez. “But I…wanted to push against that a little bit and find something else that was…representative of a different type of voice and a…different view on that cinema.”

To show a different flavor of Mexican cinema, LAFFD is screening Malvada, a “high-concept film about a mother who reaches out to an ex-girlfriend of her son’s because she’s worried that her son is going to marry a witch.” Hernandez describes it as a romantic comedy with “shades of horror and a little bit of fantasy.”

Hernandez sees LAFFD as a window into other countries and cultures. “For me, a festival is definitely an opportunity to have an encounter with, basically, a vision of the world,” he says. “And each movie is an opportunity for that. But also, there’s something…fun about seeing other cultures other than your own in a movie.

“So there’s an opportunity there for [viewers], as someone who maybe is from one of those countries, to say, ‘Okay, that’s my country. And…I get to see it again. I get to go back there through a movie.’ But there’s also a chance for you to get to know other cultures…through their cinema. And that, to me, is always…a goal and something worthwhile to try to achieve.”

All told, the festival, which is sponsored by the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture, will consist of 10 screenings, all held at Spacy, as well as opening and closing night parties. Two of the films, About Thirty and Deaths and Wonders, will also include pre-recorded Q&As. For its first year, LAFFD will not be selling badges, instead allowing attendees to purchase tickets for individual screenings from Spacy’s website.

Anyone interested in learning more about LAFFD can visit the festival’s website here. Spacy, 1300 S. Polk St. Ste. 160a.


Austin Zook

Austin Zook

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