Cineseattle, the first International Latino Film Festival, was a hastily organized, flying-by-seat-of-pantalones effort that nonetheless clearly indicated that we can anticipate a promising future for this annual event. The flying pants in question were those of a young set of Seattle Latinas/os (emphasis en “os”) who pulled together an impressive grass-roots organization managing to completely eschew cineaste high-hat aires.
The curator and artistic director, Jorge Enrique González-Pacheco, who hails from Cuba originally, put together an eclectic menu of films ranging from proven international festival fare to debuting student work. Forever Lupe (2007)--the Mexican mediometraje that initiated my curiosity about the festival--is an example of the latter. Also in the student category (San Francisco State this time) was Rafael Flores’s 10 minute film, Jale (2009), an earnest comment on the situation faced by Mexican migrant workers --- shot, says the director “in true guerilla fashion.”
The good news here is for aspiring filmmakers: this new come-as-you-are, democratic festival model means there might be space for young and up-and-coming creators to find an audience within a viable venue. Furthermore (for better or for worse) my Cineseattle experience would indicate that the unschooled filmmaker need not feel intimidated by her/his film-school-graduate counterpart.
In addition to the aforementioned, other Mexican, Mexico-centered, or border-related offerings included two terrific(!) documentaries, both shot on video: No Son Invisibles: Mayan Women and Microfinance (USA/Mex, 2008) and Hecho en Los Angeles (USA, 2008). The latter being a many-award winner about community/worker organization (not union exactly) in the LA garment district.
There was also one narrative short, Niña Quebrada (USA, 2008, directed by Seattle's own Diana Romero), about a Mexican girl sold into prostitution in the United States. Though well made, the fictionalized treatment here, of such deadly serious subject matter, erred on the side of sentimental/anecdotal.
Last, there was a major Mexican feature, El Viaje de Teo (2008), an immigration-themed IMCINE picture sporting high production values and an unsubtle “stay-at-home” massage. Here's a look:
Not that the Mexicanidad was a focalizing factor for Cineseattle. As articulated in the festival literature, González-Pacheco dedicated the festival to the booming domestic cinema industry in Columbia. And, indeed, some very satisfying Columbian films were shown (The festival opener, Te amo Ana Elisa, 2008, was a standout!).
But the pinnacle was the final screening: Uruguay's Gigante (Adrián Biniez, 2009), an understatedly brilliant film about love in the time of surveillance. Someday I’d love to see it projected...
...which brings us to what is, for me, the takeaway of the weekend: If this event is any indication, there’s a festival model afoot that is not about “film” at all, it’s about media and about communities coming together for a shared viewing experience. At Cineseattle we watched 35mm features on DVD, documentaries and features shot on video, digital amateur work..., we actually screened a DVD of a 35mm short film that, for reasons of expense, was never bought out of post-production: in other words a film that, as such, doesn’t actually exist yet and may never. My point being that the rarefied celluloid object is the least of concerns here. Is there a “genre” of grass-roots media festivals fitting this description?... Occasioned by an era of accessible technologies and transnational online networking? Can you bring people out to screen a DVD if primarily for the shared experience? Tell us about the democratic media festival near you!