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Latin American and Spanish Film Week cements its place on Victoria's festival calendar

Quality, not quantity, is the hallmark of what has become one of Victoria’s most popular annual film festivals.
Chico & Rita, set in 1948, is a celebration of Cuban culture and music.

Quality, not quantity, is the hallmark of what has become one of Victoria’s most popular annual film festivals.

“We’re able to bring in ‘the best of the best’ because we don’t have to fill an extended schedule,” explains University of Victoria professor Dan Russek, organizer of the fourth annual Latin American and Spanish Film Week at Cinecenta, which runs Sept. 17 to 22.

Victoria’s love affair with films produced in the Hispanic world that the festival annually showcases has escalated to the point that the Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies professor has co-founded a non-profit society to shed more light on them.

It was prompted in part by the rising number of attendees each year at what has become a cinematic tradition, he said.

“For us, the Film Week is a labour of love — as art initiatives usually are — and a means to promote the cultures of Latin America and Spain through film,” says Russek, who recently established the Hispanic Film Society of Victoria with colleagues Chrissie Forster and Lloyd Howard, and two community members, Isabel Leal and Dovi Kreger.

“As a university professor, I find it important to go beyond the classroom and engage the community,” Russek says. “Of course, cinema is a privileged medium to accomplish that.”

Fans of social justice films may be interested in two documentaries in particular, he says.

One is Gold Fever, a U.S.-Guatemalan co-production that documents the impact of Goldcorp Inc. on a remote Guatemalan village amid a global gold frenzy. The other is Eufrosina’s Revolution, Luciana Kaplan’s portrait of Eufrosina Mendoza, who, despite being elected president of Oaxaca’s municipal council, was denied the position because she’s an indigenous woman, inspiring her political crusade for gender equality.

Russek is also excited about Blancanieves/Snow White, a silent black-and-white take on the classic fairy tale, set in southern Spain in the 1920s, in which a girl tormented by her wicked stepmother embarks on a journey with bullfighting dwarves.

Russek says he found the film “visually arresting and a masterpiece in storytelling,” which might explain why it won 10 Goya Awards, including best film, and was Spain’s official submission for an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film.

He’s also a big fan of Chico & Rita, a magical animated musical celebration of Cuban culture and music set in 1948.

The film, which features an original soundtrack by Bebo Valdes, focuses on the romance between a young piano player and the girl of his dreams, a beautiful singer, during a journey from Havana to New York, Paris, Hollywood and Las Vegas.

Other noteworthy entries acquired with the assistance of Christian Sida-Valenzuela, director of the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival, include The Prize, Paula Markovitch’s drama about a young mother and her child still affected by a military dictatorship after fleeing to an Argentine beach from Buenos Aires, and Sagrada, The Mystery of Creation, a documentary that explores the history of Barcelona’s famous Sagrada Familia basilica, and the mystery surrounding Antoni Gaudi’s evolving masterpiece.

All films are shown with English subtitles. Regular admission prices apply.

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