Spanish-Latin fest takes light touch

PREVIEW

Latin American and Spanish Film Week

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Where: Cinecenta, UVic Student Union Building

When: Sept. 18-23, 7 and 9 nightly

Admission: $5.75-$7.75 (regular admission fees)

Info: cinecenta.com

When Dan Russek says it's time to lighten up, he isn't talking about himself.

The assistant professor in the University of Victoria's department of Hispanic and Italian studies was referring to the third annual Latin American and Spanish Film Week that unspools at Cinecenta Tuesday night.

"Variety is the spice of life, they say, so we thought it was time to bring in some comedies," Russek said. "Sometimes, people complain that movies can be depressing, but reality is sometimes harsh."

One film Russek is particularly excited about is Juan de los muertos (Juan of the Dead), a dark Cuban comedy in which zombies on a rampage in Havana serve as a metaphor for the political climate in Cuban society.

It focuses on the title character, a slacker who decides to defend his lazy lifestyle by taking on zombies, described by the official media as Cuban dissidents paid by the U.S. government, their escalating attacks dismissed as "isolated incidents."

"You believe every zombie you see," said Russek, who learned about the film when the BBC did a glowing piece on it. "It's so well made, and at the same time it's a political satire."

Coincidentally, the film was made by Alejandro Brugues, whose feature debut, the romantic comedy Personal Belongings, was shown during the first Latin American Film Week in 2010.

Highlights include two documentaries.

Trisha Ziff's La maleta mexicana (The Mexican Suitcase) focuses on 4,500 negatives that were taken during the Spanish Civil War by photographer Robert Capa, Gerda Tara and David Seymour, and recovered in Mexico five years ago.

Stephanie Boyd's Operacion Diablo (The Devil Operation) exposes corporate terrorism that faces human-rights defenders in Latin America through the story of a humble priest who was spied upon, and his allies harassed, after he defended Peruvian mountain farmers threatened by a U.S.-owned gold mine.

Proceeds from the Sept. 21 screening of Operacion Diablo will benefit Mosqoy, a registered charity founded and operated by UVic alumni that promotes social justice and cultural rights in the Peruvian Andes.

Its textile revitalization program supports rural Quechua weavers, helping them restore traditional weaving practices.

Buoyed by positive response to last year's event, Russek is hoping for a hat trick the third time out.

"We had almost 1,000 spectators and we're looking forward to more - not just students, faculty and staff, but the community at large."

The Mexican-born educator said he's gratified there's growing interest in the festival, a trend he attributes in part to increased travel by many Canadians to places such as Mexico, Cuba and Argentina.

"I'm an academic who teaches Latin American film, and this is an industry, so I try to keep abreast of new developments," he said, adding he was astounded by the wealth of cinema available when he attended the Guadalajara International Film Festival.

He credited consultant Christian Sida-Valenzuela, director of the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival, with his input for the event, sponsored by the UVic faculty of social sciences, division of continuing studies and office of community relations.

Other noteworthy entries include Gatos viejos (Old Cats), a Chilean family drama about the bittersweet relationship between an elderly woman and her wayward daughter, and Un cuento chino (A Chinese Tale), a quirky cultural clash comedy about a curmudgeonly Argentinian (Richard Darin) who ends up rescuing a Chinese visitor to Buenos Aires.

All films will be shown with English subtitles.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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