As people trickled into the theater, bits of Spanish phrases blended with the laughter of a couple in the front row and the rustling of a potato chip bag. The 24th annual AFI Latin American Film Festival in Silver Spring, Md., was underway. Despite typically attracting a large audience, the enormous theater was less than a quarter full. Then again, it was a Monday night.
This year’s Latin American Film Festival runs from Sept. 19 to Oct. 9, featuring more than 40 films centered on Latin American politics and community, with topics ranging from dictatorship to reinterpretations of Shakespeare. Some of the movies have won international awards, while others are debuts for new directors. A student ticket, which includes the movie and sometimes a question and answer session with the director, costs $10. Occasionally, there is even a reception sponsored by an embassy.
The interesting films, English subtitles and Metro-accessible location draw a diverse crowd. Like the crowd at many popular D.C. attractions, however, most of the patrons at the Latin American Film Festival have been attending for years.
The festival’s diverse aray of Latin American films, plus a few from Spain and Portugal, is difficult to find elsewhere — a fact appreciated by Magda León, originally from Colombia, and America Calderón, originally from Guatemala. The pair, who now live locally, has been coming to the festival for about 10 years after seeking something like it out.
“[The Latin American Film Festival] is the only place where you can see Latin American film, non-Hollywood movies.” León said. “[The films] address topics that aren’t addressed often, [especially those concerning] the issues of life in Latin America.”
Monday night’s showing exemplified this spirit of embracing Latin American directors. On Monday night, the film playing was La Paz, directed by Santiago Loza. This coming-of-age movie traces the story of an Argentine man named Liso. Newly released from a psychiatric hospital, Liso moves in with his parents. However, his restrictive upper middle-class existence does nothing to improve his mental health. His slightly Freudian relationship with his mother and his father’s insistence on hours of shooting practice wear on him. He begins to withdraw even further from Argentine society and confide in his mother’s Bolivian housekeeper. Eventually, Liso is forced to re-evaluate his life completely, and the movie takes a much-needed turn.
Although La Paz won the award for Best Argentine Film at the 2013 Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, its slow pace left a lot to be desired. Born in Córdoba, Argentina and a former student of multiple Argentine film schools, Loza is the ideal director for a movie in the AFI film festival. However, La Paz was exceedingly slow, especially in comparison to the other movies being shown. It only took looking at the man sleeping a few rows over to realize that Luzo might have benefited from a few more exciting scenes, or at least fewer scenes featuring Liso lying in bed, staring wistfully off into space.
The AFI Latin American Film Festival is a great experience, with unique cultural opportunities — just check which movie is playing before you make the trek to Silver Spring.