At the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival, films burst forth
The acclaimed Colombian film La Playa D.C. is partly Canadian, but you wouldn’t know it. As program director Christian Sida-Valenzuela tells the Straight in a call from the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival’s downtown offices, director Juan Andrés Arango has lived in Montreal “forever” (some seven years, to be precise), “and he was never able to get money from Canada.”
The film, a hip hop-infused tale of Afro-Colombian teens fleeing their coastal town to the hard streets of Bogotá, ended up going to Cannes. In a year that has seen indigenous Canadian filmmaking rattle along on fumes, the sting is obvious. When La Playa D.C. opens this year’s 11th annual VLAFF on Friday (August 30), it arrives as a Colombian-French-Brazilian coproduction.
Arango’s film also spearheads the festival’s Spotlight on Colombia. Sida-Valenzuela and his team have scored six features and four shorts from the region, along with seven guests—all of whom received a government grant to attend. Colombia’s commitment to its film industry has inspired a renaissance in recent years, starting with a Law of Cinema in 2003 and augmented with recently developed incentives for both domestic and international productions. And while pumping money into culture isn’t a guarantee of quality, as Sida-Valenzuela explains, “in Colombia there’s been a long tradition of filmmaking, especially in the city of [Santiago de] Cali. And before they just did it with very low resources.”
Similarly, film and theatre director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti has built an impressive body of work thanks in some measure to Cuba’s enlightened policy toward the arts. Another of VLAFF’s guests this year, Malberti heads the jury in its First-Time Directors Competition (joined by Vancouver writer-artist Carmen Aguirre, among others), and presents three of his own films: Chamaco, Nada+, and his biggest international success, 2005’s Viva Cuba.
Malberti also happens to cut a very striking figure, typically appearing in white pants decorated on the right leg with “the first paragraph of Don Quixote,” says Sida-Valenzuela with a chuckle. “Every day, written in big letters, and he wears dark glasses wherever he is, in a cinema, everywhere…”
Including shorts, there are 63 films coming to Canada’s biggest Latin-American film festival this year. One of the distinguishing features of VLAFF is its sensitivity to the West Coast milieu, and to that end there are three films—under the banner of Asian Perspectives—that focus on the cultural exchange between the two continents. One of those films, The Girl From the South, is also entered into the festival’s Al Jazeera Documentary Competition.
Made by Argentina’s José Luis García, The Girl From the South begins with VHS footage shot by García in 1989, at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Pyongyang, North Korea. García goes back to track the fate of Lim Su-Kyung, an activist who crossed the Panmunjom military border as a symbolic gesture of reunification.
“He went to find her a couple years ago in South Korea. They end up in Argentina. It’s a very crazy thing for a filmmaker to take this shot and do it,” remarks an admiring Sida-Valenzuela.
As in previous years, VLAFF also has Youth and Short Film competitions, and it all wraps up with a closing gala presentation of Mexico’s Post Tenebras Lux, on September 8. Carlos Reygadas took the best-director prize at Cannes 2012 for the hallucinatory movie.
“It’s a very unique film, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Sida-Valenzuela says, adding that the tale of a prosperous urban family living in rural Mexico possesses an otherness that speaks directly to him as an expat. “There’s a lot of places in Mexico where I feel more foreigner than if I’m in Canada or France or somewhere,” he says. “The film is like a dream.”