The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The 40th Anniversary of the Chicago Latino Film Festival Transcends Countries and Languages Through Diverse Storytelling

Nupur Bosmiya
Attendees engage in conversation at the opening screening of the 40th Chicago Latino Film Festival at the Davis Theatre on April 11, 2024. People around Chicago gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the festival that highlights Latine filmmakers and artists.

Crisp suits, flowing cocktail dresses, and the occasional Frida Kahlo hair-dos colored Davis Theatre on North Lincoln Ave last week as the 40th Chicago Latino Film Festival (CLFF) commenced. The opening screening of the movie ‘The Wingwalker’ was followed by an opening gala at the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center on North Western Ave. 

This film festival celebrates Latine and Hispanic filmmakers from over 20 countries worldwide, including but not limited to Mexico, Haiti, Uruguay, Paraguay, Nicaragua and Spain. Out of the 725 submissions the center received, only 50 features and 35 shorts were selected to be screened at this year’s festival. 

“Last year when I opened the film festival, I pledged that the 40th was going to be even better. And now that we open the 40th, I can reassure you that the 41[st] will be even better,” said Pepe Vargas, the executive director of the International Latino Cultural Center (ILCC) and the CLFF, during his opening remarks.

The excitement and joy were palpable as a crowd celebrated the diversity of the Latines across the globe. 

“We celebrate the difference that exists among ourselves…we wanted to share the culture of all of our countries,” Vargas said. 

As a fervent traveler, Vargas has visited many countries and his experiences have led him to be selective in his choices for the CLFF.  He looks at cinema as a “transformational weapon” that can change how people look at Latines to perceive them as they are rather than attribute them to a stereotype. 

Pepe Vargas and Mateo Mulcahy smile for the camera at the opening gala of the 40th Chicago Latino Film Festival on April 11, 2024. Vargas personally chose all the films screened at the festival. (Nupur Bosmiya)

He urges audiences to use the festival as a tool to take a trip around the world and discover these places. 

“They don’t need a passport. All they need is to stop by the Landmark Theatre, just go and see as many [films] because these stories are unique, they can’t find this anywhere else,” Vargas said.

What started as a small projection of 14 films for about 500 people in its early years has now expanded into a network of more than 2,500 filmmakers, over 5,000 artists, and about 35,000 audience members, Vargas said. 

Maximino “Max” Arciniega Jr., the co-writer, co-executive producer, and actor in ‘The Wingwalker,’ was one of those audience members in the past. This festival inspired him to pursue a career in the film industry.  

Max Arciniega delivers his opening remarks before the screening of the film “The Wingwalker,” on April 11, 2024. Arciniega is the actor, co-executive producer and co-writer of the opening film. (Nupur Bosmiya)

“This is one of the biggest moments of my life. I sat in this audience as a little kid here in Chicago [in] different theaters; Davis, Logan Square, the Landmark Century Center, and I used to sit there and watch independent movies all the time,” Arciniega said, in his speech prior to the screening.

The community in Chicago has always supported him, even when he went to Los Angeles to pursue acting, Arciniega said. 

Filmmakers featured in this festival all have a strong connection to the event. Their excitement amplified on the account of its 40th edition. 

“There’s a lot of Puerto Rican filmmakers that have come through the years and they’ve always talked about this festival. So it’s very important for me to not only be here, but to be able to be here [on] the 40th anniversary. It’s a big deal,” said Ray Figueroa, a Puerto Rican filmmaker who directed the film ‘Érase una vez en el Caribe.’ 

Matthew ‘Mateo’ Mulcahy, the Deputy Executive Director of the ILCC and CLFF said it was important to have filmmakers from different Latin American countries and the Iberian peninsula including Haiti and Belize. He notes that the film festival tries to focus on LGBTQ+, Afro-Latine and Indigenous films, especially if they’re made by female filmmakers.

“We really strive to represent the most underrepresented and marginalized communities. So of course, we have films from Puerto Rico and Mexico, but we try and concentrate on the other countries because they don’t get as much attention,” Mulcahy said. 

This kind of treatment of the content extends to the short film roster too. “I’m really interested in bringing experimental short films and new media to Latino filmmaking,” said Andrea Florens, the short film programmer for the festival. 

Florens says audiences have a negative perception of the films that come from Latin America and these perceptions are not an accurate representation of the filmmaking landscape. 

“It’s a very restrictive idea of film. And there’s a lot of innovative filmmaking that has happened in Latin America, and not a lot of people are aware of it,” she said.

The short films along with the 50 features will be screened at the 40th Chicago Latino Film Festival from April 11-April 22, 2024. 

The ILCC will close out this year’s program with a screening of the movie ‘Milonga’ by director Laura González at the Davis Theatre followed by a closing night gala at the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center. 

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