The Austin Chronicle

Cine Las Americas International Film Festival Turns 20

Viva cine!

By Richard Whittaker, April 28, 2017, Screens

Programming a film festival that covers the entire Spanish- and Portuguese-language world sounds challenging. But according to Cine Las Americas International Film Festival director Jean Anne Lauer, the real secret is finding "a balance between your hardcore cinema fans, and the people that just want to see a good movie that night."

The festival had its share of upheaval entering its 20th year, losing not one but two of its traditional venues. First, Salvage Vanguard Theater exited its East Austin home, then Austin Film Society closed the Marchesa Hall & Theatre for a massive upgrade. So Lauer and her team started looking for new homes for 2017. She said, "What do you do when you go from a venue that has everything – projection, staff, things you've been used to working with for a few years? Thankfully, we knew other organizations that had worked with the Blanton Museum of Art, so we reached out to them."

The festival still has the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, which will once again provide free screenings open to badge holders and the general public. Next, the Santa Cruz Theater became an ideal replacement for Salvage Vanguard, hosting all the narrative and documentary feature and short competition screenings. However, the festival still lacked a premier venue. Fortunately, the team was already talking to the Blanton Museum of Art about one-off events, so they broached the idea of using the 300 seat auditorium as the festival's main room. Not only was the Blanton welcoming, said Lauer, "but they had installed new sound and projector equipment, so we're ready to go."

Venues sorted, next came the schedule. Film program associate Elena Bessire said, "We always start from the basis of diversity. We're covering a whole hemisphere, so we want to get as many places, as many people represented as we can." Almost inevitably, considering its proximity, the size of its film industry, and the ongoing philosophical, political, and emotional questions surrounding cross-border relations, Mexican cinema plays a substantial role in the lineup. Bessire said, "They're our neighbor, and we have lots of great options, so we're highlighting them a little bit more."

That includes the opening night film, literary adaptation Me Estás Matando Susana (You're Killing Me Susanna). It's the latest from Roberto Sneider, who Lauer described as "consistently straddling cinema of quality with reaching a popular audience." Mexico closes the festival as well, with Sundance award winner Sueño en Otro Idioma (I Dream in Another Language). Lauer said, "The filmmaker, Ernesto Contreras, his work is often pretty dark, and this one is much lighter."

However, the festival has a much larger remit than border politics. Lauer said, "You can't get to know Cine Las Americas without seeing at least 10 films. If you see one or two, you're going to have an idea of Cine, but the people who do know it won't think of it the same way, because we do cover so many territories." That's why there are titles from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, Portugal, Spain, the U.S., Venezuela, and even co-productions with France, Greece, and Poland. Alongside movies in Spanish and Portuguese, there are films in indigenous tongues like I Dream in Another Language and Maliglutit, the latter an ice-covered Canadian drama, inspired by John Ford's The Searchers and performed in Inuktitut, the language of the Eastern Canadian Inuit.

The languages and locations aren't the only expectations to be busted this year. Bessire said, "It can get serious, it can touch on dramatic themes, but there's a lot of lighter things to offer." On the drier side is literary mockumentary Un Secreto en la Caja (A Secret in the Box), which Bessire said is "about a fake Ecuadorean boom writer. He's the one where everyone goes, 'Oh, you should read him.'"

Yet there are also broad comedies like La Peor de Mis Bodas (My Soap Opera Wedding), a Peruvian romantic romp spoofing telenovelas, and De Chica en Chica, the film spin-off from raunchy Spanish LGBT sitcom Girl Gets Girl. Then there's the Goya-winning El Ciudadano Ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen), which Lauer called "spot-on, tongue-in-cheek, art cinema about writers and art." Both may be subtitled, but they speak in the international language of laughter. Lauer said, "These films do cross borders."

Cine Las Americas International Film Festival runs Wed., May 3, through Sun., May 7. Badges, more info, and complete schedule can be found at

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