Latin American Film Festival Gives Hungry Cinephiles a Nibble

The 2015 Latin American Film Festival kicks off with Panama Canal Stories.
Me pica el bagre! I really hope somebody shrieks this line during the Latin American Film Festival this year.  I randomly discovered this Argentine expression today whilst chatting with some colleagues at the temp job I’m doing in Toronto in the weeks before Hot Docs, and I’m hooked. One doesn’t often get to shout, “The catfish is biting me!”Where does that line even come from? Me pica el bagre!

It turns out that me pica el bagre is a playful expression of hunger. If the catfish is nibbling, you’re really hankering for something good and are just tickled for a fix. (I still don’t get where the catfish comes in, but whatever.) Ottawa moviegoers are surely feeling rumblings of hungry catfish since there’s not much on at the movies right now, and it’s almost time to tuck in with the inventors of this crazy line when the Latin American Film Festival kicks off this week on Saturday, April 25.

The Latin American Film Festival is one of the Canadian Film Institute’s most popular festivals and it heads into its eighteenth year in bringing the finest offerings from a range of Latin American film scenes. Ottawa cinephiles can taste the products of new generations of Cinema Novo from Brazil, or watch the latest up-and-comers from emerging film scenes like Paraguay, or catch up on audience favourites like Argentina, which has some of the most popular offerings of late with recent hits like Wild Tales. (Argentina’s Beatles-themed LAFF selection Vinyl Days looks like a fun choice for fans of Spain’s recent Beatles-tuned pic Living is Easy with Eyes Closed.) There’s even a chance to catch a catfish somewhere in there as film fans sample different cultural sampling and learn the idiosyncrasies of this diverse cinemascape one frame at a time.

This edition of LAFF, which marks the festival’s first jaunt over to the new River Building Theatre at Carleton, looks characteristically strong as it brings a mix of independent drama, documentary, more commercially-viable genre fare, and a crowd-pleasing Oscar bid in last year’s Best Foreign Language Film race. The popularity of the festival also lets fans see film scenes progress from year to year as they make return trips to their favourite national cinemas. (It’s especially interesting to see Brazil evolve from year to year, while Argentina, for example, seems to have the most success dabbling in more commercial films.) There’s also a mix of past and present as the contemporary programming endings with a tip of the hat to one of Latin America’s most canonical filmmakers, Luis Buñuel, by ending the festival with a screening of Buñuel’s 1949 film The Great Madcap

This year’s festival also continues the special South↔ North: Cinema Across Borders event, which takes LAFF beyond the films to examine the current pulse of the Latin American film industry in relation to our own. South ↔ North brings in some notable guests to discuss the overarching themes in many of the films present in world cinema and relates them to currents in international co-production that strengthen emerging film scenes, nurturing filmmakers and audiences alike. This year’s panel features a trio of filmmakers including Puerto Rican filmmaker and professor Sonia Fritz and filmmaker Canuck filmmaker Hugh Gibson, whose film A Place Called Los Pereyra participated in the first South ↔ North summit in 2012, and whose latest short A Tomb with a View screens this year. (I caught Tomb at TIFF and really liked it!)  This year’s panel also includes Paul Mezey, producer of Oscar nominees and indie breakouts like Beasts of the Southern Wild (a 2012 Top Ten pick!), Maria Full of Grace, Half Nelson, and Sugar, the latter of which screens as part of the  South ↔ North film contingent. The South ↔North event is probably the must-do affair for local film buffs eager to learn from innovative filmmakers from around the world. Any event where me pica el bagre meets “Beast it!” can’t be beat!

Highlights for the 2015 Latin American Film Festival include:

Panama Canal Stories

Dir. Abner Benaim, Carolina Borrero, Luis Franco Brantley, Pinky Mon, Pituka Ortega-Heilbron 
Panama |2014 | 106 min
Saturday, April 25, 2015, 7:00 pm
English sub-titles

Synopsis: LAFF opens with this anthology film that features five shorts spanning a century of lives impacted by the Panama Canal. A quintet of directors collaborates on this collection. (Check back soon for a review!)

Ayiti Toma: Land of the Living

Dir. Joseph Hillel 
Haiti/Canada | 2013 | 81 min
Monday, April 27, 2015, 7:00 pm

Synopsis: the Haiti that has overcome slavery, become a republic, fought off imperialism, faced natural disasters and the object of humanitarian aid, beyond the Haiti that imposes itself on Haitians’ spirit, is Ayiti Toma. This documentary presents that other Ayiti, through the stories and commentary of Haitians themselves, aided by economists, historians, anthropologists, humanitarians (including Sean Penn), voodooists and young survivors in a working-class neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. All of them hope that Haiti’s “magical people” will finally be given the chance to make their unique culture the foundation for their future. Joseph Hillel, producer of Canadian films such as Philippe Falardeau’s La moitié gauche du frigo and André Turpin’s Un crabe dans la tête, directs this doc.

Vinyl Days (Días de vinilo)

Dir. Gabriel Nesci 
Argentina | 2013 | 119 min
Thursday, April 30, 2015, 7:00 pm

Synopsis: Damián, Marcelo, Luciano and Facundo are four friends, all in their thirties. They all share the following interests: music, friendship and women. All four of them fall in and out of love, some of them with the right person, others with the wrong one. Love begins and ends. And then, they turn a page and it starts all over again.

Mr. Kaplan

Dir. Álvaro Brechner
Uruguay | 2014 | 98 min
Thursday, May 7, 2015, 7:00 pm
English sub-titles

Synopsis: In addition to being 76 years-old, rather eccentric and visually impaired, Mr. Kaplan finds himself in the midst of an unexpected, late-life existential crisis. One day, his grand-daughter mentions that there is a strange German man who runs a café near the beach. Convinced that he has found an escaped "Nazi," Mr. Kaplan, himself a Polish Jew who fled from the Nazis as a child, teams up with a dissolute ex-cop named Contreras in order to kidnap the German and take him to justice. Kaplan’s righteous manhunt soon goes awry. Offbeat and droll, Mr. Kaplan was Uruguay's submission for 2014 Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. From the director of Bad Day To Go Fishing (presented at LAFF 2013).

Roadside (À Beira do Caminho)

Dir. Breno Silveira 
Brazil | 2013 | 102 min
Friday, May 8, 2015, 7:00 pm

Synopsis: João, a solitary truck driver, rides the seemingly endless highways of Brazil, headed nowhere. João’s story is not unique; he is just another man running away from something, but by chance or by luck, João comes across a youngster, full of faith in life and its promises, who is searching for the father he has never met. By drawing inspiration from the classic popular songs of Roberto Carlos that appear on the soundtrack, Silveira has created a moving and imaginative film about a man who hits the road to forget the heartache of his past, and a meeting that changes the future of both man and boy.

The Great Madcap (El gran calavera)

Dir. Luis Buñuel 
Mexico | 1949 | 92 min
Saturday, May 9, 2015, 9:00 pm

Synopsis: Buñuel's first "comeback" film since "L'Age d'Or" in 1930 (he made only a few musicals in the interim), "El Gran Calavera" concerns a family's attempts to change the patriarch's somewhat indulgent and hedonistic ways by fooling him into thinking his large fortune is gone. They assume a life of poverty in Mexico in an attempt to teach him a lesson. However, he discovers it's a ruse, but continues to perpetuate the facade of ignorance while sneaking off during the day to conduct his thriving business.

Featuring: Sonia Fritz (Puerto Rico), Paul Mezey (USA), and Hugh Gibson (Canada) | 45 minutes
Sunday, May 3, 2015, 1:00 pm

Description: Join the CFI for a panel discussion with Sonia Fritz (Puerto Rico), Hugh Gibson (Canada) and Paul Mezey (U.S.A). Panelists will discuss the challenges associated with co-productions alongside themes inherit within their work such as cross-border relationships, immigration, language and cultural differences. This FREE event is not to be missed by filmmakers, cinephiles and students. Seating is limited, so please arrive early.

The Latin American Film Festival runs April 25 – May 9, 2015.
All screenings and events are located in the River Building Theatre, Carleton University.

Please visit the CFI’s website for the full LAFF line-up, plus information on showtimes, tickets, and memberships.