By Alexander P. Garza
23 APR, 2015
The 10th edition of Latin Wave: New Films from Latin America is less than a week away at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and runs from April 30 – May 3, 2015. I’m very excited to be attending the festival and seeing the Mexican film Güeroswhich is screening on May 3 at 1pm. I got a chance to speak with Marian Luntz to discuss the event, how it got started, and what’s in store at the museum for film fans.
The Beginning of Latin Wave
A little over 10 years ago, the Museum of Fine Arts Film Department was approached by Fundación Proa, an arts organization from Buenos Aires. Together with a company called Tenaris, a Houston-based international energy company, they collaborated with MFAH Films to establish a Latin American film festival in Houston.
Museum of Fine Arts Houston Latin Wave 10 via Twitter @MFAHFilms
Under the leadership of curator Marie Carmen Ramirez, an internationally renowned contemporary art expert, MFAH developed a culturally significant Latin American Art department.
Luntz explains “we continued to actively collect contemporary Latin American Art, organize exhibitions, get involved with research, and collect critical writing about Latin American Art which had never been done before at the museum.”
This initiative has not only been vital to the museum, but has also opened avenues to Latin American artists. “It’s enabling a lot of artists to further their reputation outside their native countries and Latin America” Luntz says.
The first seven years, the films were selected by Monika Wagenberg, but for the past three years, Luntz has been working with film curator and expert Diana Sanchez on Latin Wave’s programming.
Although Luntz and Sanchez have pretty nice jobs of watching and curating films, setting up Latin Wave is not without its challenges. Luntz says “the main challenge is not having room for all the films that we would like to show. In this case we’re showing ten films for the 10th edition.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to get a film for the series because of distribution agreements and negotiations. For example, the documentary Salt of the Earth, about Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, just opened at the River Oaks theater which was on the initial list of possible films for Latin Wave. Luntz explains, “but we found out that it was opening commercially, so it wasn’t available to us. I highly recommend that film, by the way.”
Scheduling is another challenge, especially at this time of year. Houston is known for its growing arts community and there are many events vying for people’s time during the summer. College students are burdened with final exams and graduation ceremonies around this time, but the film department has a special incentive for them on the final day of Latin Wave, Sunday May 3rd, when all of the films are free for students with a student ID.
The Rising Wave
The Hispanic population is growing in Houston and now make up more of the city’s demographic than Anglos or African-Americans. But Latin Americans are not the only people visiting Latin Wave. Many of the patrons include filmmakers, artists, other film professionals, and fans of various ethnicities and nationalities.
Attendance has generally risen each year at Latin Wave, and most recently the Thursday Happy Hour has helped kick off the event. “We always aspire to have each year to be better attended than the previous year. The Thursday Happy Hour established by the museum has become very popular and I think this year, it will be a good way to launch the event,” Luntz said.
On Thursdays, admission to the museum is free, so patrons are free to walk around and visit the museum. The first film, starting at 7 pm, is the Cuban film, Behavior, written and directed by Ernesto Daranas. Manos Sucias, executive produced by Spike Lee, will be the second film and starts at 9 pm. The Manos Sucias screening will feature producer Elena Greenlee as a guest presenter.
The mixologist at the museum will be mixing a specialty drink for Latin Wave, and DJ Son and DJ Gracie Chavez will be providing music.
The film festival has garnered regional and national attention and has created loyal fans. People clear their calendar and flock from San Antonio, Austin, and nearby states to catch the new Latin American Films that are usually hard to find anywhere else. This has prompted Luntz and MFAH to offer a Latin Wave Ten Pack Pass that offers 25% off when you buy 10 tickets.
“Plan to come see everything. Some of them screen twice. For the films that only screen once, we may bring that back later in the year. We did that with a film from Venezuela which showed at last year’s Latin Wave called Pelo Malo (Bad Hair),” Luntz says.
Although Luntz encourages people to come see all of the films, she does note that special guests and speakers will be at certain ones. Some of the guests include Geraldine Chaplin, Isidora Marras, Juán Martín Hsu, and Elena Greenlee. “I have high expectations for Sand Dollars and the Kid with our guest Geraldine Chaplin,” Luntz explains.
One of the films being screened relevant to the thriving foodie culture in Houston is Finding Gaston. Luntz says that “it’s an interesting and appetizing film about a socially-conscious legendary chef from Peru who reaches out and visits the farmers making the food or catching the seafood.”
Latin Wave has had its share of Mexican films in previous editions. The festival has featured films such as El Alcalde (The Mayor) a striking documentary about the Mayor of Monterrey, NL fighting corruption, Silent Light, Juan of the Dead, and Miss Bala, who’s star (Stephanie Sigman) will be in the upcoming Bond movie, Spectre.
There is only one Mexican film being featured during Latin Wave 10 this year, but it’s one that packs a punch. Güeros is nominated for 12 Ariel awards and garnered many others from the film festival circuit. Gael García Bernal also signed on as Associate Producer, which has helped the film make its journey around the circuit and to the Academy Awards in Mexico.
“This is an interesting thing for us, all credit to Diana, we were able to confirm Güeros before it had U.S. distribution and before its U.S. premiere was announced” Luntz says.
Luntz also praised aspects of the film: “I like a film in black and white and it’s interesting to think of a film set in the 90s as a period film, but it is. It’s also a bit of an homage to the French New Wave films, which is always of interest to me. There’s an actress who very much resembles Jean-Luc Godard’s muse Anna Karina who was in a lot of the French New Wave films of the 1960s.”
The Latin Wave Film Series will run from April 30-May 3, but that doesn’t mean that MFAH Films end. One of the upcoming events includes the Palestine Film Festival which will hold screenings at the Brown Auditorium on May 8 and 9th. You can catch the film revival of 2001: A Space Odyssey on May 22-24, and Song of the Sea, one of Luntz’s personal favorites, on May 10, 17, and 25.
They will also screen the Apu Trilogy, by one of the most important Indian film directors of the 20th century, Satyajit Ray. In June, MFAH Films will jazz up Brown Auditorium with their 3rd edition of Jazz on Film, and in November the department will participate once again in the Houston Cinema Arts Festival.
For tickets and updated information on Latin Wave and other events, please visit their website at https://www.mfah.org/films/.