The Philadelphia Latino Film Festival has been, since its inception in 2012, a gem of a screening series. The festival’s first duty is to present amazing films — period — which it does, as well as promote the Latin experience while pushing for dialogues across all sides of the border.
“PHLAFF's mission is to showcase and nurture established and emerging creative Latin American and Latino filmmakers, to promote and celebrate the richness and diversity of all Latin and Latin American cultures and to foster cross-cultural understanding,” says festival director Marangeli Mejia-Rabell about working with PHLAFF founders Beatriz Viera and David Acosta. “It’s very much a collective effort here."
For its sixth iteration, PHLAFF looks at the inner lives of Latinos everywhere, while dealing with the newsworthy issues plaguing immigrant communities: the monetary strife in Puerto Rico and Venezuela and the immigration battles between Mexico and Donald Trump.
“Each year has its unique flavor,” says Mejia-Rabell. “This year the majority of filmmakers coming through are regional and national, and films such as 'La Cucarachita Mandi' ('Mandi the Little Cockroach'), 'Memories of a Penitent Heart' and 'Residente' put things in perspective.”
As PHLAFF’s mission is to create connections between filmmakers, audiences, collaborators and its key stakeholders, all programming is aligned with a commitment to build community. With that, PHLAFF's Youth Salon has partnered with Taller Puertorriqueño and Edison High School’s film department for workshops in character development and mobile filmmaking, a screening of 12 short films and a panel discussion lead by young artists and activists.
“Crossing boundaries is a very concrete thing when you come from an island,” says Puerto Rican-born grassroots activist and actress Aris Mejias, who will moderate a panel called "The Jump: Crossing Boundaries and Oceans.”
“Many people have limited knowledge of what really happens on our island, yet are willing to listen and learn. Our cultural output is a great way to start. There is a definite point that determines the existence of another world. This changes your mentality toward life,” she adds.
Mejias mentors younger directors, is an active liaison of film content between the island and the U.S., and belongs to an all-female group of entrepreneurs, “Chica-preneurs,” who promote cultural content and business ties between the Diaspora and Puerto Rico.
“Festivals expose you to a variety of content you would normally miss and PHLAFF has a beautiful attention to detail, especially its great promoting platform, curation and access to quality screening venues.”
The Defend Puerto Rico Project brings together artists from a variety of disciplines to produce short films about the economic strife most Philadelphians have barely heard of, yet one that greatly affects the entirety of the United States. It is this project’s documentary that kicks off PHLAFF, “capturing these great stories that shows the resilience of our people even in the shadow of this crisis,” says Defend co-founder Michael Cordero.
"This sets the stage to gives folks a lay of the land of what’s going on, how colonialism has created and been the catalyst for what’s happening today,” he says.
On hooking up with PHLAFF, Cordero adds that now is a good time to give all people, Latino and non-Latino, deeper context.
“Festivals such as PHLAFF put us on a larger stage and create more channels for us to get our stories out. We need to build solidarity with Latino communities across the nation — the globe even — and PHLAFF allows us to connect with them and amplify the voices of our people,” Cordero concludes.
The sixth annual Philadelphia Latino Film Festival runs from Friday, June 2, to Sunday, June 4, at the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center (300 S. Broad St.), and the Caplan Recital Hall at the University of the Arts (211 S. Broad St.). For information about the schedule and tickets, visit phlaff.org.