Festival ¡Cine Latino!

by John Hess

from Jump Cut, no. 43, July 2000, pp. 110-115
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 2000, 2006

Cine Acción's seventh annual film festival took place in both San Francisco and Berkeley from September 16 to 26, 1999. San Francisco's Cine Acción, on whose board I served in the late 1980s, is the oldest support organization for Latino/a filmmakers in the United States. Its many festivals, special screenings, and other support services have played an important role in developing a lively, vibrant, and very talented film/video community that made itself felt on the screen and in the audience at this festival. Some of the films I saw had rough edges, evidence of insufficient resources and in the work of the younger filmmakers, still developing talent (there were many student films from the film departments of San Francisco State University, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and other schools). However, I found most of the films passionately felt and carefully considered; they speak strongly about and to a specific community.

The Festival included creative special screenings and series. Chon Noriega, Executive Director of the AFI (Aztlán Film Institute), curated three special programs, based on his ever-changing AFI list of greatest Chicano films of all time.[1][open notes in new window] In one program he paired Lourdes Portillo and Susana Muñoz's LA OFRENDA: DAYS OF THE DEAD with experimental work by Willie Varela. In the second program he paired David García's venerable political documentary, REQUIEM 29 (1971), with experimental work by Harry Gamboa, Jr., Laura Aguilar, and Aldo Velasco. The marvelous and startling work of Robert Diaz LeRoy made up the last program.

Sergio de la Mora organized a program, called "Devil in the Flesh" which featured recent work by Mexican experimental film and video makers, especially the striking films of Ximena Cuevas (see separate article in this issue). Cine Acción itself grouped films into a number of special categories to help audiences. These included special youth screenings, women filmmakers, music videos, work by queer Latino/a filmmakers, experimental documentaries, and even a special works-in-progress screening of Juan Garza's NEVER TRUST A SERIAL KILLER. They opened the Festival with Cheech Marin's wonderful BORN IN EAST LA, with the director and star present to kick things off. His spirit lived in numerous of the films I saw.

From this brief overview it becomes clear that the Festival featured a great variety of work. One can easily see by perusing the Festival's excellent catalogue, with its very complete listing of print sources that more than ample material exists for a great variety of film series and courses on Latino/a film and video making. Sadly, it's difficult to see such work outside of large urban areas or university communities. Rosalía Valencia, Cine Acción's Director, who played a major role in organizing the festival and making sure it went smoothly, comments in her introduction to the catalogue that

"seeing the many films submitted to our festival, one wonders what excuse the networks have when they rarely include programs that reflect the faces we see all around us."

What follows are my comments on some of the more compelling films I saw. I have tried to write about films that seemed typical in terms of form or content and that led me to certain conclusions. My interests ran toward fiction and documentary features, but I also saw many of the short films and some of the experimental work. So we have a doubly mediated snapshot here of contemporary Latino/a film and video making, mediated first by the choices Cine Acción made and then by what I actually saw. I will discuss the films first and then draw some tentative conclusions at the end. I will begin with some of the short films and then move on to the features, especially the two feature films that I found the most innovative, complex and politically provocative: Vicky Funari's PAULINA and David Riker's LA CIUDAD.


Many of the short films concerned family, the freighted effort on the part of individuals to find a place for themselves or come to terms with their assigned place in a family group. In A LA MEDIDA/ CUSTOM MADE (1999, 17 minutes) Lisset Barcellos tells an interesting short story about a young Peruvian woman who is breaking up with her gringo boyfriend at the same time that her widowed father suddenly announces plans to many. When her father arrives at her house, he wants her, a seamstress, to make him a suit for the wedding — tomorrow! The film contains lots of funny moments when she translates back and forth between father and boyfriend, saying what she wants them to say, not what they actually say.

In the early part of Ruth C. Sosa's DOÑA CUCA (1999, 18 minutes) we meet a teenage girl, suffering in an abusive relationship with her Anglo boyfriend. The girl, very cynical, and negative, denies the obvious to her concerned mother, but does call off the relationship. Suddenly, without transition, we find her at the mountain cabin of her great aunt, Cuca, a curandera. At first the girl feels out of place and resists her aunt's gentle encouragement; she wants to go home. Slowly she calms down and begins helping her aunt in the garden and with household chores. At first she refuses to speak any Spanish, but then does. Reconnecting with past racial roots, moving to the countryside, and enjoying unfettered female friendship and support seem to cure her urban despair. When the aunt becomes ill and then dies, the young woman cares for her to the end.

In PERIOD (1998, 10 minutes) María Teresa Murillo tells a story about a young girl experiencing her first period. After she comes home from school, she and her older sister argue with mom over TV. Mom watches Mexican soaps, the kids want U. S. cartoons. The director makes us aware of numerous TV ads, aurally and visually, including ones for tampax.

The girl spills salsa on her school uniform, but then her sister notices blood on her leg. The girl goes up to the bathroom, examines the cupboard, finds tampax, and reads the label. At one point she opens the glowing door of the bathroom only to see the shining image of the Virgin of Guadeloupe. (We saw an image of the Virgin at the entrance to the house.) The girl goes down and complains to her sister about the discomfort of the cardboard applicator she naively inserted along with the tampax . The sister laughs at her and the girl goes back upstairs to change to a pad. She can't find any in the cupboard, but then the shining Virgin hands her a pack. There is a nice double irony here. On the one hand the Virgin, often asked for aid, here helps out in a very direct and material way. On the other hand, the Virgin has visually become integrated here into U. S. consumer culture and looks and behaves like an ad, offering products for sale. Perhaps, too, the Virgin's standing at the bathroom door with a pack of maxipads hybridizes Mexican and U. S. cultures.

Hilda Hidalgo's LA PASIÓN DE NUESTRA SEÑORA (Costa Rica, 1998, 18 minutes) is a beautifully shot, colorful film, describing a woman's late afternoon sexual fantasy. She lives alone in the jungle surrounded by flowers and colorful macaws. One day, a man arrives selling religious books. She drugs him and includes him in her sensual sexual fantasies. When he wakes up, alone on the porch, he leaves quickly, as if he senses that something untoward has happened. Perhaps we expect the film to end here, but not so in a final shot the man appears again on her porch, this time carrying a huge, lush bouquet of flowers. Certainly, a woman designing her own sensuality/ sexuality, being able to enact her fantasies, and construct a man for them is a powerful notion in any society.

Finally, I want to talk about BEEA DE GILAS/ REBECA'S STORY (Pepe Urquijo, 1998, 20 mm.), which explores so many of the issues I have found in the other films in the festival. The film, a low-end, formally straight-forward documentary, concerns Rebeca Armendári, a community organizer in Gilroy, California. It focuses on her efforts to defeat Propositions 205 and 209 by registering Latino voters. She is an energetic young Chicana, dedicated to working in her own community rather than trying to get ahead. When her parents met, her mother was on her way to becoming a nun and her father was just out of prison. In fact, he remained and remains a heroine addict, and at one point Beca cries while talking about the effect of his addiction on the family. He is a very gentle, straight-forward man who laments his condition but seems unable to change. He went back to prison while the film was being made.

Beca's mother seems a very intelligent, self-aware, devout catholic. Chicanos know their culture, she says, Hispanic don't; they are poor souls, wanabees. She has worked as a paralegal for many years. Beca rejects Catholicism and seeks a pre-Spanish identity. There are interviews with various members of the family intercut with her efforts to sign people up to vote. The director met Beca and became friends doing political work with her and then decided to make the film.

The film shows political work of a simple kind that anyone could get involved in. It deals with the importance of family without painting it in idealized terms — family is both comfort and struggle. Nor does it idealize community. Beca finds it hard to get her neighbors to register and vote, even to protect their own interests; she must overcome their fear and resistance. The film shows a woman who seems uninterested in either a career or a family, at least for now. The film goes out into the agricultural areas of California and honors without idealizing those doing hard political work there.


Cuban American Maria Escebedo's RUM & COKE (1998) is a funny, lively romantic comedy about an uptight young professional Cuban American woman, Linda DeLeon, who produces a TV show and has just moved in with her gringo boyfriend, Steve, a successful photographer. When he goes to the Andes on a story, Linda meets a macho Cuban American fireman, José. He insists on meeting and going out with her over her strongly expressed objections. She fights it, but finally gives in to his charms.

José brings her in contact with her Cubanía — through his father and his open, conflicted talk about the older exile community.[2] We learn that she distrusts men, because her father abandoned the family when she was young. The film supports machismo by showing it as fun and the real, as perhaps even the essence of Cubanía.

Needless to say, the macho, passionate Cuban fire fighter with a long hose replaces the cold gringo with only a long, voyeuristic lens. The fireman sweeps the uptight career woman off her feet. Can children be long in coming (especially since she has just lost her job)? The film contains two disturbing stereotypes. Linda has a fat, manly, spinster aunt who claims to be a Santera and constantly gives Linda the same advice: get married and have babies. Linda's confidente at work is a campy gay black male who rolls his eyes and kisses ass as long as he can to keep his job. These stereotypes raise issues — santería in a new context, homosexuality, Black/ Latino relations — that could have been explored in the film without giving up the romance or the comedy.

Juan Garza's nearly finished NEVER TRUST A SERIAL KILLER is also a quite funny comedy in which goofy, obsessed, very Chicano (esp. in language) Leroy de la Luna, an old school buddy, arrives on Bobby's doorstep (sort of a latino DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS). Bobby is "white," a yuppie Latino driving a Volvo and living in the suburbs with insecurities about his sexuality and a Blonde girlfriend, Angela, a real estate agent Leroy is obsessed with solving the case of Satan's hand, a serial killer loose in LA's suburbs. He completely disrupts bobby's life with his unconventional behavior, his obsessiveness, his easy assumption that he is staying with Bobby "for a while," but Angela is charmed (women's instinct).

Basically, Leroy becomes Bobby's therapist, encouraging him to get it on with Angela, which of course eventually he does. Running through the film is Satan's Hand, eventually identified as someone Leroy knew in prison. Finally, the whole community of East LA chases him down and captures him. He is a very Indian looking character with a pockmarked face and long hair. At the end, Leroy leaves and we understand that Bobby has been refreshed by contact with his roots. Both this film and RUM & COKE reminded me of LA BAMBA, when Bob takes Ritchie to TJ, where he hears the song that makes him famous. Community and familial roots can to some extent soothe the alienation and brutalities of conforming to a globalizing capitalism. These films deal, in a humorous way, with the tensions that exist between assimilation and separation. In these films and others like them, economic and professional success seems to lead to or perhaps depend upon a loss of cultural ties. At the same time, reconnecting with that culture seems to involve limitations, especially for the female characters.

DEL OTRO LADO (C. A Griffith, 1999) is an independent Mexican-U.S. coproduction, made by people involved in and/or close to anti-AIDS activism in both countries. That Mexicans don't have regular access to new AIDS drugs becomes a major issue in the film. The story concerns HIV positive Alejandro, who works in some capacity in a bank, and Beto, his more hippie, artistic lover. Alejandro has a mostly supportive family (father not completely, but ultimately) and lots of friends. Throughout the film Alejandro searches for a way to gain access to the drugs he needs and the problems his search and ultimate decision to cross over illegally into the United States cause in his relationship with Beto. Ultimately, he decides to leave. In the dramatic and shocking climax, the coyotes abandon the group with whom he is crossing the border and then bandits attack the people. When Alejandro attempts to protect a woman they are attacking, they kill him.

This tragic melodrama emphasizes a social problem and its effects on people in intimate and familial relationships. The characters don't involve themselves in or seem to know about the kind of activism in which the film's makers seem to have involved themselves. Clearly, however, the filmmakers want the film's viewers to become active. However, the films concerns middle class, educated Mexicans and has nothing to say about the millions of poor and working class AIDS sufferers in Mexico and their access to medical care of any kind, much less sophisticated treatments developed in the U.S. and elsewhere. Finally the film raises and then lets drop a crucial issue — safe sex. At one point, Alejandro complains about always having to be the bottom in their sex. There is some indication that Beto wants it this way, because he thinks it is safer, but the issue disappears. This would have been an important opportunity to talk about safe sex in a film many people will see in Mexico. Nonetheless, DEL OTRO LADO is a moving and compelling film and it will initiate discussion and debate in its audience.

Finally, I want to talk about two very accomplished and innovative films I saw at the Festival: PAULINA (Vicky Funari, US, Mexico, Canada, 1998) and LA CIUDAD/ THE CITY (David Piker, 1998). Both of these films exist in the gray zone between documentary and fiction without in any way trying to confuse an audience, on the one hand, or really distance the audience on the other. PAULINA is not a pseudo or fake documentary and LA CIUDAD is not a Brechtian fiction film with documentary inserts. The first is as clearly documentary as the second is clearly fiction. Yet, PAULINA has numerous enacted scenes, and three actresses play Paulina at different ages as she, now a maid in Mexico City, reconstructs her horrendous childhood in rural Mexico. LA CIUDAD, made up of four separate stories, reminded me very much of Rosssellini's PAISAN, the Neorealist film closest to documentary in style and intent. While actresses play Paulina, the immigrant workers in LA CIUDAD play themselves.

Both these films are very much about family and extended families. They are about fragmentation, alienation and literal distance. Paulina, raped, abused, and married off before she was 13, describes her body as a jigsaw puzzle and has to journey into that horrible past to reconstruct herself. The film explores the gap between present and past, between idealized notions of family, represented by the colorful images in a child's schoolbook, and some of the harsher realities of rural Mexico. LA CIUDAD explores the literal distance between the here and there of the immigrant experience: the much handled letter from a wife left behind in the village, the young woman trapped in the Bronx, because her whole family in Puebla, Mexico, depends on her income. Finally, the terrible hardship of learning about a sick child back home whom you can't help because the sweatshop managers won't pay you until the clothing company they produce for pays them.


PAULINA tells the story of a feisty, courageous woman, who suffered terrible abuse as a child, but ran away from home as a teenager and reconstructed her life, working as a live-in maid in Mexico City. Her beautiful, alert daughter, a nurse in a hospital, will have a very different life than she had. The film reveals the near feudal relations that continue to exist in rural Mexico where local caciques or bosses have near absolute power over the poor peasants and town dwellers. In these conditions, families can make their quite young daughters available to local bosses in return for his paltry favors. The film contains an element of suspicion about what people, including Paulina, say about the past and some of the reenactments include varying versions of a story (like THE THIN BLUE LINE). But here is the basic story.

When she was about eight years old, Paulina and her sister were bathing in a metal trough near their house. Paulina fell and severely cut her genitalia, bleeding profusely. Her mother, who Paulina says hated her because she looked like her grandmother and was "white," claimed that the local cacique, Mauro de la Cruz, had raped her and later he didn't deny it. He found Paulina attractive (at 8!) and said he would take possession of her later, which he did when she reached 13. When this happened, Paulina says she fought him viciously, refused to obey him, aborted his child, frequently ran away from the house where he kept her and hid in the cemetery or with a few people who would help her. While some of her story seems exaggerated, we see enough corroborating evidence to believe most of it.

We can sense the fear and distrust people have for these caciques in the fact that even today most of Paulina's family and the people who knew her then only very reluctantly talk about what happened. Paulina's mother, particularly, seems to have repressed most of what happened then. Her father only speaks cryptically about the events. Live and let live, he says. He gets along by minding his own business. It becomes clear that had her family tried to protect their daughter, the boss could easily have taken their land away and even killed them with impunity. As I watched the film I often thought about the situation in Chiapas; the Zapatistas are struggling against just such feudal relations in the rural areas.

The film has two quite different modes of presentation. In the first we have the traditional documentary presentation, such as interviews, talking head monologues, live action scenes of Paulina and the crew in Puntilla (her home town), their encounters with various people. The second mode consists of enacted scenes, representing the past, primarily, but not exclusively, Paulina's memories/ narration of her past. Sometimes these two modes newly blend together. Paulina wanders in the cemetery, looking for a mausoleum she used to hide in and her image becomes that of the actress playing her at that age. Early on, Paulina's voice-over narration of an event becomes that of the actress playing her. The sound of her as a young girl singing, comes in over documentary footage, reminding us of these scenes, underlining a certain emotion or idea.

Flower petals, butterflies, water, earth, and blood become important repeated images, connoting some basic notion of womanhood. I don't mean this, nor does the film, as some essential notion of what a woman is or should be, but in the sense that when a young girl is abused sexually before she even knows what it is all about, a shattering of the personality takes place. This is the jigsaw puzzle Paulina talks about. In a sense we can see that her job as live-in maid, which she calls noble work (though she also calls it a pain in the ass), helped her reconstitute herself and gain control over these elements: carefully tended gardens, washings machines, sweeping and dusting, giving birth herself.

Only after the birth of her own daughter did Paulina lose interest in dying and gain a desire to revisit her past, to finish it, as she says. After returning to Puntilla, confronting her parents, looking up Mauro's grave, visiting the few people who helped her, and telling us her story, she decides that she has killed off Paula and she could allow Paulina to be reborn. She has put the jigsaw puzzle back together, ended that fragmentation.


David Piker's LA CIUDAD narrates incidents in the lives of Latin American immigrant workers in New York City. The film, with beautiful black and white photography, tells four short stories with a self-reflexive nodal point at a photographer's shop where people, some we see elsewhere in the film, come to have their portraits taken. Riker has done these brief scenes in an expressionist manner with theatrical lighting, extreme fragmentation of events, and loud, bright flashes of light as pictures are taken. Sometimes we see a montage of portraits, and throughout the film Riker constantly provides wonderful close ups of the immigrants' faces.

The first story tells about men who look for work along city streets in the South Bronx. One has a letter from a young wife back where he came from. Some other men tease him about it. A gruff Italian guy picks up a group and takes them to an area filled with demolished brick warehouses He directs them to clean and stack bricks. He had offered $50 for the day, but then at the site he introduces a piecework concept — 15 cents per brick (about 333 bricks for $50). This switch enrages the men and the Italian again promises that they will get $50 for the day, but can earn more at the piece rate.

The men differ in their response: some sit down and do little, others jump to it and work quickly. There is much dispute and later one thinks another has stolen from his brick pile. After lunch, the one with the letter is crushed under a falling wall. Their efforts to revive him fail and the one who goes to call, comes back defeated-he didn't know where they were and they had no number for the Italian. At the end they get into a fight again about bricks. One guy suggests they should be able to work together on the street instead of all fighting for crumbs. This failed collectivity at the beginning sets up the narrative flow of the film, leading to the sitdown strike at the end.

In another story a young man from Puebla, Mexico, searches for the home of his uncle. He has the address, but has trouble finding it. He wanders into a quinceañera fest and meets a dour young woman and slowly charms her. The turning point comes when they discover that they both grew up in the same Puebla neighborhood. Her unhappiness stems from the fact that her family back in Mexico needs her to be there, earning money to support them. She feels trapped. They go back to her place; she lives with an uncle who is out of town. In the morning, he goes out to shop for breakfast, but can't find his way back to her apartment. At the end we see him standing with his bag of groceries in a maze of highrise apartment buildings, as confused as he was at the beginning of the story.

Then there follows the story of an older man, a puppeteer, and his young daughter living in their ear in a blasted landscape. He seems sick; perhaps he has TB. He puts on puppet shows in which the tenant attacks his landlord. During quiet moments they look at a children's book. She makes up stories about what she sees, but cannot read. A friend says she should go to school and has a constitutional right to do so. The father takes her to school and they took around, but an official gives them a hard time — they need proof of residency in New York, but have no rent receipt or phone bill to show.

The final, longest, and most dramatic story focuses on garment workers in a sweatshop. One woman finds out that her young daughter at home in Mexico has suddenly fallen very ill and needs $400 for an operation or she will die. The woman works in a Korean-run sweatshop that has not paid them in several weeks (they try not to pay until they are paid for the job they are working on). She tries to get money from the boss, no deal. Then she begs money from her friends.

Finally, at work, she just sits there. When the Korean boss yells at her she tries to explain that she needs the money. He then fires her, but she embraces her machine and won't leave. Slowly everyone else turns off their machines and just sits or stands there. Nothing is said, some looks are exchanged. People look straight ahead or at the floor or ceiling. The montage of faces is reminiscent of the photo studio or the men at the brickyard, but now they are united, at least for this moment. The camera leaves, showing the factory wall and then from out further. [There are a thousand stories in the city…"] Them is no leadership, no union or organization. It's anarchism at its best. The daily humiliations of immigrant life have come to the boiling point, sparked by one desperate woman's resistance.

This final scene reminded me very much of the early moment in SALT OF THE EARTH when the miners refuse to return to the mine, after a miner is injured. They condemn the company's reduced safety measures that endanger the workers. The foreman shouts at the miners to get back to work, but they refuse to budge. The film presents their resistance as a montage of close ups of their set faces, all looking down the foreman who berates them. But these mostly Mexican-American workers have a union and tried leaders they respect. They have a mechanism for dealing with the boss, a way to protect themselves. When the women take up the picket lines after an injunction bars the men, the community works that out in a highly charged meeting. In LA CIUDAD we see, at best, the importance of knots of friendships and conversations after work.

Thus like Italian Neorealism before it and which it greatly resembles, this film tends towards naturalism, the relatively passive gathering of information, over a more activist realism, designed to find ways to overcome the alienation so central to this film. In some ways one of the most striking formal elements in the film, the beautiful portraits of individual faces, becomes at the same time a weakness in its limitation to the individual. At the end, when the workers refuse to work, Riker ends with such portraits. He then pulls the camera away at just the moment when human solidarity has the potential to become a political solidarity or might just as well collapse back into defeated isolation. The film moves from severe alienation to powerful, but also romanticized, solidarity, which, without organization of some kind, has no way to sustain itself.

PAULINA and LA CIUDAD are both powerful, formally interesting films about the workers on the front lines of the new global economy and their alienation, fragility, and vulnerability become palpable. Each film confirms that there are important political stories to tell and innovative ways to tell them, yet neither imagines any sort of organized collective resistance. That is the next step for mediamakers as they respond to the terrible forces and dislocations of the new global capitalism.


This festival represented a cross section of one moment of filmmaking; it remains only a selection and that selection certainly shaped how one could see this moment at this particular festival. Impressed as I was by the skill, talent, and energy of these filmmakers, and as touched as I often was by the very personal stories they told, I ended up feeling critical of a general lack of progressive politics in the films, fiction and documentary alike. I missed films about the Los Angeles Drywall workers, the hotel and restaurant workers, the apple and berry pickers all struggling here in the West to organize themselves and fight for better wages and working conditions-and for their dignity. Perhaps it is too soon for films on these rather recent events.

I was surprised by the near absence of films about immigration, especially the politics of it here in California, and about the booming U.S./ Mexico border economy, based in the maquilladoras, that is transforming Northern Mexico. I sense in the United States growing political resistance amongst Latino/as and other third world immigrants to the place the new capitalism has assigned them in the economy. I want to see more media makers join this struggle as have Alex Rivera in his experimental work (PAPA-PAPÁ, WHY CYBRACEROS?, and DÍA DE LA INDEPENDENCIA); the National Labor Committee filmmakers in their documentaries about working conditions in Mexico, Central America and Haiti (ZONED FOR SLAVERY and MICKEY MOUSE GOES TO HAITI; as well as Vicky Funari and David Riker.

I worry too about the emphasis on the family, which seemed to include, relatively uncritically, a certain acceptance of, if not affection, for machismo, for women marrying and having children, and for women performing appropriate familial roles. Perhaps this is a generational issue and these young women filmmakers, born under Reagan's star and growing up with the Republican's family-values campaigns, must work through these issues anew and find their own way of thinking about and dealing with the relation between the personal and the political. One senses their struggle to come to terms with changing familial forms and values in a highly destructive society.

A tendency to concentrate on the intimacies of family life had formal ramifications in that many of the films I saw were melodramas, often resembling TV/Hollywood styles. This is a wonderfully flexible and generally popular form and filmmakers use it to work through family issues in very political ways.[3]

In the last decade, we have experienced an explosion of independent feature film and video making: financing, production and theatrical distribution. Young filmmakers have found increasingly inventive ways to finance low-budget feature films, aided by the falling cost of relatively high quality video cameras and digital editing equipment. Though the odds may not be great, aspiring to make feature films for theatrical distribution does not seem completely unreasonable. And given the dearth of suitable images of Latino/as in theaters and on television, wanting to fill this gap makes a lot of sense. There have been financially and critically successful Latino/a films from BORN EAST LA and ZOOT SUIT to MI VIDA LOCA, SELENA, and MI FAMILIA. Though it was a risk-taking and progressive political film that gained some critical acclaim as well, AMERICAN ME failed at the box office, thus casting doubt on the possibilities and realities of trying to make politically pointed and provocative films within the context of mainstream commercial media. The world goes to the movies and wanting to put your images and ideas up there for the world to see makes a lot sense.

At the same time, this approach has costs — especially the use of negative stereotypes of the kind I have remarked on in my discussion above. With full attention focused on the main characters, the conventional narrative tends to give short shrift to the minor characters, using stereotypes as short cuts, humor, and appeals to a broad audience. Rosa Linda Fregoso has argued strongly against the use of stereotypes in Latino/a filmmaking. Such work should, she writes,

"unmask ideology, unveil the historical contradictions that have shaped our present reality, and present its audience with a viable alternative to the mainstream media depictions of our struggle in this country."[4]

Charles Ramirez Berg, also quoting from Fregoso, urges Latino/a filmmakers to eschew stereotyping while also encouraging the effort to make films for mainstream distribution.

"For credibility's sake, we must master the dominant screen writing paradigm. But in order to alter its pervasive stereotyping, we also need to question it wherever and whenever we can."[5]

I'm always curious how filmmakers will deal with the costs of using conventional cinematic forms? Do they repress or ignore them, letting them come to the surface in stereotypical form, or do they examine them, play with them, dismantle them, deconstruct them? I thought that the strength of films like PAULINA, and LA CIUDAD lay in their ability to use melodramatic forms while also moving beyond stereotypes.

I sense change arising from low wage, often immigrant and third world, workers, the people literally on the cutting edge of the new global working class. I sense also a move on the pail of film, video, and digital artists/activists to investigate, critique, and support this emerging struggle. In my view, many of the artists whose work I saw at this festival will become major participants in documenting and narrating this new reality. I came to this realization at these screening, with their intense communal energy. Though sometimes disappointed that my own expectations were not met, I also felt and feel great excitement and optimism about the future of Latino/a and also political film and video making.


1. Noriega set out his AFI list in JUMP CUT No. 42 (December, 1998). He also edited two special sections in JUMP CUT in issues No. 38 (June, 1993) and No. 39 (June, 1994) on Latino/a media.

2. Cuban sociologist Fernando Ortiz invented the term Cubanía to indicate a self-assumed and self-conscious sense of Cubanness beyond the simple facts of parentage or birthplace.

3. I am reminded here of the flurry of interest and availablility of Mexican filmmaker, Arturo Ripstein's recent films, but also the work of Lourdes Portillo, María Luisa Bemberg, Fina Torres, and Susana Amaral.

4. "Seguin: The Same Side of the Alamo," Chicano Cinema, ed. Gary D. Keller (Binghamton. NY Bilingual Review/Press, 1985), 151.

5. "¡Ya Basta con the Hollywood Paradigm!" JUMP CUT No. 38 (June, 1993), 97.