Film festival honors Latino culture

By Colin Shively

Cultures from around the world can be found throughout Chicago. While Polish is the largest cultural community in the city, other ethnicities celebrate their background with pride. For two weeks, the Latino community in Chicago and throughout the nation will come together to showcase the Latino experience.

The 26th annual Chicago Latino Film Festival began April 16 and will run until April 29. During the two weeks of film screenings, more than 120 movies will have been shown. This year, the festival focuses on the Latino online presence and holds special segments dedicated to “Made in the U.S.A.,” “Women in Film” and “LGBT.”

“This festival depicts the Latino culture through the eyes of local and international filmmakers,” said Pepe Vargas, director of the Chicago Latino Film Festival and founder of the International Latino Cultural Center. “Some of these stories, although Latino in content, have a universal


The “Women in Film” segment of the Latino Film Festival features the Chicago-made “Immigrant Nation: A Battle for a Dream” by Esau Melendez, who recently won the Cine Latino Award at the 2010 D.C. International Film Fest. Vargas said Chicago’s festival is dedicated to showing all aspects of the Latino culture from Latin America, Spain, Portugal and the United States, yet mainly Chicago.

“Immigrant Nation: A Battle for a Dream” was made into a film after Melendez witnessed the 2006 protest march for immigrant rights. He was disappointed with the media coverage of not only the march, but about the entire idea behind immigrant rights.

In 2009, a committee of Chicago professional filmmakers decided on which films to show by rating the movie on its cultural aspects, Vargas said.

The Chicago Latino Film Festival is one of the oldest and most comprehensive film fests in the nation.

It began in 1985 when only 14 films were projected onto a wall with little more than 500 viewers total. It was then that the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago was created.

The organization became a multidisciplinary arts organization with a goal to spread more opportunities for the Latino culture in Chicago through theater, music, dance and other artistic means.

This year, the film festival joined with Columbia to broaden the festival’s reach to a younger and more diverse demographic.

“Everyone at the office and every filmmaker here is extremely dedicated,” Vargas said. “Each year we strive to make the festival better than the last and so far we have done it. Not only do we want the Latino culture to come out and enjoy the films and learn something, but we want everyone to witness this and to see what a big impact the Latino community has on this city and the world.”

After the conclusion of the two-week cultural film fest, Vargas said he hopes attendees will experience a virtual vacation throughout Latin America, Spain and Portugal without leaving a cinema. He said he also hopes memories stay with them long after the

festival ends.

The Chicago Latino Film Festival runs through April 29 and will display films in multiple theaters throughout the city. To find times, locations and ticket prices, visit