Latin American films highlighted at Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival

Students from Grand Valley put on a puppet show at the film festival. GVL / Andrew Nyhof

Students from Grand Valley put on a puppet show at the film festival. GVL / Andrew Nyhof

Mary Racette

The Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival (GRLAFF) created the opportunity for the west Michigan community to observe the different aspects and themes of Latin American culture. Wealthy Theater in Grand Rapids hosted the GRLAFF April 5-7.

This year’s festival, named “Cinema Without Borders,” consisted of a variety of events that represented Latin American culture through film. The festival included feature films as well as a series of short films. After select screenings, the director was present to answer the audience’s questions about the film. The event was coordinated by GVSU professors Médar Serrata and Mayra Fortes González. Multiple west Michigan colleges and other community groups also collaborated to produce the ninth annual GRLAFF. 

“We wanted to create an opportunity for the people of west Michigan to view and experience some of the best independent films made by people in Latin America,” said Coordinator of the Latin American Studies Program David Stark.  “It is important to allow members of the community to interact with the directors and learn about the Latin American culture, its people and its way of life.”

Dominican director Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias spoke to film majors during professor Toni Perrine’s World Cinema class about his experiences in the film industry and his creative process. Cocote, his film featured in GRLAFF, incorporates an array of cultural themes such as identity and religion in the Dominican Republic.  

During his lecture with the class, he shared the abstract ideas and philosophies behind his work as he explained their connection to his films.    

“I do believe that cinema is important as philosophical experimentation,” de Los Santos Arias said. “I believe that cinema is a power of knowledge and a power of experimentation.”

Students were given the opportunity to ask de Los Santos Arias questions at the end of his lecture. After the screening of Cocote at GRLAFF, de Los Santos Arias also held a question-and-answer session.  

Co-Director of the film Chavela Daresha Kyi held a Q&A session following the screening of her film. Chevela is an award-winning documentary of the popular Mexican singer Chavela Vargas.

In addition to the short and featured films, GRLAFF has made efforts in the last two years to include family-friendly entertainment so community members of all ages can participate in the festival.  

“We really want to make this a family event,” Stark said. This year, the animated film, El Libro de Lila, was shown on Saturday, April 6 and was rated appropriate for all ages.

GRLAFF also collaborated with GVSU’s Spanish 350 class to provide entertainment for children to enjoy. The Spanish students produced and performed plays using puppets they designed as part of the curriculum. Stark said this collaboration between curriculum and community was brought back after last year’s success.  

The GRLAFF promoted the involvement within several communities throughout the area. The Latin American culture was celebrated during the GRLAFF due to the collaboration of students, faculty, filmmakers and the event coordinators. According to Stark, their goal was not only to “bring Grand Valley to the community” but also to “bring the community to Grand Valley.”