Drama & diversity -- back to basics

CHICAGO -- With four Cuban films and a live appearance by the island’s eminent actor, Jorge Perugorria, a documentary about Chicago-based labor organizer, immigrant rights and political activist, Rudy Lozano, Nicaragua’s Ernesto Cardinal presenting a documentary about his life’s work, 65 features, 45 short films and 50 directors and actors for questions and answers, the Chicago Latino Film Festival, sponsored by the International Latino Cultural Center, is packing a punch worthy of its 25th year.

While a Columbia College student taking ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, Pepe Vargas was aware of his own homesickness and the stamp of struggle that immigrants face. Vargas’ personal reality and films in Spanish was a way to connect to home and allow others a way to taste and understand people in a deeper way. The Latino Film Festival was born.

Vargas is still the director along with a small staff and hundreds of volunteers. The festival is year-round work. But Vargas thought of a larger, deeper connection with the International Latino Cultural Center, showcasing dance, comedy, fine arts, spoken word, literature, music in a building that houses that effort and excitement. In an interview, Vargas explained, “The festival is the perfect combination of simple and very complicated. You buy a ticket, you watch a movie and maybe a whole new world opens up. The movies tell a story.

“This year, there are over 100 films from 18 countries. We have to screen about 300. There’s scheduling, customs, festival guide, transportation for actors, directors, special events and a very large outreach at Chicago public schools.

“Stories are the lifeblood – showing how diverse Latino culture is. And of course in 25 years, the population has changed. Latinos are now about 25 percent of the population, the economy, the culture. How do we learn and know who we are without these stories? Some films are more Hollywood, some are very controversial. We’re trying to tell the best stories that express a culture, and a culture that’s changing and becoming more dynamic.”

For more information www.latinoculturalcenter.org.