Film series highlights Latin American culture


The Center for Latin American Studies and Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures will host a Latin American film series throughout the semester. Anna Bongardino | Staff Photographer

By Max Datner / Staff Writer

A Brazilian boy, through tears, told his on-screen caretaker in Portuguese how much he missed his mother.

While watching him, a crowd of about 65 students and faculty sipped soda and took notes as English subtitles of his words crop up on a projected screen in Parran Hall Tuesday. The audience gathered to watch “The Second Mother,” a Brazilian film about a live-in housekeeper in Sao Paulo, as part of Latin America in Motion — a university film series designed to bring Latin American films to Pitt.

With funding from the Year of Diversity grant, the Center for Latin American Studies and the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures organized the series to feature free screenings of films from Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Guatemala. The Center has screened films with subtitles in Parran Hall on select Tuesday nights since late January and will continue to do so until early April.

Angelina Cotler, the associate director of the Center for Latin American Studies, held eight similar film series while working at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She brought the idea with her when she joined Pitt’s CLAS earlier this school year.

The films will represent three languages: Spanish, Portuguese and Kaqchikel, an indigenous language of Central America. Because the actors are speaking natively, Cotler said it’s a fantastic way for students — primarily undergraduates — to learn to speak authentically.

“If you are learning to speak Portuguese or Spanish, it helps listening to people in their own language,” Cotler said.

The series will feature films that deal with topics of economic crisis, crime within the Catholic church and arranged marriage, among others. Junyoung Verónica Kim, an assistant professor of visual culture and media in Pitt’s Spanish department, said the films come from varying genres, regions and nations.

“So [Latin America In Motion] shows the kind of changing and transforming nature of Latin America,” she said.

Because the films are shown in an academic environment, students can turn to nearby sources for clarification of confusing language or scenes. A Pitt professor well-versed in the native culture of each film hosts a post-screening discussion to give their impressions and to answer student questions about topics related to the films — economics, gender relations or indigenous populations, for example.

The Feb. 28 screening of “The Second Mother” was followed by a discussion of Brazil’s class relations and economic divisions. Various attendees related their personal experience living in the country to what was shown in the film with some sharing stories about family members who worked as housekeepers, like the film’s main character.

Kim will be introducing “The Club,” by Chilean director Pablo Larraín, March 14. She says the film, which tells the story of small-town priests accused of child abuse, subtly relates to her research on violence, borders and the neoliberal state, which takes on new meanings amidst a changing political era.  

Specifically, she sees the film as commentary on the “marginalization and criminalization of [Latin American] populations.”

Anna Perry, a junior majoring in rehabilitative science, said the discussion following the screening of “Open Cage,” which focuses on Mexico’s economic struggles and generational divide, helped her to understand the themes in the movie and how they related to Mexican culture.

“My expectation was just to watch a movie,” she said. “But we discussed it afterward, and [professor Armando García] talked about the theme of the movie and how it tied in with what was going on historically [in Mexico].”

There were 20,000 to 22,000 Latinos living in Allegheny County in 2016 — and that number is growing. Looking to the future, Cotler said she planned to make a series like this a continued source of Latin American culture in the city of Pittsburgh.

“It’s a very good opportunity to see common stories, you know — universal stories — but at the same time very unique in the sense of very Latin American context,” Cotler said. “I think that this should be the start of a new tradition.”

Emily Suruda and Amina Doghri contributed reporting for this story.

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