The Amherst College Ibero-American Hybrid Film Festival — sponsored by the Spanish Department; the Latinx and Latin American Studies Department (LLAS); Sexuality, Women’s, and Gender Studies Department (SWAGS); and Film and Media Studies Department (FAMS) — is now fully underway, approaching the third film in its series. The format of the festival asks participants to watch each film on Pragda, an online streaming platform, then attend an in-person discussion on it, led by professors or Spanish language assistants.
Spanish language students and Nuevo Cine Mexicano (New Mexican Cinema) lovers alike kicked off the discussion portion of the festival on Tuesday, March 29, with a conversation about the film “Y Tu Mamá También” (“And Your Mother Too”). The conversation, facilitated by R. John Cooper ’64 Presidential Teaching Professor of Spanish Paul Schroeder Rodríguez of the Spanish, LLAS, and FAMS departments, introduced questions about the film’s structure and use of symbolism. Schroeder Rodríguez’s knowledge of Mexican and Spanish culture, film theory, and his critique of “Y Tu Mamá También” in his book “Latin American Cinema: A Comparative History” provided a robust foundation for discussion.
Films in the festival tell stories from Guatemalan, Spanish, British, Argentinian, and German directors about Cuban, Mayan, Chinese, and Argentinian culture. The range of material in the program is augmented by the interdisciplinary studies of the professors leading discussions, including Professor of History and SWAGs Christine Peralta. Despite the particular theme of Ibero-American language, which differentiates it from the college’s Spanish and Latin American Film Festival in 2016, this year’s lineup fosters a rich environment that welcomes contributions from students and faculty from diverse disciplines, both English- and Spanish-speaking.
A recurring theme in conversation about “Y Tu Mamá También” was its inadequate representation of Indigenous characters. Schroeder Rodríguez noted that it was disappointing to see these characters’ stories used as a crutch for the main plot, very literally relegated to the edges of the screen. In response to the topic of Indigenous representation, Schroeder Rodríguez and discussion host Sarah Piazza, lecturer in Spanish, brought two upcoming events to the attention of students: the next film in the festival, “Ixcanul” (“Volcano”), about a Kaqchikel-speaking community in Southern Guatemala, and this year’s Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival (MMFF), whose theme is “Indigeneities.”
The entirely virtual format of the 29th annual MMFF, presented by the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Film Studies Department and running from March 2 through April 27, brings additional considerations of Indigenous communities to the global perspective of the Ibero-American Film Festival. According to the program website, this year’s festival “explore[s] how contemporary Indigenous filmmakers and media artists leverage moving image forms to directly address the politics of identity and representation.” I screened and attended a discussion about last week’s film “Maliglutit” (“Searchers”) — a Western genre inspired epic from Inuk director Zacharias Kunuk. The film takes place in the Northern Canadian Nunavut territory, where Kunuk is from.
Because all the film screenings and discussions are virtual, Kunuk was able to join the festival’s director Daniel Pope (a UMass Film Studies professor), assistant curator Nefeli Forni Zervoudaki, and the audience for a conversation and Q&A streamed on YouTube Live. The isolation I felt watching the characters traverse the snowy tundra from my comfy spot in Frost A Level was dissolved by Kunuk’s warm and open comments about his creative process, including the critical role of the Inuit community in creating a genuine on-screen world for the all-Inuit cast to inhabit. Participating in the Ibero-American Festival offered me an immersive experience of sounds, images, and stories from Spanish-speaking countries, with the expansive potential to approach them from many disciplines. But the ability to interact in real time with Kunuk provided a different kind of immersion into the culture and artistry of the filmmaker.
On an episode of “UMasterclass,” a Spotify podcast of the UMass Film Studies program, host Emily Ko sat down with the MMFF staff to talk about this year’s festival. Pope elaborated on the privilege of being able to bring in such celebrated artists as Kunuk: “We were able to actually get filmmakers who otherwise it would be hard to have as guests even in non-Covid times because of distance of travel … whereas online we can have somebody join us at an appointed time, and we have a really vibrant dynamic conversation and bring questions from the audience.” Although participants are unable to have the “in the room experience” that the Ibero-American Festival boasts of, MMFF is truly able to welcome voices from all over the world — one of the festival’s defining features, Pope said.
The opportunity for students to immerse ourselves in the multisensory elements of a film, interpret its story and structure through various lenses, and converse with the brains behind it are equally valuable experiences. Both of these festivals span nations by telling stories from many corners of the world, drawing in students across disciplines and interests. As Amherst’s Ibero-American Film Festival, along with other film festivals, return to pre-Covid, in person models, can we still maintain this sense of global reach?
This week, the Ibero-American Festival presents “Yo Niña” (“I Girl”), with an accompanying discussion on Thursday, April 7. MMFF is also showing a collection of Tracy Moffat’s early films with an accompanying discussion this evening, Wednesday, April 6, at 7:30pm EDT. Next week’s discussion will be about “Ste. Anne.” Find more information about the MMFF program on their website.