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Preview: Chicago Latino Film Festival Offers A Diverse, Populist Schedule

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 6, 2015 2:45PM

Scene from "Day Release" (Photo: © Breaking Pictures).

With more than half of its scheduled features coming from first-time directors, the 31st edition of the Chicago Latino Film Festival (April 9-23) will truly be a chance for film lovers to make some new discoveries. Epics, thrillers, romantic comedies and documentaries are just part of a packed calendar of more than 120 features and shorts from 26 countries playing at AMC's River East 21 theaters.

The opening night feature will be The Liberator, with Venezuelan star Edgar Ramirez (Carlos) portraying Simon Bolivar, who led many Latin American countries in their fight for independence from Spain. The Thursday night screening will only be available to those paying for the pricey opening night gala, complete with food, drinks and live music. However, The Liberator will also play the festival the following evening at standard ticket prices.

Movies for all tastes seem to be part of the mix, but this festival is apparently more open to genre fare than the Chicago International Film Festival. Where that granddaddy of local film fests has always seemed a little wary of going too far afield from perceived prestige and/or art films, its Spanish language-focused counterpart shows no such reserve. From the Colombian salsa dance musical comedy Ciudad Deliro to the Venezuelan horror film The House at the End of Time, CLFF's schedule appears quite populist in its leanings.

Thrillers pop up frequently on the schedule. Rapture from Argentina, Memories of the Desert from Brazil and Chile, Wolf at the Door from Brazil, The Stranger from the Dominican Republic, Cicada Moon from Paraguay, Guard Dog from Peru and Day Release from Spain are just a few of the features promising mystery, suspense and escalating action.

Not surprisingly, considering the number of countries represented that have long histories of political and social upheaval, many of the dramas and documentaries showing reflect a tumultuous past. Bolivia's Forgotten portrays the CIA-sponsored "Operation Condor," which targeted opponents to U.S.-backed dictatorships in South America in the '70s and '80s. Brazil's After the Rain depicts a generational shift as the country moved towards democracy. The Devil's Elbow is an account of the military execution of political prisoners in Costa Rica in the late '40s.

One of the city's longest-running and better-attended film festivals, the Chicago Latino Film Festival has earned its encampment at the largest multiplex in the city—the same home base for the Chicago International Film Festival in recent years. But credit goes to the festival organizers for extending their reach beyond downtown with select screenings at multiple area schools. They are also going well past the city boundaries with a third Latino Film Festival Elgin (at Elgin Community College and Marcus Theaters), showing seven films from the larger schedule in the western suburb with a growing Spanish-speaking population. That kind of outreach is something the Chicago International Film Festival would do well to mirror, instead of coasting on its upscale loyalists.

The complete schedule for the Chicago Latino Film Festival, along with updates on special events and guests, is available here.