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AFI Silver welcomes Latin American Film Festival

Latin American Film Fest. 1 by Scott SelmanSILVER SPRING - It's about allowing movie audiences to get a true glimpse of Latin American countries through film. 

That's what Andre Guttfreund said, one of the producers of the independent film “The Crow's Nest,” which is playing at the 25th annual Latin American Film Festival in Silver Spring. He teamed with filmmaker Arturo Menendez to create the first El Salvadorian movie to get international distribution and be in a major film festival.

This is the 10th year the festival has been at the AFI Silver Theatre. The festival used to be held at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., but the organizers believed it made more sense to bring it to Montgomery County given the county’s large Latin community.

“Ever since we've come to the Silver, which was 10 years ago, we found that we really kind of hit our groove with the Latin Film Festival,” said Josh Gardner, associate film programmer at AFI. “The location kind of makes more sense being in Montgomery County with the huge Latino population, and we've found that with our new location we've really been allowed to grow into ourselves in terms of audience members and the programming.”

The festival runs from Sept. 18-Oct. 8 and will feature films from various parts of Latin America like the Costa Rican comedy “All About The Feathers,” the Brazilian animated film “The Boy and The World,” and the Chilean drama “To Kill a Man,” which took an award at the Sundance Film Festival. AFI will also show movies from Portugal and Spain.

Gardner said not only have the sheer numbers of Latin American movies increased over the years, they're coming from more places throughout the region. He said the films also have a higher level of quality these days, which he attributes to the way they're currently made.

“Over the last 25 years the landscape of filmmaking in Latin America changed drastically, with digital film being so much more prevalent these days” Gardner said. “Access to filmmaking equipment is so much cheaper and more available, so we're seeing more films coming from Central America, which we hardly ever saw before, and films from countries like Paraguay, where production has been scarce. So we've been able to showcase Latin American cinema, and the quality has just really gone up while there are so many more choices. Our jobs have actually gotten harder as the years have gone by, because there's so much more to choose from.”

Gardner said downtown Silver Spring is the ideal place to host the festival because the area has a huge Latin and non-Latin audience who love and appreciate the culture, which is evident from the slew of Latin American restaurants in the area that are always filled. 

AFI has partnered with some of those restaurants for the festival. This creates a festive environment, Gardner said, because you can grab a bite at a place like Cubano's on Fidler Lane right after you see a film set in Cuba, making it the perfect theme night.

“The Crow's Nest” will premier Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m., followed by a post-screening reception. The film follows main character Don Cleo, who makes a living selling piñatas in a small El Salvador town, as one day he receives an extortion note for $500—an exorbitant amount for the struggling worker. If he doesn't raise the money in 72 hours he'll likely be killed, which sends him on an interesting physical and emotional journey. The film is a story of redemption and righting a bunch of wrongs, producer Guttfreund said.

Guttfreund said having a film like “The Crow's Nest” play at Silver Spring's Latin American Film Festival is huge for not only the filmmaker, but for El Salvador's film industry, because it's the first fiction-based film that shows what the country is really like.

“All of a sudden there was an explosion of activity of young people making films, and I saw in documentaries we were in great shape, but we were in terrible shape in terms of fiction,” he said. “And one of the reasons was that kids who have not traveled, who've not lived long, not read much, and not seen a lot of movies where writing their own stories, and a lot of the stuff didn't have an El Salvadorian point of view.”

Guttfreund teamed with El Salvador-based Meridiano 89 Production Company, which provided the equipment and a crew so the film could be made. Guttfreund said everyone’s chief goal is to put the El Salvadorian film industry on the map, and presumably other filmmakers from different parts of Latin America want to do the same.

Gardner said this year’s festival is off to a marvelous start and the festival seems to get bigger and better every year.

“We're off to a landmark year,” he said. “We had a sold-out opening night with the film ‘The Liberator’ and this week had huge crowds, so we're really hoping it's going to be the best festival yet.”

General admission tickets cost $13; AFI members get them for $10. There's also an all-inclusive pass called the Pase Especial, which allows one person to see every movie for $150. AFI will also host a happy hour during the festival from 6 p.m.-7 p.m. on Sept. 25 and 26 where attendees can munch on free snacks and purchase discounted alcoholic beverages.

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