The AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center has been known for its multiple annual film festivals.

So what was the specific reason behind the Latin American Film Festival?

The festival began in 1990, when AFI operated a theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., long before its move to Silver Spring, said Todd Hitchcock, director of programming. 

“The festival was produced in partnership with the embassies of the Latin American countries, who wanted to celebrate the riches of their national cinemas and share them with viewers in this region,” he said. 

Not a passing phenomenon, the Latin American Film Festival is celebrating its 30th year.

It moved along with AFI from Washington, D.C. to Silver Spring in 2003, and into the newly renovated AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. 

“It is here in Montgomery County that the festival really took off,” said Hitchcock. “It has grown steadily in size and stature over these past 15 years or so to the 50+ film selections from 20+ countries it is today. The festival includes many U.S. premieres and filmmaker guests and is now one of the largest film festivals of its kind.”

With the inclusion of films from Spain and Portugal, the festival now honors Ibero-American cultural connections during what is National Hispanic Heritage Month, he added. 

“One of the great things about this festival is how diverse and wide-ranging the lineup is,” said Abbie Algar, AFI Silver’s associate film programmer and public relations manager. “Because this year’s slate of films is our biggest yet, we’re covering more ground than ever before– with everything from crowd-pleasing romantic comedies, to highly specific political and societal commentaries, to historical biopics and midnight movies.” 

That said, Algar continued, “it is true we see many politically engaged work in this year’s festival, and we typically expect to see a good number of films addressing the current socio-political climate across Latin America. We also see a number that looks back at the region’s complex history, often combining the political with the deeply personal.”

This year’s lineup is particularly strong on documentaries and women directors, who represent 40 % of the total films being shown.

While AFI has no set criteria, this is a curated festival. The theater works throughout the year to find the strongest possible films for the lineup and ensure representation from across the region.

Recently, the programming team attended the Toronto International Film Festival, where they saw films they hope to bring to next year’s festival. Meanwhile, there are plenty of filmmaker guests and Embassy-sponsored events as well this year, Algar said.

“But I’ll mention we’re very excited to be opening the festival with the U.S. premiere of ‘El Amor Menos Pensado,’ starring the incredible Argentine actor Ricardo Darín,” Algar said. “Other highlights would be the U.S. premiere of Mexican actor Gael García Bernal’s sophomore feature (as a director) ‘Chicuarotes,’ and the North American Premiere of Melina León’s powerful drama ‘Song without a Name,’ the first film by a female director from Peru to screen at the Cannes Film Festival.”

Another would be the survivalist saga “Monos” from Colombian-Ecuadorian director Alejandro Landes, which won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Closing the festival is a rare world premiere, “Diaz des Luz,” (translated to Days of Light) created in a collaborative effort made by filmmakers from Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. 

“It’s an incredible achievement, and we can’t wait to see how the audience responds,” said Algar. 

The Latin American Film Festival runs Sept. 12-Oct 2 at AFI Silver and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring. www.afi.com/silver.

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