It’s a commonly accepted notion among those who travel: traveling forces one to open their mind and worldview to other cultures in a way that virtually no other experience does. Unfortunately, traveling is not financially or physically accessible for many, but the need to learn about other cultures and perspectives remains. Enter the next best thing—film festivals that allow you to explore different cultures through the silver screen.
One such festival is Portland Latin Film Festival (PDXLAFF), which has films showing until Dec. 7 and allows one to explore Latin American culture in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Mexico, Panama, Uruguay and the United States.
The festival first kicked off in 2007 in the Whitsell Auditorium and has switched venues a few times to the Living Room Theaters and the Broadway Metroplex, eventually finding its home at the Hollywood Theatre about 10 years ago.
Maria Osterroth—the founder, director and curator of the PDXLAFF—put much effort into curating the film festival with her husband. “We curate all the films, I travel to Mexico for the International Film Festival, and that’s an opportunity for me to see films from Latin America,” Osterroth said. “They have a great marketplace, and you can meet the directors, the producers, the actors and all the people involved in the industry.”
Osterroth said she found it very fulfilling to support her community in this way. “I’m from Mexico City, so I want to bring people the possibility to see those films in our modern language,” she said. “But also it’s not just to watch a film, because you can watch films even on your phone, right? But it’s not the same experience. We want to bring the community together and also enjoy the films on the big screen.”
This element of bringing communities together is an essential function of a film festival and seems especially relevant and precious after over a year of being isolated from community, especially community events such as these. “You are supposed to watch [the films] and share the experience with other people,” Osterroth said. “And after the film, have the opportunity to have a conversation to discuss the film. Maybe you like it, maybe you don’t, but it gives you an opportunity to interact with other human beings. Especially right now that people tend to be more isolated.”
The intention of the festival is to select films that are not accessible on any other platform or in any other theater, making this festival the only place to see these works for now. “The festival films are maybe not like very big projects, but they all are very well done,” Osterroth said. “Maybe they don’t have a lot of special effects, but talk about humans like you and me living in different realities in different contexts and help us to understand and respect others even more and celebrate our differences as well.”
While these films might not be recognizable to many, they are still incredibly well-made and have often won awards. For example, the upcoming Bolivian-based and inspired film Utama, playing on Oct. 12, has won several awards and recognition from extremely prestigious film festivals like the Sundance Film Festival.
Another notable film playing Oct. 23 is titled Home is Somewhere Else. “What is interesting about this film is it touches the topics about migration,” Osterroth said. “So the voices in this documentary are the voices of the people that are telling their stories. You don’t see their faces, you just see, like, drawings of them. But you have the opportunity to learn about their lives and their journey.”
Another notable film playing Nov. 16 is a fictional story that touches on a non-fictional problem. “It touches on this problem of violence or gangs in Panama,” Osterroth said. “They have some professional actors, but some of the actors are also like, people, like young kids from the street. They chose this boy who was really good… and he participated in the film. But when the movie was gonna be released, he could not go because, unfortunately, he was shot by one of the guns on the streets of Panama. So the movie talks about a very serious problem and, unfortunately, this young guy was a victim of the problem that the movie was showing us. So they are realities.”
The realities that film allows us to see include the existence of other cultures, which will enable us to see both the hard things and the good experiences. “It brings the world closer to us, but not just the world, other human beings talking about their feelings, about their needs, about their dreams and about their challenges,” Osterroth said. “And at the end, we realize that all of us have dreams, desires, needs and the need to connect with other humans.”
Connection is vital, and we must understand that while we might be different, we connect through our shared humanity. “If I understand where other people come from, I also will understand, okay, I’m different… but in the end, we are all human beings,” Osterroth said. “That’s what really matters at this moment where we are so divided, and not just in this country, but in the whole world. When we don’t understand each other—we hate each other, and we separate them from us. So for me, this is a possibility. This [film festival] is like a window where you have the opportunity to put yourself in the shoes of others. And maybe you don’t understand others, but at least respect others.”