Cine Sin Fronteras: An interview with the curators of Milwaukee Film Festival's First Latin American film series
Jeanette Martín and Claudia Guzmán are the two halves behind Cine Sin Fronteras, a new program under Milwaukee’s annual Film Festival that aims to speak to the complexities that exist, and have always existed, within the Latinx community. The idea behind Cine Sin Fronteras emerged from the success of the Black Lens series put on by Milwaukee Film Festival, now in its third year and curated by two Black men, Donte McFadden and Geraud Blanks, which highlights emerging as well as established Black filmmakers. In previous years, the film festival had done various Passport To series, focusing on films from different countries or regions. 2014 saw the first year they did a Passport to Mexico and program directors saw a whole community come out in droves to see films in their language, about their native country, and relevant to their interests. “I think they finally saw that this could be something they could fully integrate permanently into the film festival,” says Martín. “I believe in taking up space where we deserve and need to be."
The thought of taking on this task was nerve-wracking and challenging, Martin and Guzman say, but eased by the trust and faith both curators have put into their community work and shared social justice values. As the Sociocultural Program Manager at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, Gúzman’s work is all about highlighting, celebrating and engaging diversity and identities, all while being engaged in social justice issues. Similarly, Martín’s role as the Assistant Director of the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee has been essential to her work in bridging the gap between marginalized communities and creating a meaningful dialogue around the prejudices found in society. Working from these wells of inspiration and passion, as well as their shared experience of growing up in Milwaukee’s Southside, the #1 racially segregated city in the U.S., the co-curators worked to create a program that really spoke to the complexities of our people while still confronting the work that needs to be done in order to build solidarity and promote healing. “Depending on who held [the creative control of the program] and how they’re coming into it, what generation they grew up in, where they’ve lived in the world, it could have been a Hispanic film series that wasn’t critical and didn’t do much [for our communities]" says Martin. Staying aware of the issues facing our communities today, such as anti-black sentiment, state-sanctioned police violence, fears of the upcoming election and the recent attacks in Orlando, the curators realized that they needed to find films that were either confronting these issues or talking about the struggle embedded in the immigrant experience.
As these conversations between Gúzman and Martín developed, they decided on creating a series that would “complicate the notion of what it means to be Latino.” When the time to title their project came, Guzman says they actively chose to away from using “Latino” or “Hispanic” in the title in an effort to take a critical approach to traditional concepts of “Latinidad.” Making sure that they had representations of Indigenous and Afro-Latinx communities as well as queer identities within Latinx communities was also key for Martín and Gúzman in order to ensure that they “really challenge traditional notions of checking boxes of identity.” As Latinxs in the US and Latin American push for more diversity and representation in American cinema and TV, it’s also important to recognize the need for our own audiences, our own people, to be willing to show ourselves how diverse we are, to acknowledge how rich our own people are. “The young generations now are also pushing and sharing that conciencia when possible to our families and community,” Martin says, “Cine Sin Fronteras will continue to show the many shades and bodies that we are within our diaspora.“
With 6 films, ranging from fiction to documentary, covering 5 different languages, and coming from countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Mexico and Guatemala, Guzman and Martin feel confident that their selection’s variety will create opportunities for their audience to interact with their own cultures as well as others’ cultures. Furthermore, they see this as an opportunity “to show Milwaukee Film Festival that there’s a market for Cine Sin Fronteras and that we as curators add value to the film festival as a whole.” Looking toward the future, they hope to grow enough to show more than 6 films, maybe even developing a mini-series on El Cinema del Oro in order to bring in an older audience while showing the younger generation the rich history of film that exists in our homelands. “We want our community to know that independent, Latin American film still exists it’s not just what’s on TV, that it’s an art, that it exists. Unless you have access to it, you won’t know about it.”
Beyond film curation, Martin and Guzman recognize the importance of also creating social events relevant to the community they’re trying to reach. They have organized 3 events to celebrate the launch of Cine Sin Fronteras ranging from a Pachanga and Cumbia concert to a community bike ride with Xela de la X, leader of Ovarian Psychos, one of the series’ featured documentaries. Developing a culturally appropriate outreach strategy and opportunities for engagement with the community is key to getting their goal audience to recognize that “this is something created for them, that they are welcomed and invited.” Equally, for those in the audience that do not identify as being Latinx, Martin and Guzman want to make sure people recognize that “the culture being represented on film is here in their city, in their community and it’s not hard to access in real life.”
When asked if the work our community needs to do can be done through art and film, through the consumption and proliferation of visual media for profit that is often loaded with xenophobic and rehashed (and dangerous) stereotypes of our community, Martin insists without hesitation that film “can create a language, a space in time in which we can learn and learn to heal and liberate ourselves. The integration of arts into our movement work has always been necessary y continuara.”
Cine Sin Fronteras proves, like Martin says, that “the result of labor of love is nothing but transformative."
Cine Sin Fronteras runs from Sept. 22- Oct. 6.
On Sept. 24, Cine Sin Fronteras will be hosting the PACHANGA! at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee a night of music and dancing featuring Verybecareful, a Los Angeles-based group that plays Colombian “vallenato.”
On Sept. 30, there will be a Community Bike Ride leading to the Milwaukee premiere of Ovarian Psycos at the Oriental Theatre.
Cover photo by Amanda Avalos, Creator of Milwaukee Beautiful.