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VLAFF offering a cinematic feast

Latin American fest showcases latest projects

- Vancouver Latin American Film Festival until Sept. 11. For complete schedule visit

THE ninth annual Vancouver Latin American Film Festival (VLAFF) gets underway this week with 27 feature-length films and dozens of short works screened over the course of the 11-day event.

The festival will showcase their films at seven venues around the Lower Mainland including SFU Woodward's Cinema in Gastown. "It's the newest cinema in town," says festival director Christian Sida-Valenzuela. "It's the most amazing cinema in town right now with the best sound. We're going to be showing four films there in 35 mm copies: Hermano (Brothers) from Venezuela is one of the most highly-acclaimed films in Venezuelan film history. We also have the film 5xFavela from Brazil that had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Abel from Mexico is directed by Diego Luna, who was in Y tu mamá también and many other films. We're also showing the film Post Mortem from Chile, by Pablo Larraín, which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last year."

In 2011 Sida-Valenzuela moved into the festival director's chair after spending the previous two years as the director of programming.

The three largest film industries in Latin America, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are well-represented at the festival but VLAFF will also go far outside the mainstream and bring in work from a wide range of other countries such as Colombia, Cuba and Chile.

This year the festival introduces three competitive sections with selected works competing for prize money. Seven documentary films are up for the Al Jazeera Award for Best Documentary ($3,500 prize) while 12 short projects are in the running for Best Short Film ($500).

A youth jury will honour a Best Young Director at the festival with a $1,000 prize. "Four months ago we held a contest throughout Vancouver and asked students to write an essay about films," says Sida-Valenzuela. "We selected seven students and they will watch 10 films to choose (a winner)."

Other non-competitive themed sections include Canada Looks South, 125th Anniversary of Vancouver, Young Women in Film: Peru and Indigenous Films.

The latter category, exploring an indigenous perspective of cinema, features an ambitious collection of new short films. "We have indigenous filmmakers from British Columbia and Mayan filmmakers from Mexico and Guatemala," says Sida-Valenzuela. "We did that to create a parallelism between First Nations groups from different parts of the Americas. After the screenings we will have a panel at SFU Harbour Centre."

The festival's closing night film, Chicogrande, pays homage to Hollywood while providing viewers with an entirely different cinematic experience. Directed by one of Mexico's most important veteran filmmakers, Felipe Cazals, the film's story could easily take place today but in fact focuses on 1916 when 5,000 U.S. cavalry ("a whole mess of gringoes") under the command of General Pershing entered Mexico on a "punitive expedition" to track down Pancho Villa. Cazals uses the Western genre for his own means.

"Chicogrande was shot in the western town of Durango in the northern part of Mexico," says Sida-Valenzuela. "John Wayne actually had a ranch and shot some of his movies there. It follows the rules of the Western genre. It was a very important film last year and opened the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain, one of the top festivals in the world."

Other films shot in Durango include William Wyler's epic Ben-Hur (1959), Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Henry Hathaway's True Grit (1969 starring John Wayne) and the Coen Brothers' remake (2010), George Lucas' first Star Wars (1977) and Alfonso Arau's Like Water for Chocolate (1992).

Cazals' film screens at Granville 7 Cinemas Saturday, Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. but between now and then there is little time to waste. "There are 11 days when people will get the opportunity to see films that may never be shown in Canada again," says Sida-Valenzuela.

VLAFF has published a free program guide with accompanying articles that provide background and context for the films at the festival. Copies are available around the Lower Mainland including the Book Warehouse on Lonsdale at 15th.

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