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2015 is a year of firsts in film for Northwest Arkansas. Beginning with the inaugural Bentonville Film Festival that took place in May, and this month, the first-ever Spanish-language film festival launches on the University of Arkansas campus. The Hispanic Heritage Film Festival, a collaboration between The Hispanic Heritage Month Committee and La Oficina Latina, will feature five award-winning films from the Spanish-speaking world in a range of genres, from documentary and drama to comedy and docudrama. A special kick-off event will launch the festival Wednesday, Sept. 16, featuring complimentary churros and chocolate, and a showing of the first film, “Paradise” (Paraíso), at 6 p.m. in Giffels Auditorium, located in Old Main.
The film festival serves as an opening to a month of activities at the University of Arkansas celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins Sept. 15 and ends Oct. 15. A celebration of the culture and heritage of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the United States, Hispanic Heritage Month is bookended by two culturally significant dates—Sept. 15, which marks the anniversary of the independence of five Latin American countries, and Columbus Day (Día de la Raza), Oct. 12. According to Heather Hinds, director of the film festival, this event is important to both the academic community and the greater community surrounding the university because it “celebrates the diverse history, culture and identity of the university’s student body, the community of Northwest Arkansas and the state at large.”
Look no further than the 2010 census to confirm the connection this film festival has to the cultural undercurrents of Northwest Arkansas. According to nwacouncil.org, 14.9 percent of residents in Washington and Benton counties identified as Hispanic or Latino. In 2013, that jumped to 16.1 percent in Washington County, and 16 percent in Benton County. The numbers are striking alone, but especially when you take into account that a mere 6.9 percent of total Arkansans identified as Hispanic or Latino in 2013.
As much as the film festival serves as a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and Northwest Arkansas’s Spanish-speaking community, Hinds says that another main objective is to “help prepare our academic community and the community at large to receive Dr. Rigoberta Menchu when she comes to campus October 13.” An Evening with Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Rigoberta Menchu, is a part of the Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecture series, and is the culmination of the Hispanic Heritage Month festivities.
“The films we selected were chosen for their depiction and exploration of women’s issues and/or current indigenous matters in the Spanish-speaking world,” Hinds said. This unifying theme was intentional as it reflects the life work of Menchu, a Guatemalan k’iche’ woman who from an early age worked to defend the rights of indigenous peoples and her countrymen who suffered persecution and exile.
While the films selected are unified in their connection to Menchus’s work and background, they represent a range in themes, settings, characters, social classes and directorial styles. Two of the films, “Paradise” (Paraíso) and “With My Heart in Yambo” (Con Mi Corazon En Yambo), feature women directors, Mariana Chenillo and María Fernanda Restrepo, respectively. Most of the films are in Spanish with English subtitles, however, “Who is Dayani Cristal?” (¿Quién es Dayani Cristal?) is in English and Spanish with English subtitles, and “Land Without Evil” (Yvy Maraey) is in Spanish and Guaraní with English subtitles.
These critically acclaimed films from the film festival circuit will be shown free of admission thanks to generous support from Pragda, SPAIN arts and culture, the Secretary of State for Culture of Spain, and the Hispanic Heritage Month Committee. Screenings will occur between Sept. 16 and Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. in Giffels Auditorium and Union UP Video Theater. Popcorn and drinks will be provided during the films shown at the Union UP Video Theater.
For more information about the films and to view trailers, visit the Spanish Film Club.
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