By Tyler Francischine
One of the benefits of living in Gainesville is the virtual passport residents are given upon move-in. Between the resources at the University of Florida and the countless cultural organizations in town, it’s easy to learn about every corner of the globe.
This month, the Latina Women’s League invites everyone to share in the joys and struggles of the people of Latin America with the eighth Gainesville Latino Film Festival.
Victoria Condor-Williams, the director of the Gainesville Latino Film Festival and president of the Latina Women’s League, said the festival, which includes screenings of six films with Latin American origins, is a means of introducing the local community to Latin American issues and culture.
“We are so proud to say we’ve reached our goal, to present the diverse culture of Latin America,” she said. “Now the community has a better idea of the problems, the culture and the dreams of what we call the ‘pueblos.’ ”
The festival kicks off on Sept. 13 with an Opening Night Gala at the Harn Museum of Art Chandler Auditorium. In addition to free food from local establishments like Emiliano’s Café, Flaco’s and La Tienda Latina Restaurant, fashion designer Nicole Di Rocco of NICOLITA Swimwear will display her line of 1940s Cuba-inspired swimsuits.
Following the fashion display, Di Rocco will screen her documentary film, “PastPort: Cuba – The Search for Nicolita.” The film follows Di Rocco and her parents, ex-Cuban citizens, on their trip to Cuba, both to find a model for her swimwear line and, more importantly, to find her roots.
“I wanted to uncover the gem of what Cuba is and for me, that’s family,” Di Rocco said. “These are moments I can pass on to my children and grandchildren.”
Di Rocco said though the film deals with heavy issues involving Cuban-American relations and immigration, its goal is not to sway its audience politically.
“It’s not about politics,” she said. “It’s that we have family and we can’t turn our backs on family.”
Dr. Lillian Guerra, professor of Cuban and Caribbean history at the University of Florida, said “PastPort” both asks and answers the question of what it means to be Cuban in a very personal way.
“It’s important that people in Gainesville gain knowledge and empathy in terms of the Cuban experience,” she said. “This film yields some substantive knowledge about healing wounds and finding a new future for Cubans in the United States.”
The film festival will continue with films from Panama, Guatemala, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico each Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Chandler Auditorium. Condor-Williams, who is from Peru, said this is the third time the film festival has been held at the Harn. The first festival, in 2004, was held at the Headquarters Branch Library, and later festivals were held at the Hippodrome. She said the Harn is a perfect location because audiences also can peruse the museum’s extensive Latin American art collection.
“We’re happy to present our films at the Harn,” she said. “This gives the community a chance to see the incredible cultural resources we have in Gainesville.”
Other events planned for Latino-Hispanic Heritage Month include a free salsa music concert with Gilberto de Paz and TROPIX on Sept. 28 at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza, a month-long exhibition of Peruvian folk art and Latin American folk tales series at the Headquarters Branch Library, and the city of Alachua’s first Latin Festival on Oct. 7.
Condor-Williams formed the Latina Women’s League eight years ago with a group of friends. In addition to organizing the film festival, the League holds free English classes, bilingual story time for children, citizenship classes and naturalization workshops to help newcomers with their American citizenship applications.
“We help the newcomers to feel comfortable with their new language and the American culture,” she said. “Our work is not finished. Many members of our community need our help.”
Dr. Eric Castillo, director at the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures, said the Gainesville Latino Film Festival provides a platform for the Hispanic community to showcase its history, culture and its contemporary issues.
“This festival creates an important dialogue about Latino contributions to Gainesville, Fla., and the Unites States and educates people from various backgrounds so they can be informed about the Hispanic-Latina community,” he said.
Condor-Williams said every year she is pleased by the audience’s reaction — often people ask her and other members of the Latina Women’s League how they can become involved and learn more about the issues raised by the films. She hopes this year will be no exception.
“I know they’re going to leave every showing with an interest in doing more and helping,” she said. “This festival brings the community together.”
For a full list of Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month events, visit http://latinawomensleague.org.