The second edition of Michigan State University’s Latinx Film Festival is taking its concept of bringing internationally and locally produced Spanish, English and Portuguese language films to Mid-Michigan and making it larger than ever before. Boasting five days, a dozen venues, even more films — many of them by women directors — virtual reality film technology, director Q&As and live music, LXFF is making the push to become a film festival that’s a calling card for all of Michigan and not just MSU students and Greater Lansing residents.
Festival director Scott Boehm, an assistant professor of Spanish & global studies at MSU, said the success of the first edition in 2018 and the special events under the LXFF name in 2019 allowed it to grow exponentially.
“The turnout in 2018 exceeded all of our expectations, and when we did our special events the same thing happened,” Boehm said. “We’ve been riding the wave of that and trying to offer more. There’s a demand for it on and off-campus.”
While the selection of films runs a gamut of genres such as comedy, documentary, suspense and drama — this year even features a mainstream blockbuster with “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” — it was vital to make sure the primary focus was on highlighting movies that had a powerful socio-political statement.
“We have an eye to select films with social or political relevance,” Boehm said.
“Marielle and Monica,” showing Wednesday at the MSU Broad Museum, addresses the murder of Afro-Brazilian LGBTQ activist Marielle Franco. The film follows the life of her widow, Monica Benicio, who continues to dedicate her life to social justice. Jumping to WKAR Studios, Wednesday also features “The Pushouts,” a documentary about high school dropout and gang member Victor Rios’ 20-year journey to becoming a professor that helps troubled youth.
Thursday’s screenings at the MSU Library includes Nonny De La Peña’s brief but powerful documentary “The Use of Force”— an immersive activist-journalism project that uses virtual reality film technology. Just picture a VR headset that, rather than attempting to place you within a video game, is putting you crushingly close on a human level to the death of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, who was fatally beaten in 2010 by several United States Border Patrol agents. The recreation of the event with 3D graphics is designed to simulate the effect of being a bystander to the incident.
Thursday the library also features a 360-video installation, “Puro 956: Discovering Narratives From the Rio Grande Valley,” by MSU student Leobardo Vallejo. The Rio Grande Valley is nestled in the southernmost region of Texas bordering Mexico. Vallejo’s hometown of Weslaco, Texas, is located within the valley and his film aimed to capture a realistic look at border communities free from hysterics and hyperbole.
“That region gets so much negative attention. Vallejo shows people who’ve never been there what it’s actually like,” Boehm said. “The university has amazing resources that are very underused. I approached the library and they were super enthusiastic and made ‘Use of Force’ happen.”
Music is another major cultural element present. On top of the films and documentaries where the crux of the plot is music-centric, “Ruben Blades is Not My Name” on Saturday at the Robin Theatre and “Singing Our Way to Freedom” on Sunday at Celebration Cinema, LXFF is putting together several live concerts. The MSU College of Music String Quartet is performing Wednesday’s opening reception at the Broad, playing five pieces by Colombian composer Jesus A. Rey Mariño, in addition to works by Argentinian composers Astor Piazzolla and Carlos Gardel and Mexican composer Manuel Ponce. Another College of Music band, Salsa Verde, is performing Saturday at the Lansing Brewing Co.
But perhaps the most interesting musical guest is Ozzie Rivera, a longtime Detroit activist, educator, historian, musician and everything in between. His band, RicanStructure, is performing Friday at MSU’s Snyder-Phillips Hall after a run of short films from Puerto Rican filmmakers that explore the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Rivera is also participating in Saturday’s meet and greet at Casa de Rosado, along with directors Paul Espinosa, José Luis Benavides, John Valdez and Alexandra Hidalgo.
“The whole idea behind the festival is to create spaces for conversations about issues that matter locally,” Boehm said.
MSU Latinx Film Festival
Wednesday, Feb. 12 - Sunday, Feb. 16
For a full schedule of screenings and venues visit msulatinxfilmfestival.com