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The first Charlotte Latino Film Festival opens at the IPH on Thursday, April 4. Presented by Cine Casual, the festival will screen 11 films over 10 days. Its founder, Giovanna Torres, tells us about opening night, Latin American cinema, and the films you won’t want to miss. 

This is your first festival. How did it all begin?

My husband [Alex Piñeres] and I started the Cine Casual blog in 2016. We were writing about films and interviewing filmmakers. In 2019, we applied for a Knight Foundation grant, and that was the seed funding to start a film series. It was the first grant we had ever written, and we got it, so that was a nice pat on the back. We started the film series in January 2020, right before Covid. 

I remember our very first screening, at Camp North End. We had never organized a film screening before. It was a Colombian film, and it sold out. We had to turn away people at the door. The plan was to screen six films, and we got through the first four. The last two, we ended up screening virtually. When everything started opening back up, we started collaborating with a few folks, including the Charlotte Film Society. We’ve collaborated with Charlotte Pride and other festivals in town. We celebrated our third film series last year. 

What kind of response have you received from the community?

We’ve had folks who have been coming since day one. When they come out of a screening, we have an accompanying cultural experience, and they let us know how needed this is in Charlotte, how happy they are that it’s taking place, and how they’re looking forward to more. That’s in part why we decided to transition to the film festival format, to provide more films, more experiences, bring more guests.

How would you describe Latin American film today?

What I like about it mostly is that it’s so bold. It’s different from what we’re used to watching here, and Latin American film is having one of its best moments ever, in terms of exposure internationally. It’s a great time to get into Latin American cinema.

Tell us about the Argentinian film Empieza el Baile, which will open the festival.

It’s a play on words: In English it’s Let the Dance Begin, and this our inaugural Charlotte Latino Film Festival. But it also sets the tone for what’s to come. It has a little bit of everything: drama, comedy. It has amazing top-of-the-line actors, such as Mercedes Morán and Darío Grandinetti.

What else will we see at the opening?

We always like to highlight local artists, community leaders, small business owners. So for this Argentinian film, Tango CLT will do a short tango demonstration beforehand. The film is about a fictional couple who were among the best tango dancers of their time, so it fits right in. And we’ll have Argentinian empanadas and wine.

Can you highlight other festival films that you’re excited to see on the big screen?

Érase una Vez en el Caribe is exciting: It’s been described as a Caribbean, Western, Samurai film. This is its East Coast premiere. And we are bringing in one of its stars, Modesto Lacén, a well-known Puerto Rican actor and director, to present the film.

The second one I would highlight is Bulls and Saints. It was directed by Rodrigo Dorfman, a Latin American filmmaker based in Durham. It’s part of our Hecho Aquí initiative, which means ‘made here.’ The goal is to highlight productions made here in North Carolina by Latin American talent. That’s a really exciting one for us. 

What are your hopes for the festival?

The main thing is for it to be sustainable so that it can take place every year. And for Charlotte to become a hub for Latin American cinema in the Southeast. We do have Miami, but right here in the, quote, New South, there’s a gap. And I feel like the Charlotte Latino Film Festival can fill that void.

See the schedule and get your tickets here!

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