The Hispanx/Latinx Film Festival debuted on March 22 outside the Jonsson Performance Hall, where professors from the school of Arts, Technology and Humanities addressed social and geopolitical issues impacting the Latinx community.
While students might have arrived at the event for live music by the Bass Junkies, tacos from the Taco Taxi and mezcal concoctions by Zunte Spirits, the event also brought awareness to the crises of immigration, sexuality and abortion for an underrepresented community. This event came after the proposal for Senate Bill 602, which gives border control increased power to arrest any suspected criminals. Just a week before, a mass illegal entry in the El Paso Border was met with US officials in riot gear.
“It’s important to understand the reasons behind [why] people do the things so you can form a more informed opinion,” Angela Mooney, first-year assistant professor of Spanish, said. “[The film festival] just creates the perspective; it gives a chance so students can see maybe a side that is not always shown on media or maybe a perspective they don’t get to meet.”
The event was brought to life through a love for film by Mooney as well as Toni Muñoz-Hunt — interim director of the Center for US-Latin America Initiatives, or CUSLAI — and Pragda Latin Cinema. Attendees watched five movies chosen by student votes over the course of three days.
“I believe that knowledge and cultural exchange are essential in building strong and lasting relationships,” Mooney said. “We have to foster knowledge and culture exchange. A film festival is an example.”
After the festivities ended, students were welcomed into Jonsson Hall to watch an award-winning 2021 film from the Dominican Republic, “Elena,” and the award-winning 2019 Brazilian film “Alice Junior.”
The short film “Elena” exposes the racist tensions against Haitians in the Dominican Republic as a young activist and her family face countless hardships after being stripped of their citizenship. It is a hostile, bureaucratic documentary that uses every minute to depict the uncertainty felt by nearly 200,000 souls fighting against educational and executive barriers.
Meanwhile, “Alice Junior” brought the perspective of a young transgender Latinx millennial faced with their sexuality in the face of conservative Catholic communities in Brazil. A coming-of-age comedy, it manages to address concerns still relevant today under the veil of awkward teenage romance and surprising laughs.
While the in-person festivities began March 22, virtual screening for three other award-winning international films started two days before thanks to the Spanish Film Club. Each of the films are exceptional stories that recognize regional conflicts as universal challenges still relevant today.
“Nudo Mixteco,” a 2021 Mexican film, unveils the plight of indigenous women and their sexuality in a drama accompanied by striking monologues based on true stories. It addresses the communities of Oaxaca with a feminist view on topics including abuse, infidelity and homophobia. These stories use rich and divisive storytelling to bring light to the nature of poverty and the frustrations of those in Latinx communities.
“Vicenta,” a 2020 Argentinian film, documents the odyssey of a malnourished 19-year-old Latinx woman seeking to abort a pregnancy from nonconsensual incest. Despite the legal status of abortion for rape victims in Argentina, she is faced with constant obstacles produced by fearful doctors and a deceptive legal system. What might surprise viewers is the medium of this film, as the entire story is recounted by claymation as a poetic voice speaks over silent dolls. It is a powerful plea in the face of recent legal attacks on bodily autonomy.
“Drowning Letters,” a 2020 documentary from Spain, told the heartbreaking true story of the immigration crisis across the Mediterranean sea using the letters of those who crossed or died trying. It follows both the exasperating missions to save those shipwrecked across closed borders and the violence that erupts between a thin line separating the law and the desperate. Today, this immigration crisis is still ongoing, and the United Nations reports that last year, migrants were at even greater risk of dying than before.
UTD wasn’t the only community watching these movies for the festival. According to Mooney, this event was shared as far away as Missouri.
“A professor of Spanish at Saint Louis University sent [the films] to her students, and she told me the students watched it. So, we went abroad and serve a community, not only our community, but other people from other universities and other colleagues [that] saw the films,” Mooney said.
Given the success of the festival for its first year and the packed room for the movies, Mooney expects and hopes that even more will attend when the Latinx/Hispanx Film Festival becomes an annual occurrence.
“I think [these films] helps us to develop empathy and understanding or different cultures races and ethnicities,” Mooney said. “But I was also surprised how bold these students were when they were selecting the film, and I was very happy about it. I think the universities are in the right place to have difficult conversations and talk about social issues in a safe environment.”