Latino film festival at UCLA

Film Festival captures look at film-making
By Bethany Powers, Today UCLA, May 12, 2009

Festival looks at Latino roles over 80 years of film-making
Chon Noriega, an award-winning professor of cinema and media studies at UCLA, has a major role in a film festival that lets viewers look broadly at how Latino characters were portrayed over eight decades of film-making.

chon-noriegaNoriega, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center, put together the lineup of 32 movies that are being shown on Turner Classic Movies as part of the Race & Hollywood: Latino Images in Film Festival that is taking place throughout May.

To assemble this series of movies that feature Latino characters in significant or leading roles over the last 80 years in Hollywood, Noriega spent countless hours over the last eight months viewing film after film.

"It's interesting to go back and see how Latinos have been portrayed in film," said Noriega, who is the author of "Shot in America: Television, the State, and the Rise of Chicano Cinema" and editor of nine books dealing with Latino media, performance and visual art. "Although you may not agree with the portrayal, it's good to see how they were used."

Appearing with co-host Robert Osborne, Noriega introduces viewers to each film and provides background information on the lineup.

What makes this film festival even more remarkable is that many of the movies he chose are being seen for the first time since their original release. Noriega said that although he identified roughly 70 films that could have been included in the festival, some, it turned out, were harder for him to track down in order to obtain rights.

Among the classics are "Ramona" (1910) and "The Mark of Zorro" (1920). Also included in the lineup are such contemporary films as "The Milagro Beanfield War" (1988), "La Bamba" (1987), "The Mambo Kings" (1992), "Stand and Deliver" (1988), "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez" (1983) and "Lone Star" (1996).

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Teacher Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) nurtures self-esteem among his gang member students in "Stand and Deliver" (1988).

"The series looks broadly at the role of Latino characters in the history of film," he said. Hollywood directors generally chose to portray Mexican-American, Puerto Rican or Cuban-American characters in their movies so these three major ethnic groups are primarily seen in the festival.

But although the characters are Latino, nearly one-third of the movies in the festival featured white actors playing these roles. Noriega noticed that it wasn't until the 1980s when Latino producers began to become more prominent in film-making, and more Latino actors began appearing in significant roles.

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in "Mexican Spitfire" (1940), actress Lupe Velez used her talent for comedy to break through the stereotypical Latina role.

To add context to the films, Noriega did considerable homework — researching the actors, gathering reviews of the movies when they were first released and tracking down original sources to get a firsthand connection to the films.

The films are being shown 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout May. They are grouped together by theme or genre. For example, on some evenings, boxing movies or comedies will be screened. Each night's programming will center on a particular theme, such as images from the silent era, views of border towns, interracial relationships and Latino representations in past and current westerns.

One of Noriega’s favorites among the films he chose was once titled "And Now Miguel," made in 1953. He knew it was a quasi-documentary, but it wasn't until he did more research that he realized the film was based on a real person, who is still alive today.

For a schedule of the movies being shown throughout the month, go here. To see trailers and film clips, go here.

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