Luso-Hispanic Film Festival exposes students to language, culture

by Kylee Sibilia | 4/28/17 12:00am

Learning a language at Dartmouth has always been experiential, but this month, the third annual Luso-Hispanic Film Festival is expanding the academic boundaries of the concept of experiential learning at the College to encompass the renowned cinema of Latin America. Featuring screenings of five acclaimed Latin American films, this festival appeals not only to students of the Spanish and Portuguese department but also to various members of the Dartmouth community who are interested in experiencing the incredible artwork of other cultures.

The first film in the series, “Pelo Malo,” tells the story of a young boy whose obsession with straightening his hair exposes him to a host of homophobic and racist criticisms. The film was shown on Tuesday, April 11 and was required viewing for students in many Spanish classes. One of the main purposes of the festival, which is organized and sponsored by the Spanish and Portuguese department, is to foster a cultural learning experience for students enrolled in the respective classes.

Professor Roberto Rey Agudo noted the importance of giving students the opportunity to actually see these languages being spoken outside of the classroom.

“We wanted films that would serve as a springboard for conversations in class, for students to learn something about culture in Spanish-speaking countries,” Agudo said.

So far, this cultural exposure has helped contextualize the language and culture students are currently learning.

“We get to see it actually in action, like while we’re learning the language, we’re also seeing people actually speak it, which is kind of a fundamental part of it,” Kenny Coleman ’20 said. “Also, recently in language classes there’s been more focus on culture, so I think in seeing different types of cinema from Latin America, it kind of bridges the gap between what we learn in the classroom and how we can actually apply it.”

Four other films will be screened in the coming weeks as part of the festival, all of which chronicle different stories of racial identity and recent history in Latin America. All of the films in the festival have received numerous awards and were chosen for their impeccable artistic quality. They also will be shown with English subtitles, making them an attractive viewing option for any member of the Dartmouth community. “Pelo Malo” has already had great success in attracting viewers outside of the sponsoring department, professor Mauricio Sellmann noted.

“There were people who came for the first film, ‘Pelo Malo,’ and they knew very little about it,” Sellmann said. “And after the film, one of them approached me and said ‘Wow, thank you for sending the invitation to the community because this was a very interesting experience that opened our eyes,’ so that was very gratifying.”

Agudo, too, emphasized the films’ appeal not just as foreign language films but also as incredible works of art in their own right.

“We chose films that we think are good films, not just topical, but have quality in themselves and that have value as pieces of film and as works of art,” Agudo said.

In addition to bringing some excellent films from Latin America to Dartmouth, the Luso-Hispanic Film Festival also stays true to its name by bridging the gap between Luso-America, where Portuguese is spoken, and the other parts of Latin America where French and Spanish are spoken. Professor Rodolfo Franconi noted that the department is trying to foster a bridge between the two languages, and the festival is one way of accomplishing that goal.

“That is the purpose of the festival, to have this interaction among the students of Spanish and Portuguese, Franconi said. “Because Latin America is not just Spanish America. Latin America encompasses Portuguese, French and Spanish.”

Another one of the main purposes of the festival is to expose Spanish students and other community members to the culture of Brazil in particular, outside of the stereotypes they may have seen in American books and movies. Three of the films in the festival are in Spanish, but “O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de férias” and “Que Horas Ela Volta?” are in Portuguese, and both expose viewers to a range of recent cultural issues in Brazil, from the military dictatorship to the tradition of middle class families owning maids.

“It’s a way for people to get to know the country better, like the urban part of the country, not ‘The Simpsons’ stereotype, not just ‘Fast Five,’ things like that,” Sellman said. “It’s to show a different and more common Brazil, so something that is more widespread.”

Professors in the Spanish and Portuguese department hope that this exposure to the culture of Brazil will attract more students to enroll in Portuguese classes at Dartmouth, including the intensive course “Portuguese 1-2” that was recently announced to be offered this summer.

The second screening of the festival, “Julieta,” is an award-winning 2016 Spanish film that tells the story of a young woman trying to understand who she is amidst a series of heartbreaking tragedies. “Julieta” will be screened this Saturday, April 29 at 4 p.m. at Loew Auditorium.