I cut my front teeth watching Mexican cinema at “el Teatro Azteca” on Mt. Vernon Avenue in San Bernardino. As the eldest daughter, it was my good fortune to accompany my mother to the cinema on occasional Sundays. I have fantastic memories of lively musicals, comedies, and intense dramas depicted on the silver screen. Pedro Infante, Mexico’s Clark Gable, was my movie idol. He was handsome and lovable.
He sang popular Mexican tunes like no other: rancheras, boleros, corridos. His characters, his songs spoke to me. Pedro could do no wrong – even when he notoriously portrayed a boracho, or drunkard on screen.
The power of cinema to portray and teach social commentary is boundless. I learned about the injustice of racism at el Azteca. Pedro, the protagonist in the Mexican film, “Angelitos Negros” (little Black angels) helped instill my values about racial diversity. The film title and melancholy theme song were inspired by “Píntame Angelitos Negros,” Andrés Eloy Blanco’s moving poem written in 1946 about the lack of Black angels depicted in church artworks.
The riveting story mattered. It was persuasive. Pedro’s film character taught me the meaning of true love and racial tolerance. I despised his blonde, racist filmic wife for rejecting her own baby because she was a “negrita.” The story moved me at many levels. How terrible! Poor baby. Bad mother. Good father – Pedro loved his daughter unconditionally. By the age of five, before I learned to read, I was forever hooked on Mexican cinema.
I came of age during Mexico’s Golden era of cinema. Stories were the main attraction – compelling storytelling that made us think and reflect on the dramatic plots. We laughed to comic relief in Mexican comedies. Sooner or later, Mexico’s best films made it to el Azteca where captivated audiences viewed the artistry of legendary cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. We were exposed to the gripping writing of Joselito Rodríguez, who scripted the “Angelitos Negros” movie loosely based on Fannie Hurst’s novel, “Imitation of Life.”
A renaissance of superb Latino film offerings is emerging in our region. Cinema Culturas proudly presents the first Latino film festival to the Inland Empire on October 17 – 19, 2014. The festival theme is “Todas las historias cuentan / All Stories Matter.”
The festival will open on Friday, October 17 at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside. It will feature a screening of the acclaimed film “La Jaula de Oro,” which swept the Mexican Ariel Awards, winning in several categories, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay. Although the English title is “The Golden Dream,” the title translates literally to “the cage of gold,” a reflection of the expectations and realities of those who brave the journey north to the US. The film director, Diego Quemada-Diez will be on hand for a discussion and answer questions from the audience.
Before Friday’s feature film, the Symphonie Jeunesse from San Bernardino will perform live accompaniment to a film montage highlighting the history and “Golden era” of cinema in Mexico. Compelling storytelling was the core aesthetic to their cinematic greatness.
My grandmother’s home in rural Mexico featured a huge console radio. No television. In the evenings, storytelling was our family’s favored entertainment. During one of our trips when I was ten years old, the first film story my mother asked me to recount was “Angelitos Negros.” It was a chilly evening, and family members were all gathered together around a wood-burning fire circle. I told the story and everyone engaged in dialogue to discuss the implications, the consequences, and the moral of the story. To be sure, the oral tradition of storytelling was an important part of our family culture. It inspired me to become an avid reader of books. Stories matter. They have the wonderful power to transport us to another time, another place.
Film aficionados have a unique opportunity to view superb, new, award-winning feature films, documentaries, and animated short films in Spanish (with English subtitles) and English. We can view them here in the Inland Empire. Our spirits will surely be uplifted by the stimulating stories depicted and the participatory dialogue with the film makers.
Screenings on Saturday, October 18 will be at the AMC Theaters at the Galleria in Riverside. They will showcase an outstanding selection of feature films, documentaries, and workshops with film makers. Included are films about the contributions of founding Hispanic families of Southern California.
The Sunday, October 19 program at Riverside City College features a FREE family day dedicated to acclaimed Spanish-language animated short films, community workshops, and outstanding selections from this year’s student film competition.
FACTBOX: CINEMA CULTURAS
What: Riverside’s Latino Film Festival
When: October 17 – 19
Where: Fox Performing Arts Center and AMC Theaters, Riverside
Admission: Tickets for opening night are $20, general admission; $25, preferred seating. All films on Saturday are $10, adult admission; $8, students and seniors. Free admission on Sunday.
Information and ticket pricing: www.cinemaculturas.com.
Frances J. Vasquez is native to the Inland region. She has an extensive career in education and public service. Her short stories have been published by MUSE Journal, Inlandia Anthology, and Orangelandia. She serves on the board of the Inlandia Institute.