You are here

Around the world in 5 weeks: The Second-Annual PRAGDA Film Festival 2013

On October 14, the PRAGDA Film Festival: Celebrating the New Wave of Iberoamerican Cinema screened the first of five films slated for the fall 2013 semester. The festival—sponsored by the Government of Spain, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and the Latin American Studies Center—runs mid-October through mid-November in the basement of St. Mary’s Hall and features five recent films from various locations in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world. The first was Con Mi Corazón en Yambo (“With My Heart in Yambo”), a documentary by María Fernanda Restrepo, whose two older brothers disappeared in 1988 at the hands of the Ecuadorian Police and were never seen again. Before the film began, the mixed audience of undergraduates, graduate students and professors heard remarks from the Director of SLLC, Dr. Carol Mossman; the Interim Director of LASC, Dr. Alejandro Cañeque; the Chair of Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Dr. Juan Carlos Quintero-Herencia; and the Grant Coordinator from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Dr. José María Naharro Calderón. Then, Dr. Regina Harrison, Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, whose scholarly work focuses on Ecuador, gave a brief presentation about the historical issues informing the documentary.

“It is a joy and sadness to speak about Ecuador,” Dr. Harrison said, referring to her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer and visiting professor at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in the capital city of Quito. Con Mi Corazón en Yambo “has a lot of resonance for Latin America,” said Harrison, explaining that the Restrepo family’s unflagging search for answers is “part of this long tradition of protest and, hopefully, recovery of memories” in the South American continent. “I won’t say, ‘enjoy’!” Harrison joked, but she urged participants to engage the storyline despite the somber subject matter.

Then the lights went dark, and Con Mi Corazón en Yambo lit up the screen with various shots of the Restrepo family home, including a close-up of the only photo that remains of the entire family together: director María Fernanda, her parents and her two older brothers. María Fernanda was ten years old on January 8, 1988, when Santiago, 18, and Andrés, 14, dropped off a friend at the airport and never returned. To this day, their whereabouts are unknown. Over the years, María Fernanda and her parents procured information from the Ecuadoran government that the brothers may have been detained, tortured and killed by the police, and that their bodies may have been dumped in Yambo, a lake about two hours south of Quito. But the family still has no answers for why the boys were held in the first place, and two searches of Lake Yambo, the most recent in 2009, have proved inconclusive. However, the Restrepos have pledged to keep searching for the bodies of Santiago and Andrés until they are found.

Among the many graduate students in the audience was María Cristina Monsalve, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in Spanish Language and Literature and the Spanish cluster language mentor in the Language House. Originally from Quito, Ecuador, Monsalve said Con Mi Corazón en Yambo brings memories of her childhood. “I remember the protests clearly,” she said: her mother used to work near the presidential palace, where crowds would congregate each Wednesday to demand answers from the government on the boys’ disappearance. She remembers how the faces of Santiago and Andrés were transformed into “iconic” symbols representing the country’s anguish over the Restrepo brothers’ status as desaparecidos—literally, “disappeared,” meaning one had been abducted and would never be set free. “It is a different category than alive or dead,” Monsalve explained, adding how, when she was young, to be “disappeared” struck her as a fate “worse than death.”

Many sequences in the film brought back strong memories for Monsalve, even details as seemingly insignificant as the clothes and hairstyles of Restrepo’s parents, as they reminded Monsalve of her own family during the same time period. “I recognize those details as being a little more emotive,” she said. She found Con Mi Corazón en Yambo to be a very effective film: “A documentary always implies a search, and the search becomes much more moving when it is not only based in the past, but on an introspection as well.”

Student perspective:

"What I loved most about this film was how enlightening it was about the various unsolved cases of desaperecidos that still exist within the region of Latin America....This film carries on the undying dedication and hope that is seen in many cases of the families of the desaperecidos in countries like Argentina and Chile where there have movements and demonstrations like las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. The film stood out to me because this specific subject of forced disappearance and the murders of civilians is such a major part of Latin American history; of various Latin American countries, even though they do not all receive the same amount or any attention in United States media as others. This film is powerful and haunting, but I am glad that I was able to see it out of all the PRAGDA films." —Kali Nicole Brown, Member of the Spanish Cluster in the St. Mary’s Language House

The PRAGDA Film Festival continued with Aquí y Allá (literally, “Here and There”), a 2012 Mexican film about an immigrant who returns to his native Guerrero, Mexico after working in New York City to raise money for his family. The film was presented by Dr. Ryan Long, whose scholarly work focuses on Mexico. “It was a pleasure to introduce the film Aquí y Allá,” he said, adding his appreciation for the less-known videos and group setting that the festival provided. “It is important for students to see and discuss a film whose formal qualities are very different from what they may be accustomed to seeing in mainstream venues,” Dr. Long said. “It is also a valuable experience to see how a charged current topic, immigration, is presented from an immigrant's perspective in a film that a Spanish director shot entirely in Mexico. Immigration, the film shows us, is hardly just a national topic of import for the US alone.”

Student perspective:

“Throughout the movie, although immigration and the impact of the United States was a big topic, there was never a depiction of what it looked like....For the families, the United States was just a big mystery; they had no idea what it looked like, other than what someone told them, which is interesting to watch since I was born and raised in the United States. This really gave me a realistic perspective of what it is like for immigrant families without making it blatantly obvious and over-done; it was simple, silent at most times, and impacted my view of families who are still back home while their loved ones have gone away in order to make money or obtain greater opportunities. I feel that it gives me more knowledge about the community we live in at the University of Maryland, and gives me new perspective for my future classes." —Moriah Rochlinski, member of the Spanish Cluster in the St. Mary’s Language House

November 4th featured a non-Spanish-language film; students watched A Busca (A Cadeira do Pai) (“The Search” / “Father’s Chair,”), a 2012 film from Brazil. Dr. Regina Igel, the Undergraduate adviser for the Portuguese minor at Maryland, gave opening remarks. Celebrated Brazilian actor Wagner Moura made his directorial debut with A Busca, which tells the story of a father whose teenaged son has run away from home. As the father searches for his boy, he peels back layers of Brazilian society, unintentionally immersing himself in a world “wrought with tension,” according to Dr. Igel. She advised students to pay attention to Moura’s images of water, such as the river, sea, and swimming pool in the father’s house. Water, Igel noted, is often used  as a symbol of life. When the boy is returned home, the film ends with a shot of the completed swimming pool. Life has been restored, and the family is at peace.

On November 11th, Dr. Laura Demaría presented Infancia Clandestina (“Clandestine Childhood”), an Argentine film released in 2011 about the military coup from 1976-1983. Infancia Clandestina follows the life of Juan, a boy whose parents are involved in a covert military operation to overthrow their country’s dictatorship. Dr. Demaría explained that Juan’s parents were part of the Montoneros movement, an underground left-wing political and military organization. Infancia Clandestina remains controversial in its country of origin to this day for its depictions of the Montoneros’ activities.

Student perspective:

"Watching the movie helped with my academics because it taught me about the revolution in Argentina during that time.  It also taught me more specifically about how common it was for families to be torn apart.  The thing I liked the most about the movie was that the director made it from the perspective of the little boy, Juan, which made the movie more real." —Maria Szczesny, SPAN207

“It was very interesting to be able to view the situation through the eyes of an innocent 12-year-old boy....Getting in fights with your parents, trying to fit in with friends, having your first crush, are all things that everyone has gone through before. It makes it so much easier to sympathize with Juan’s situation and truly feel the pain and confusion that he is feeling, because the audience feels connected with his character. The uncertainty of the ending helped add to the overall effect of showing the audience what this horrible conflict really did to people’s lives. Altogether, it was a very moving and well thought-out movie." —Sarah LeBarron, SPAN207

The PRAGDA Film Festival closed with Pa Negre (“Black Bread”), a film from Catalonia, the Catalan-speaking region of Spain. Dr. José María Naharro Calderón, associate professor of Spanish literature, culture and film, gave a brief introduction. Pa Negre is “geared toward the dark side of humanity,” as it takes place in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Pa Negre tells the story of Andreu, an eleven-year-old boy whose father has been implicated in a recent murder. Andreu tries to fight against the “dark forces going against him” in the adult world, Naharro explained. Images of the rural Catalonian countryside and the images of the forest allude to the lawnessess that engulfed Spain after its civil war. In the aftermath of chaos, Andreu’s town and his country is divided between winners and losers, and the boy has to choose while attempting to preserve his sense of self.

            Student perspective:

“Pa Negre was made with only $6,000,000, which is less than a quarter of what most American films are made with. Pa Negre also received nine Goya Awards....I am glad the university does this Film Festival, as I think it is important to study cinema if you’re studying language, but also because these are great movies most people wouldn’t usually have the chance to see.” —Preston L. Owen, SPAN207

 By all accounts, the second-annual PRAGDA Film Festival was a resounding success. Students and faculty alike were grateful for the opportunity to experience the enthralling and diverse cultures of the Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan-speaking worlds without ever having to leave Maryland’s campus.

"What I enjoy about the Pragda Film Festival is that we have the opportunity to view films that often have not yet been released for mass distribution. We get to see movies that are interesting, challenging, riveting, and thought-provoking. We are exposed to the work of talented directors, writers, and actors who create imaginary worlds that allow us to live vicariously through characters in various cultures and societies in the Spanish-speaking world. Students who participate in Pragda view films that may never make it to the silver screen, or if they do, will play in very limited runs in very few cinemas. The students can practice their Spanish and learn more about Hispanic cultures and countries. They can transport themselves to faraway places without ever having to leave campus. The films open the students' minds, and for me that is reason enough to keep the festival going." —Professor Mehl Penrose, Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

"One of the main objectives in college education is to enhance students’ understanding about the world through cultural activities. This gives them a better perception about our diverse world and adds perspective to their own college experiences....I have supported Pragda for the last two years, and I will continue to do so because it promotes both the academic and cultural objectives we want to achieve at UMD. The Film Festival is a great example that there is still a lot to explore and learn outside the classroom within campus life." —Ginette Alomar Eldredge, Graduate student, Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

“The PRAGDA Film Festival has been important not only as my experience as a student but to my role as a Spanish instructor.  Each film presented and discussed is an amazing opportunity to exchange opinions among faculty members, graduate, and undergraduate students....I have taught the lower level Spanish courses, and these events allow me to meet and hear my student's opinions and views....I consider the PRAGDA Film Festival a great asset to our department because it motivates critical thinking and it exposes students to other experiences and world views." —Melissa González-Contreras, Graduate student, Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

"The Pragda Film Festival is a great opportunity for Spanish students to experience films from various parts of the Spanish speaking world. Showing films from different origins helps to improve student understanding of not only the film industry in each country, but of the history and culture of each nation as well." —Lauren Wise, SPAN207.

“What I really like a lot about independent films is the fact that they are operating on a lower budget than other films; it makes the movie feel more realistic and more believable because it doesn’t have all of these flashy special effects. I felt that I could relate more to the characters that way.” —Evelyn Sobel, Member of the Spanish Cluster in the St. Mary’s Language House