09/14/2010 10:49 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Celebration of Latin American Cinema

As their economies have stabilized and dictatorships have been replaced by various elected governments -- some leftish, others not -- the New World Latino countries have established a substantial community of filmmakers over the last 10 years. This has been reflected in the burgeoning of film events and organizations that promote this cinema here in New York and US at large.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Latinbeat Film Festival has offered -- since it started in the mid-90s -- a benchmark by which to examine and appraise films coming from South of the Border. Of course, the films shown in this series are as varied as Latin America itself. While these countries, from Argentina to Mexico, are vastly different from each other, their films share a sense of the moment, both on a local level and as part of a larger global zeitgeist. What is significant in seeing these films is that in being deeply local they expose universal trusts as a consequence.

The 2010 Latinbeat Film Festival opened on September 8th at the Film Society's Walter Reade Theater with the US Premiere of Marcelo Piñeyro's Thursday Widows / Las viudas de los jueves. Based on Argentine author Claudia Piñeiro's best selling thriller, it is set within the context of Argentina's political and economic crisis of 2001. Windows unravels a web of violence, corruption and alienation intertwined within four families living in a gated community outside of Buenos Aires.

This year's program continues through September 18th, featuring a range of debuts from up and coming filmmakers (Renate Costa's Cuchillo de palo/108, Oscar Ruiz Navia's Crab Trap, and Mariano Llinas' Extraordinary Stories, as well as familiar names who have premiered here in the past including Enrique Piñeyro with the U.S premiere of El Rati Horror Show, and Matias Meyer with The Cramp. Five films are making their US premieres here and nine others are having their New York premieres.

This year's Latinbeat Fest hosts one of its largest contingents of Latin American directors to visit New York since the series began. Filmmaker attendees include German Berger (My Life With Carlos), Efterpi Charalambidis (Libertador Morales), Sabrina Farji (Eva y Lola), Carlos Hagerman (Back to Life), Ruben Imaz (Cephalopodus), Cristian Jimenez (Optical Illusions), Vanessa Ragone (Thursday Widows), Llinas, Meyer, and both Piñeyros.

Two special events reflecting Latin American cinema are part of Latinbeat as well. "Women Leading the Latinbeat" is a popular brunch event honoring Latin American women filmmakers participating in this year's program including Eva and Lola director Farji, Thursday Widows producer Ragone, who also did a panel in the Film Society's Furman Gallery on September 12th.

Earlier, on September 9th, the Latin-O-America panel took place, co-presented and moderated by Cinema Tropical's co-founding director Carlos A. Gutiérrez which featured a quartet of New York-based Latin American filmmakers including Nicolás Entel (Sins of My Father), Sandra Kogut (Mutum), David Barba (Pop Star on Ice), and Margarita Jimeno (Gogol Bordello Non-Stop). After a discussion on developing a Latin American cinematic tradition, a small cocktail reception followed in the Furman Gallery.

Besides the Film Society's 13 year-long run promoting these films, other curators like Gutiérrez have jumped into the fray. Cinema Tropical, his brainchild with Monika Wagenberg, was launched in 2001 with a screening of Martín Rejtman's Silvia Prieto. Shortly after, CT held a preview of the Mexican film Amores Perros with director Alejandro González Iñárritu and actor Gael García Bernal on hand.

Started as a cineclub organizing film screenings with weekly series at the Pioneer Theater, CT showed retrospectives on directors such as Carlos Diegues and Leonardo Favio, and -- in conjunction with the Guggenheim Museum -- organized the "Acción! Mexican Cinema Now" series which included the NY Premiere of Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También.

Since its creation over eight years ago, CT has produced other projects including Cine Móvil, a traveling open-air festival; David Bowie Presents 10 Latin American & Spanish Films from the Last 100 Years film series, in association with the H&M High Line Festival; and Cinema Chile at the Quad, in partnership with ProChile.

In 2002, it expanded to create a non-theatrical circuit that included screenings in 13 of the most important cinematheques around North America such as Portland's NW Film Center and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts among others. And, in 2003, CT launched Israel Adrián Caetano's film Bolivia as its first theatrical release at Film Forum -- at this point it has done 16 releases, more than any other distributor in this country.

Now, it offers platforms for the distribution of foreign cinema here, introducing American audiences to the rich, diverse tradition of Latin American cinema, as well as "advocating for a more inclusive take on world cinema."

Recently, the first Peruvian Film Showcase was launched at the Cervantes Institute (E. 49th near 3rd Ave.) with screenings running September 1st, 8th, 15th and 29th, 2010. The event celebrates 50 years of Peruvian cinema with 11 films, ranging from docs, shorts and features, that showcase the creative, ethnographic and geographic diversity of its culture.

It also honors the late director Armando Robles Godoy -- who at 87, died in a car accident recently -- for his contribution to the development and growth of Peruvian cinema. A New Yorker born in 1923, Godoy later became a naturalized Peruvian and prominent figure on its cultural scene. He was the first local filmmaker to gain international exposure and his films En la selva no hay estrellas (1967), The Green Wall (1969) and Mirage (1972) were the first three Peruvian films to be submitted for a Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Organized by filmmaker Lorry Salcedo Mitrani (who also has a doc in the series) with the Consulate General of Peru in New York, this series further establishes the growing range of cinema from this hemisphere's Southern continent.