When I was growing up in Puerto Rico during the 70's and 80's there was a show on Television called, "La Doble Tanda con Manolo Urquiza," translated to The Double Feature with Manolo Urquiza. It was broadcast during the weekend and it was through the show I learned about Mexican cinema and saw everything from "Doña Barbara" with María Felix and Julián Soler to "El Barrendero" with Mario Moreno, Cantiflas. This program helped shape my notion of my place in the world because I learned about worlds beyond mine. In hindsight, these weekend interludes were also quality time spent with my grandmother who would fill-in the blanks about the great Mexican and Latin American stars of her time like Jorge Negrete, Pedro Almendáriz, and Libertad Lamaruqe to name a few.
I belong to the legion that believes that arts are the best portal to develop self-expression but also learn and assimilate the world around us.
For this reason is that I dedicate this post to Cinema Tropical. In my estimation, this organization is engaging in one of the most important cultural contributions to our nation on behalf of Latin American cinema.
Over ten years ago when Co-founders Carlos Gutierrez and Monika Wagenberg launched Cinema Tropical they thought they were starting a "movie club," that would last at most five years. But, Cinema Tropical delivered something else and today they are the leading non-profit organization in the United States devoted exclusively to theatrical and non-theatrical distribution, programming, and publicity of Latin American film.
Through them I learned about films like Y Tu Mamá También, Cidade de Deus, Cocalero, and discovered Lucrecia Martel.
In my first post, We Deliver Limited Perspective of Ourselves, I brought in the notion of Alternative Latino Content as term to make sense of the material that is out here that doesn't get to the chance to showcase itself in mainstream Latino media.
Without a doubt other organizations and Latino film festivals around the country are doing important and needed work on behalf of Latin American and Latino
Filmmakers; however, what sets Cinema Tropical apart is its "triple threat" work as distributor, programmer, and publicist.
This distinction is significant because as Carlos says,
"The advantage of the organization of Cinema Tropical is that in our role as publicist, distributor, and programmer we experience the expanse of the entire forest. If you work as a festival you have to focus on the productions of the year, just like a publicist who must focus on the films of the moment. The medium is so fragmented that the needs of each one become very specific and it's harder to access the broader picture. In that sense I'm in a very unique position. My job converges with many professions, interests and things where I inevitably have to face and reconcile a panoramic perspective, and that is very particular."
Last year Cinema Tropical celebrated its 10th Anniversary Season and launched The 10 Best Latin American Films of the Decade campaign. The "10 best" promo was the result of a survey responded by a selected group of critics, scholars and film professionals. They closed their anniversary with an awards ceremony where all ten films were presented. I don't include the names of the films so you can visit Cinema Tropical's Website.
Cinema Tropical has amassed an expansive catalog containing historical context while working from a three-tier perspective. The co-presenting opportunities that Cinema Tropical has cultivated and sealed are respectable and noteworthy. The films the organization has released have been praised by the bona-fide Anglo media film critics and the conversations you can have with Carlos are profound and deeply seeded in articulating the opportunities that we currently have amid the ruthless and inevitable changing media landscape.
The shape and tone of Cinema Tropical's acquisition and programming is the realization of Carlos Gutierrez's fierce commitment of giving voice to a mostly under covered Latin American art form.
I asked him why he did this?
"When I started it was a totally empirical project that I liked. But as time passed I realized this was one of the most important artistic moments that Latin America has had in its history. It's an impressive artistic time, one that parallels that great Latin American literature of the 60s and it is curious that after all the films and all the directors that have come out, it still has not been articulated as such. Now I feel it is a moral, social and political responsibility to work towards giving it the artistic and cultural validity it deserves."
In lieu of the real impact the Latino population presently and undoubtedly has in the United States, I believe Cinema Tropical's offer is a poetic class on the artistry and cultural relevance of our Continent.
Our Latino population is complex because is simultaneously acculturated and burgeoning, monolingual and bilingual, educated and uneducated and therein rests an opportunity. A segment of our Latino nation unfortunately is homebound for economic and or political reasons and a television set, if available, is a door to the outside.
Cinema Tropical's catalogue is another example of that Alternative Latino Content that I talk about that doesn't need to remain "alternative." It could "break out" and its offering could very well fit into a double feature format for a television show in one of our mainstream networks. The possibility of a family at home on a Saturday offered the chance to see some of these searignly poignant films could change a life or inform lives.
If anyone out there with influence is reading this do take this into consideration. Plenty of "alternative" material has taken different directions. If you don't know of them and you come to New York you might coincide with an event. If you are in New York and you don't know of them, check them out. If you do know of them, spread the word.