For the first time ever, Brandeis University was a co-host for the Boston Latino International Film Festival along with Harvard University, Northeastern University and Emerson College. The festival was held from Sept. 27 to Sept. 30, screening twenty eight films primarily at Emerson, with Harvard, Northeastern and Brandeis each hosting for two days within the festival — Brandeis hosted films during the first two days. Occasionally, directors or producers of a film would hold a Q&A session, educating the audience about their filming process and intended messages.

Since BLIFF began in 2001, its primary mission has been to “use the power of film to break stereotypes, bring cultures and communities together and reveal the complex issues that affect the Latino community in the United States and other Spanish-speaking countries,” according to their website. The seven feature-length films and four short films screened at Brandeis reflected this mission. They depicted Latino culture throughout Latin America and the U.S. and explored issues of gender and sexuality, the importance of religion and honor, the uncertainty of life as an immigrant in the US and gang violence in a rough Venezuelan neighborhood. 

The films varied widely in their moods, genres and directing styles. “Cocote,” directed by Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias, is one of the darkest films of the collection. As stated in its synopsis, the film portrays “a rapturous crime fable set in the Dominican Republic,” in which a kindhearted gardener is summoned upon by his family to avenge the murder of his father. Arias has an unusual directing style, alternating the types of film used, the color schemes utilized and the angle at which the scenes are shot. There are many static shots with dialogue and action going on behind the camera, as well as uncomfortable close-ups of family members when they are going through lengthy religious rituals in honor of the murdered father. This style contributes to the sense of instability and unease inherent in the story. Unfortunately, the movie is bloated with rituals, which take up a good chunk of the film at the expense of the plot.

“La Familia,” directed by Gustavo Rondón Córdova, contains similar themes of violence and revenge but is essentially a coming-of-age story. Pedro, a 12-year-old boy, and his friend are mugged by another boy of around the same age. Pedro seriously injures the boy, but luckily his father is close by and decides they must flee from the neighborhood, lest the boy’s family murders Pedro in revenge. Pedro is initially mutinous, wanting to stay and fight, but throughout the course of the movie, his outlook on the situation matures, and he realizes the danger he was in. This film was more engrossing than “Cocote;” the gloomy plot is mitigated by the strengthening bond between Pedro and his father.

Despite the complex issues underlying Ricky Rosario’s “Abuela’s Luck,” this nine minute film is, in contrast to the previous two, touching and lighthearted. A young man, implied to be a first or second generation immigrant, gives the owner of a bodega his abuela’s scratch-offs. The bodega owner believes the man does not respect his abuela, and they start a lighthearted argument. After the screening, the director of the film came up to the stage for a Q&A session. He explained that the story reflected his own experiences with his abuela and her own obsession with scratch-offs. The message he wishes people to take from the short is the near universal story of immigrants. “As children of immigrants,” he explains, “our grandparents’ first dream is to get to America. ... I called [the film] ‘Abuela’s Luck’ because I feel like we are their luck. We are the fruit of their labor ... so now it’s up to us to make the sacrifice to raise the bar on what it is to come from our family.”

The BLIFF at Brandeis achieved a moderate level of success, managing to attract an audience of around twenty for each film. Hopefully, Brandeis will continue to co-host the film festival in the years to come.