The OLA Latino Film Festival, now in its 14th year, has added for the first time ever a Riverhead venue and will feature two family-friendly movies, as well as a live music presentation, Sunday, Nov. 19 at the 136-year-old Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in downtown Riverhead.
“We had always wanted to get Riverhead and the North Fork more involved. When we started seeing the films we had and how good they were, we thought we should add another venue and Vail-Leavitt was perfect,” Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island executive director Minerva Perez said.
“It was a great honor when they asked us to host two of the movies,” Vail-Leavitt board of directors member and treasurer Angela De Vito said. “Part of our mission is to bring events to all members of the community and this is the first time we are reaching out to the Latino community here.”
In addition to Vail-Leavitt being the newest venue for the festival, the films they will show are somewhat different from the ones featured in the South Fork venues on Nov. 17 and Nov. 18. The movies that will be screened in Riverhead will cater not only to adults, but to younger audiences as well.
“We are very excited to have films that children and teenagers can go and see,” Perez said.
The first movie, “El Jeremías,” to be shown at 1 p.m., is a 2015 award-winning Mexican film about a brilliant, gifted 8-year-old boy who, in a series of sometimes comic events, and despite the lack of knowledge and financial means of his family, tries to succeed and learn about himself while discovering what is it he wants to be when he grows up. Tickets are $5 per person.
The second movie, “Los Nadie,” to be shown at 8 p.m., is a 2016 Colombian drama. An award-winning film, it focuses on a group of teenagers in the city of Medellín. The movie captures what it is to be in that in-between stage, not yet an adult, where feelings and emotions get tangled up. In this coming-of-age film these adolescents center themselves through music, art and street life and are the tools they use to grow up and understand the world around them. Tickets are $10 per person.
“Fellow teenagers could have filmed this film, it’s that authentic,” Perez said. “Right now there is not enough going on for teenagers, period. This film is for teenagers, and for adults too, but is about being real and hopefully about having a dialogue about what is to be a Latino teenager on the East End of Long Island,” she said.
The evening movie will be followed by a reception with food and non-alcoholic beverages as well as a live music concert. Carolina Fuentes, a.k.a Tila Mila, a celebrated local percussionist/dancer from Chile will perform, as well as Junicko, a band from Brooklyn.
“Because we are a more intimate venue, we can do these events at a lower cost. It lets us fulfill our mission to serve the community and utilize the facility as much as we can,” De Vito said.
She also said that Vail-Leavitt has distributed OLA Latino Film Festival flyers everywhere in town and they will also reach out to the middle school and high school.
“We have gone to laundromats, delis, restaurants, churches, as well as the Riverhead and Mattituck libraries to distribute flyers,” she said.
“Our long-term goal would be to create a space for the Latino and non-Latino communities in Riverhead. We could show Spanish-speaking movies with subtitles or mainstream U.S. films with subtitles. This is something that is missing right now and is something we can fulfill, more movies for everybody to enjoy,” she said.
De Vito said that they would love to see a community-based subcommittee for them to plan and see which movies people would like to see.
The festival was founded with the core goal of not only bridging cultures between Latinos and non-Latinos, but also for Latinos to understand each other better, OLA’s founder and president Isabel Sepulveda de Scanlon said.
“Someone from Ecuador for example, has different traditions than someone from Argentina or Mexico,” Sepulveda de Scanlon explained. “It’s about breaking stereotypes and educating others, Latinos and non-Latinos, about the richness and diversity of the different Latino culture and people,” she said.
With that goal in mind, OLA— a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2002 and promotes social, economic, cultural and educational development for the Latino community in the East End—started the festival shortly after its inception and the idea was to bring “high-quality, internationally recognized Latino films to the East End that showed regular human stories,” Sepulveda de Scanlon said.
“We didn’t want to keep fomenting stereotypes, but show that Latino arts, including film, is incredibly good and of the highest caliber,” she said.
“When we identify the films we like, we zero in on the human element. We choose films that could have happened anywhere. We purposely set aside films that are too political. We want to strip away the nationalities and leave the human stories,” Perez said.
In 2006 they added a second venue with East Hampton’s Guild Hall and this year they have expanded to Riverhead’s Vail-Leavitt Music Hall.
“These venues we have are incredible. We make sure filmmakers and distributors understand that these are important, historical venues and the audience we attract comes from a wide and diverse socio-economic range and background,” Perez said.
Vail-Leavitt is not the only new feature this year, OLA Latino Film Festival will also present two Long Island premieres in addition to the other internationally acclaimed independent films, like for example “Neruda”—a 2016 Chilean film that was an Oscar contender for best foreign film. One is a short film “Desde el Principio,” which will be screened at the Southampton Parrish Hall and the other is “Translúcido,” a film about a young man with terminal cancer, will be presented on Saturday at East Hampton’s Guild Hall.
Despite the big names and award-winning films, Perez said that OLA Latino Film Festival is organized with a small fraction of the funds that other film festivals enjoy.
“The money that we raise for advocacy and other life-saving programs do not go towards the festival,” she said.
Each year they look for sponsors to be able to bring the festival to life, she said. Bridgehampton National Bank has long been a partner, Perez said. This year however, they were able to get a grant from the Huntington Arts Council. Other sponsors such as Sweet Nail Salon and other small-business owners have also contributed.
“Next year we want to expand into the North Fork,” Perez said. “We truly envision this festival in all of the East End for all communities to enjoy,” she said.
All films are in Spanish with English subtitles.
You can buy tickets for Vail-Leavitt and Guild Hall here and tickets for the Parrish Hall films here.