The Philadelphia Latino Film Festival: independent latino vision

Independent cinema thrives in Philadelphia. Many films come through the city by way of the Philadelphia Film Society and the cinemas in Old City. Philadelphia Film Society has its annual festival in October and international, national and local films are shown, some of which continue to receive prizes and acclaim in larger festivals. PFS recently bought the Roxy and the Prince Theatres, which gives them a permanent space to screen. The three Ritz cinemas in Old City regularly present independent films and have 11 screens, but these venues tend to show films with larger budgets and from more experienced filmmakers.

The Latino Film Festival offers another option. This year, it presents its fourth film festival at the Caplan Recital Hall at the University of the Arts on Broad Street. The festival includes discussions, films, receptions and live performances. Highlights of the festival include the film The Liberator about Gran Colombia’s Simón Bolivar, Canción de barrio, which is a documentary from contemporary Cuba, and the discussion  Filmmaking for Social Change. 
Although Simón Bolivar originally was from Caracas (in the provincia of Venezuela while under Spanish rule), he led a revolution that resulted in the creation of a new republic, Gran Colombia, which lasted from 1819-30. It included the modern day countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Panamá.

Bestia de Cardo  was the first film show in the festival at 1:00 pm on June 20, 2015. I attended this screening and was excited to see a film from the Dominican Republic, since I had never seen one. Virginia Sanchez Navarro is the writer and director, and also stars as “Moira,” the protagonist. The story focuses on a young Dominican woman who leaves the island to study in New York and her very specific issues with her family and the local high society. It is obvious from the film that the writer/director has a theatre background. While watching, I felt from the beginning, the strong theatrical influence, with interior monologues, soliloquies, the emphasis on the darkness and very quick scene changes. The plot was quite strong but it depends a lot on symbolism, which is sometimes harder to depict on the screen than on stage. The overuse of dark scenes (nearly the entire film) was exhausting to the viewer, and the uni-lateral perspective from the protagonist forced the viewer into her gaze, even though the protagonist was not a very sympathetic character. I think that these strategies would have been amazing in a stage play but made for an uncomfortable movie going experience. (Perhaps this was the filmmaker’s intention and I am curious to see what the reaction will be from a wider audience).

The meaning of it all becomes clear at the end of the film, but it is a long road to get there, in which the audience may be perplexed and frustrated at times, trying to make sense of it. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant and poignant story and you do feel something for Hermes and Moira. And it is, after all, a first film. It takes time to develop a style and also a budget! With a larger artistic team (and a separation between actor and director–directing and acting in the same movie is something that is quite difficult to accomplish even for the most experienced of filmmakers), cinematography can be further developed to bring out the strengths of the medium to support the story.

I was looking forward to hearing from the director herself about some of these choices, as she was scheduled to give a question and answer after the screening. But unfortunately, she was unable to leave the Dominican Republic and had to cancel. Although unintentional and a disappointment, this was ironic since it parallels  Bestia de Cardo. We’d just watched a fictional feature film in which the main character constantly struggles to leave behind (either physically or mentally) the hypocritical high society of her town in the Dominican Republic. Still enveloped in the aura and ambiance of Bestia de Cardo, it almost seemed fitting and definitely pardonable that the director, who also starred as “Moira”, would somehow be thwarted in leaving the country to escape to Philadelphia.

The Fourth Annual Philadelphia Latino Film Festival continues this weekend. Don’t miss it or these independent latino films, the discussions and the performances. Check the website for more information:

Aquele Abraço: Brazilian Dance in Philadelphia

“O Rio de Janeiro continua lindo…” And so does Philly!

Bahian Gilberto Gil’s “Aquele Abraço” (That embrace) makes me think of the dance happening in Philadelphia these days. Gil is originally from Salvador, yet wrote this song in 1969 to the people of Rio de Janeiro, where he had been living and making music. The sounds of Afro-Brazil and Bahia are in Gil’s music, but he was quintessentially brasileiro. His music went beyond Salvador, and appealed to cariocas and people all over the world. Philadelphia is a long time home for ballet, flamenco and Middle Eastern (belly) dance, and new comers include Indian and Asian dance companies, Argentine tango, and Brazilian dance and martial arts. It hugs all of these cultures and this is even evident as you fly into the city, with its depiction of the airport mural How Philly Moves.

Brazilian music has been around in Philly for a while. Minas, which specializes in MPB (including bossa nova) and originally composed music, is one of the longest running ensembles, started by carioca Orlando Haddad and his wife Patricia King. Aló Brasil developed out of earlier Brazilian bands in the area. Michael Steven’s led “Unidos da Filadelfia” (samba school/band) and the Philly Bloco professional band are younger groups that include many local Americans. In terms of movement, Brazilian styles are starting to gain more of a foothold in the city, thanks to local and Brazilian dancers who are teaching Americans how to move. ASCAB Capoeira School has been teaching capoeira (Brazilian martial art) to adults and children.

Angelica Cassimiro started teaching Samba dance classes in 2009, with Alex Shaw, leader of Alo Brasil. Afterwards she independently organized and taught the classes, which included renting space in Philadelphia. Angelica was born and raised in Brazil and trained at the Palacio das Artes in Belo Horizonte, in Minas Gerais, In the U.S. she received scholarships to train with Garden State Ballet, Alvin Ailey, American Ballet Theater and Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

I was fortunate enough to attend some of the classes in the past and they were a lot of fun, a superior workout and quite authentic. When we had classes at ASCAB Capoeira’s old space in Bella Vista, the Pelourinho scene from Salvador, painted on the walls, and the capoeiristas who joined us, set the scene for the best you can get outside of Brazil. The mood was exciting, electric and intense. Angelica always ended the classes with an inclusive “roda” or circle dance, which created a sense of community and group sharing of talents.

Angelica now performs with the aerialist troupe, Australia’s “Strange Fruit” and is currently offering “SambaDelphia” a six week samba dance workshop culminating in an informal public performance on June 14, 2015 in Philadelphia’s Performance Garage.

For more information about Angelica:

The newest addition to the Philadelphia Brazilian arts scene is Cleonice Fonseca, who is originally from Salvador, Bahia. Salvador is the Afro-Brazilian center of Brazil, and her classes focus on African dances from Brazil:


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Cleonice Fonseca is an experienced dancer who began her training in Bahia at Dança do Colégio Central da Bahia, where she learned and performed African dance, folkloric dances, religious dances (candomblé orixás), and contemporary dance with important dance masters. For 10 years she was part of the Grupo de Dança do SESC, and also performed with other companies in the area. She arrived in Philadelphia in June 2014 and has been involved with various projects through ASCAB Capoeira, Mamadêlê Produções and Sunrise of Philadelphia. She has been teaching music and dance in South Philly public schools and for adults, and the Wissahicken Dance Studio and Philadelphia Capoeira Arts Center (ASCAB Capoeira).


Her classes are ongoing! Check them out. Aquele abraço…