Movies at SAAM: The New York Latino Film Festival

Camilo José Vergara's 65 East 125th Street, Harlem

On June 9 and June 10, Movies at SAAM is proud to co-host a two day film festival with the National Portrait Gallery's Taína Caragol, Curator of Latino Art and History, and SAAM's E. Carmen Ramos, Curator of Latino Art. In addition to these films, the New York Latino Film Festival will also be holding free salsa dancing, and conversations highlighting the social and cultural contributions of New York's Latino community and the Puerto Rican diaspora. To learn more about this exciting film festival we sat down with NPG curator Taína Caragol, who originally came up with the idea for the series.

EyeLevel: How does this film festival contribute to SAAM's exhibit Mean Streets and NPG's extended loan of the portrait of Luis Muñoz Marin by Francisco Rodón?

Taína Caragol: When I think about art expressions that complement each other and provide a wider context for an audience to understand a theme, film programs usually come to mind (I'm secretly a frustrated film curator). I like how film, through visual and sound narration engages the viewer, placing us somewhere, telling us a story, and helping to fill in the details of the story. I like that details can be absorbed much faster in film than reading a novel or a history book.

EL: Where did you get the idea for a film festival?

TC: I had seen a number of these movies through my association with Judith Escalona, Nuyorican film expert, TV producer and filmmaker. As Judith and I started discussing the program, I realized the film program and NPG's pertinent artworks intersected with SAAM's exhibit Down These Mean Streets.

EL: What is your favorite film in the festival?

TC: I can't decide! I look forward to many things, including seeing the venerated and recently deceased actress Lucy Boscana in La Carreta and being able to look critically at this film (adapted from the play by René Marqués) which narrates a foundational story of the Puerto Rican diaspora. I am also looking forward to seeing Fania's Live in Africa, for the musical genius of those who star in it, but also for what it brings to the conversation about "Black is beautiful" and the affirmation of Afro-diasporic cultural heritage in the 1960s and 1970s. I also want to see how that idea evolves with the development of hip-hop as seen in Style Wars, and a younger generation of Latinos interacting with African Americans and Caribbean people in the Bronx, the Lower East Side and other parts of New York City.

EL: Are there any films that focus on younger generations of Latinos?

TC: Yes! Style Wars is about the evolution of hip-hop. Also, Brincando El Charco and Bx3M address younger generations of Latinos, some who have chosen a kind of "self-exile" that is freeing.

EL: What do you hope audiences get out of the festival?

TC: I hope that the film festival, in conjunction with our exhibitions, will create a larger picture to think about the Latinx presence in US urban centers since the 1950s and urban identity. I hope people who do not know much about Latinx culture come and participate and learn something, and I hope that Latinx from DC and its metropolitan area come see and enjoy the series.

The New York Latino Film Series is presented by SAAM and the National Portrait Gallery, and inspired by SAAM's exhibition Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography and by NPG's portrait of Luis Muñoz Marin by Francisco Rodón. For a complete list of events and screening times please see SAAM's calendar page.