A Journey to Latin America through Films

LAFF posters

Image Credit: UIUC-CLACS: Latin American Film Festival/Art Theater Co-Op

As valuable as it is to study other countries’ histories and contemporary cultures through classes, academic books, and papers, it is equally important to approach them through their people’s own voices. This is always a critical task for building fair and inclusive views of the world. And there are a lot of voices still to be heard from contemporary Latin America’s artists, academics, and in general, from its people.

That is why, on this blog, we would like to celebrate spaces such as Champaign-Urbana’s annual Latin American Film Festival. This event allows us to see beyond the commonplace and to experience diverse views about realities that might be either familiar or unknown to us. Also, the International and Area Studies Library is excited to announce our recent acquisition of “Latin America in Video,” a large database of documentaries from independent producers throughout the region. This resource is available to the entire campus community.

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Image: “Latin America in Video” database, provided by Alexander Street Press, LLC

Recently, between September 18th and 24th, the 8th Annual Latin American Film Festival took place. The event was organized by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), led by CLACS Associate Director Dr. Angelina Cotler, and hosted at the Art Theater Co-op in downtown Champaign.  From the 30 to 35 films that Dr. Cotler receives each year, 6 to 8 are selected for screening. This year’s Festival included 7 films originating from Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.

Like every year, this year’s film selection opened the door to an immersive experience in  diverse social relationships, historical contexts, political situations, varied musical experiences, different landscapes, and of course, the people of the nations represented. The 2015 Festival included films tackling issues such as illegal migration and the altruistic mission depicted in the film Llévate Mis Amores (Mexico). Family violence, social inequities related to class and gender, educational issues in difficult social environments (Conducta and El Vestido de Novia, both from Cuba) were all at the fore. Also covered were critical approaches to past political authoritarianism (Zanahoria, from Uruguay); stories that reveal the complexities of modern urban life (Yo No Soy Lorena, from Chile), social status in rural settings (A Coleção Invisível, from Brazil); and humorous topics relating to the clichés of a pretentious filmmaker in Buenos Aires (El Crítico de Cine, Argentina).

If you would like to know more about contemporary film production in Latin America, here are some great books you can find in our library:

And these are just a few! Many more interesting books are available at different library locations.

As for this year’s Festival, Angelina Cotler’s recommendations were (Conducta, Cuba) and The Invisible Collection (A Coleção Invisível, Brazil). For her, “These are films of an extremely high quality and sophistication. They are the type of films that you start watching and cannot stop; that make you think, enjoy, laugh, and even cry.” (Watch the trailer of Conducta here). She also has recommendations for her all-times favorite Latin American and international films. What’s more, you can find most of them here, at the Undergraduate Library Media Collection! Some of her all-time favorites we invite you to watch are Amores Perros (Mexico), which is one of the most renowned Latin American films of all time, Fresa y Chocolate (Cuba/Spain/Mexico), La Historia Oficial (Argentina) and Lucia (Cuba).

Image Credit: sahaymaniceet.wordpress.com

Image Credit: Popcorn and Balderdash

And that is not all!  We invite you to take a look at the great collection of Latin American Films covering a wide range of topics and genres, such as the Argentinian contemporary dramas El Secreto de Sus Ojos, Anita, and XXY; Mexican films about soccer and rivalry like Rudo y Cursi; and renowned films from that country such as Como Agua para Chocolate and Y Tu Mamá También; Chilean films about that country’s political history like Missing; or love stories based on famous novels such as Cachimba. Other films about Cuba include the fictional Guantanamera and documentaries about women and literacy such as Maestra. Films about armed conflict in Colombia that stretch beyond the usual approaches include Los Colores de la Montaña; others deal with urban settings in that country, like Karen Llora en un Bus. There is even a collection of silent films!

If you have questions about Latin American films, history, or any other research interest about this region, you may contact our Latin American & Caribbean Studies Librarian,  Professor Antonio Sotomayor, Ph.D.

You may also find many more Latin American and other international films at the Undergraduate Media Collection. Here you can find international films at the Local U of I Catalog, where you can filter the search by the region, language, and topic of your interest using the menu in the column on the right side of the screen. Also, here are some instructions about how you can search films at the Undergraduate Media Collection in the Classic Catalog. Also, there are a variety of specialized area films, as the Korean Film Collection, and the Africana Film Database.

Don’t miss the Latin American Film Festival next year! In the meantime, visit the library, pick up some great movies, and have a pleasant, eye-opening journey!

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“Black Flag Boricuas: Anarchism, Antiauthoritarianism, and the Left in Puerto Rico, 1897 – 1921”

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“The black flag of anarchism . . . expresses one’s solidarity with those most abused by the state, by capital, and by religion. . . . ‘Boricua’ . . . [is] more about a collective identity of resistance – in short, a distinct form of antiauthoritarianism rooted in the island people’s collective nationality against colonialism” (Shaffer, 15 &17). “Black Flag Boricuas”

When people think of anarchism, the most common generalizations consist of youth destroying private property, disregard for authority, and a world burning in chaos. Yet, in spite of these misunderstandings, the general public forgets that anarchism stemmed from the struggles of marginalized communities throughout the world.  In “Black Flag Boricuas: Anarchism, Antiauthoritarianism, and the Left in Puerto Rico, 1897 – 1921,” by Kirwin R. Shaffer, the author explores the role of anarchism in the Caribbean and its interrelationship with other Puerto Ricans and other activist groups in Cuba, Florida, and New York. This book also serves to unite readers under a black flag that evokes the humanity of people affected by authoritarian forms of government.

Spanish colonialism, U.S. invasion, poor living conditions and low wages are some of the ingredients that led to the dissemination of radical consciousness and change in Puerto Rico. Anarchist thought was facilitated by the arrival of Spanish migrant workers to the island in the late 19th century. Their message resonated with the tobacco industries of Caguas, Bayamon, and San Juan, Puerto Rico which had “most of the leading anarchist writers and activists” (Shaffer, 3). Places like Havana, Tampa, and New York were also known tobacco cities; destinations that provided Puerto Rican migrants with more opportunities for income and for networking and mobilizing with fellow comrades. In order to build solidarity with and learn from transnational anarchists, anarchists in the island began to publish newspapers and write articles for American and Cuban periodicals “which helped to internationalize the movement wherever they went and to discuss international topics” (Shaffer, 5). These are just a few of the examples of dissidence that represent Puerto Ricans’ struggle for autonomy from foreign and domestic exploitation and social injustice.

“Black Flag Boricuas” provides a breadth of information and is a good introduction to the history of anarchism in the late 19th and early 20th century Puerto Rico.

If you are interested in learning more about anarchism around the world, you can check out “Zen Anarchism: The Egalitarian Dharma of Uchiyama Gudo” from the International and Area Studies Library. It is a collection of translated essays by a Zen Buddhist priest and anarcho-socialist activist that provide an interesting insight into Buddhist history in Japan.

Also, the main library has a book titled “Anarchism & The Mexican Working Class, 1860 – 1931” which looks at the impact of anarchism on the Mexican working class. Moreover, the main library has a collection of English periodicals, “Anarchy,” that focus on issues of unemployment, racism, gender discrimination, poverty, militarization, and other related issues within Europe and beyond. For something less broad, you might also be interested in learning about anarcho-feminism from “Anarcho-Feminism: From Siren and Black Rose, Two Statements.”

Finally, another recommended book which you can check out through I-Share is “Eyes to the South: French Anarchists and Algeria,” about Algerian and French anarchists during the Algerian revolution. Furthermore, check out one of our oldest bibliographies on this subject “Bibliographie de l’anarchie” by Max Nettalu.

Happy Reading & Power to the Reader.

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A View into the Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies

The Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies was established at the University of Illinois in 2009. This institute promotes research and instruction about Brazil. The mission of the institute is to foster “knowledge and understanding of Brazil across disciplines and colleges.” In order to do this, the center provides fellowships and grants to students.

How exactly is this center affiliated with the school? Why Illinois? From 1890 to 1891, the first dean of the College of Agriculture, Eugene Davenport, spent a year in São Paulo, Brazil. There, he spent time with a coffee planter named Luiz de Queiroz. Davenport was also the one who advised Luiz de Queiroz to open Brazil’s first school of agriculture.

Lemann Institute. Photo courtesy of the Lemann Institute

Lemann Institute. Photo courtesy of the Lemann Institute

This institute represents over 100 years of collaboration and engagement between the University of Illinois and the country of Brazil.

Over the past couple of years, this institute has partnered with organizations, organized various visits from Brazilian nationals, created new organizations, and sponsored cultural events.

The Institute also offers a variety of grants and fellowships. An example is their Brazil Scientific Mobility Program, whereby students receive travel grants. Specifically, this program is intended to obtain opportunities that are available through the Brazilian government. Areas of study included are Animal Sciences, Civil Engineering, Microbiology, and other areas.

São Paulo, Brasil. Photo courtesy of Gary Bembridge via Flickr

São Paulo, Brasil. Photo courtesy of Gary Bembridge via Flickr

In terms of outreach, the Lemann Institute has sponsored and held many events. The first step in these events is to build friendships and establish partnerships on campus and in the community. Through this initiative, UIUC’s Chancellor Phyllis Wise and former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn met with Brazilian government officials. Chancellor Wise signed  “Memoranda of Understanding” with some institutions, such as the Universidade de Pernambuco (one of Brazil’s federal state universities).

The Lemann Institute has many other resources and programs available. For more information, check out their website.

References:

http://www.clacs.illinois.edu/lemann/

http://issuu.com/clacs-cu/docs/lemann_annual_report

 

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Book Review: A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS

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James, Marlon. 2014A Brief History of Seven Killings. New York: Riverhead Books/Penguin Group.

UIUC Library Catalog Listing: http://vufind.carli.illinois.edu/vf-uiu/Record/uiu_7584554.

They think my mind is a ship that sail far away. Some of those people in my own district. I see them in the corner of my eye. After I help them grow, they thinking me is the one now blocking progress. So they treat me like old man already, and think I don’t notice when a sentence cut short because the rest of it not meant for me. That I don’t notice that phones come to the ghetto for talking, but not to me. That I don’t notice they leave me alone. (p. 86)

A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of those stories that, due to mainstream trends and Hollywood politics, may not ever be adapted into a film. But it’s so compelling as a book that it won’t matter.

Equal parts fictionalized (yet remarkably realistic) primer on the complex and fraught Jamaica of the 1970s, Cold War narco-thriller, and cautionary tale of the dark sides of immigration and globalization, Marlon James has, in stark detail, brought an oft-misunderstood corner of the world to the fore.

Himself a native of Kingston, James writes from the first-person perspectives of a slew of recurring characters – from the white American hippie journalist with his finger on the pulse of Jamaica’s powder keg scene; to the ghost of a murdered, Jamaican politician of the old guard; to a former lover of “the Singer” (read: Bob Marley), who wants nothing more than to escape the mayhem of her native island; to the head of one of Kingston’s two rival gangs, allied with both Marley and the opposition party leader. Just to name a few.

Amazingly, unidentified gunmen did in fact invade the home of Bob Marley on the night of December 3rd, 1976. No one was killed, but Bob suffered a gunshot wound to his upper arm and his wife Rita Marley sustained a graze wound to the scalp. Marley’s manager Don Taylor suffered more considerable gunshot wounds but survived. Considering the multiple rounds fired, it’s a miracle that no one perished. But who exactly were the gunmen and why would anyone want to kill one of the most beloved artists of both then and now?

Well, you’ll have to read the book for the details. But suffice it to say, Jamaica after its independence from Great Britain in 1962 was a tumultuous place. Journalist Vivien Goldman (2006) elucidates:

Less than two decades after Jamaican independence, the system left behind by the British had frayed, and the infrastructure was crumbling. I remember arriving in Jamaica from Los Angeles once, having been shopping earlier that day, and how obscene it was to compare LA supermarkets’ towering stacks of produce with the island supermarkets, with shelves so empty they seemed to sell air. There was music, style and creativity in abundance, but shortages of everything else from rice to rolling papers. Driving anywhere was an adventure, as the ancient taxis seemed to be held together with rubber bands and hope, and the roads all over the island had potholes like craters. Power cuts were as regular as police roadblocks.

The Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP) divided the populace along strictly binary lines. The former, led by Edward Seaga, promised no-nonsense economic development with stronger ties to the USA. And the latter, with their eloquent leader Michael Manley, promised a new order of socialist reform with the support of Cuba and other communist-leaning states in the region. Understandably, both parties sought an alliance with Jamaica’s most charismatic and electrifying native son: Robert Nesta Marley.

James takes full advantage of the cloudiness of the details of this case to flesh out almost 700 pages of gripping narrative, skipping back and forth from Jamaica to New York City between the years 1976 and 1991. Employing Standard American English, Black American English, Standard Jamaican English, Jamiacan Patois, and even a smattering of Caribbean Spanish, the linguistics involved are also captivating, exhibiting James’ deep cultural dynamism.

This book is not for the faint of heart, however: Violence (both domestic and gang-related), drug abuse, strong sexual content, and graphic language pervade the text. James certainly doesn’t flee from the darker sides of the pursuit of human survival in the modern age and takes it upon himself to show how and why people do what they do to stay alive. He leaves it up to us, the readers, to decide if each character is justified in their actions.

As Publishers Weekly observes in their own review on the book’s dust jacket, “Upon finishing, the reader will have completed an indispensable and essential history of Jamaica’s troubled years. This novel should be required reading.” While there might not yet be a college course for which it’s made the reading list, I highly recommend A Brief History of Seven Killings for any student of reggae music, Jamaica, the African diaspora, the Caribbean, or the Cold War era.

 References

Goldman, Vivien. 2006. “Dread, beat and blood.” The Guardian. 16 July 2006. Online: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2006/jul/16/urban.worldmusic.