By Michelle Trauring
When Minerva Perez boldly selected “XXY” as the closing night film of the OLA Latino Film Festival, she expected pushback.
The festival — presented by the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island — was only five years old and still establishing itself in the Hamptons. And Perez, just a volunteer at the time, had decided not to tread lightly, choosing to screen a film that told the story of a teenaged intersex girl who begins to explore her sexuality.
“It was a beautiful film, and there was a half a moment where I thought, ‘Is this too much?’ and it wasn’t. It was amazing — and it was fully embraced,” Perez said. “The folks who came to see it knew what it was about, some came a little cautiously. But the film was so amazing that that’s what film does. Good film transcends those obvious stopping points and lets you see right into the human, and that’s what we need a whole lot more of these days.
“In 2008, I thought, ‘Wow, this is great. There’s no fear factor here in the formation of the film festival,’” she continued. “I wasn’t held back by anyone on the board and I wasn’t held back by the audience.”
Six years later, Perez would become the executive director of the Sagaponack-based nonprofit advocacy agency and has continued that tradition of open-mindedness and acceptance in the film festival today, now celebrating its 15thline-up and the biggest year they’ve had to date.
“We are not just a film festival,” Perez said. “We are an organization dedicated to the support, to the protection, to the celebration of the Latino members of our community, for the betterment and the strength and the health of our entire community. That is our mission. So this film festival is not just a sidebar. It’s certainly not a fundraiser.”
She laughed, and continued. “Doing this is in the center of our mission, which is to serve as a cultural bridge, a social bridge within our community. This film festival is the center point for so much of what OLA stands for. It’s a feat to have it last this long, especially when there were many years of OLA that were really bare bones, in terms of funding.”
Founded by Isabel Sepúlveda-de Scanlon in 2004, the film festival drew no more than five moviegoers its first year. The same cannot be said today.
Drove of moviegoers, by the hundreds, are expected to turn out for the annual festival — from Friday, November 9, to Sunday, November 11, with an unprecedented five films at four venues.
And Latinos will fill just half of the seats.
“The audience that we continue to see coming in, it’s always mixed. It’s usually 50-50, or 60-40, Latino to non-Latino, and that’s one of the main reasons we do it,” Perez said. “For people to come out to the film festival, it’s not about their $10 ticket and, in some cases, tickets are free. It’s to show their support by being there — by being there in those seats, among Latino members of our community, to share this experience together, to support OLA and its mission. And that’s immense for us.”
With films from Chile, Mexico, El Salvador, the United States and Brazil, the festival will kick off with “A Fantastic Woman” on Friday, November 9, at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill — winner of the 2018 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film — followed by “La Palabra de Pablo,” a Shakespeare-inspired thriller on Saturday, November 10, at Guild Hall in East Hampton, that could be El Salvador’s first-ever Oscar entry.
“You don’t see a lot of film coming out of El Salvador,” Perez explained. “The film showcases this land and these people, these characters, in a way that no one would ever jump to that conclusion to think, ‘Oh, El Salvador. This is a sexy thriller.’ It is going to turn people on their head.”
Audiences may recognize the family friendly film, “Coco” — except it will screen in Spanish with English subtitles — on Sunday, November 11, at Greenport High School, before the closing night film, “Before I Forget,” which follows Polidoro, a retired judge who decides to open up a strip club.
“When I was first looking at the trailer, I was like, ‘It’s gonna be cutesy, and some sort of slick way to get some T and A in there, and it’s going to gross me out. I don’t need that,’” Perez said. “But I watched it and I did not feel that way at all. I just felt that these were fully drawn characters. There was a lot of love at the center of this film.
The Brazilian film falls in line with an initiative started by Perez to include more independent projects in the festival. But when director Tiago Arakilian submitted the comedy, the roster was already full.
“This film was so good and we had to have it, and Bay Street was going to be available,” she said. “They helped me out and made it happen, which was really wonderful — and it’s great because it’s my town.”
The generosity that Perez has seen during the festival — and the sheer longevity of it alone — speaks to the need for it in the community, she said, especially during a time when donors are pushing for education and advocacy over the arts.
“Loudly, and with all of the love in my heart, no,” she said. “No, we don’t push down on this. We do not start to stifle the artistic voice, the artistic mechanism to share humanity. The storylines that come through film, the way that we bring people into a dark room and bring them together and immerse them in this story of someone’s life, for a moment, you get to remember and feel that this person’s life is not a political anecdote.
“We connect the dots that way,” she said, “to each other and to the community that we have out here — that we’re so lucky to have.”
OLA of Eastern Long Island will present its 15th Annual Latino Film Festival from Friday, November 9, through Sunday, November 11, at venues across the East End.
“A Fantastic Woman” will kick off the festival on Friday, November 9, at 7 p.m. at the Parrish Art Museum, located at 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. A Spanish/English tour will precede the screening at 5:30 p.m., and a Skype Q&A with producer Juan de Dios Larraín will follow. Tickets are $12 and free for members.
“La Palabra de Pablo” will screen on Saturday, November 10, at 7 p.m. at Guild Hall, located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton. A Q&A with actor Carlos Aylagas and director Arturo Menéndez will follow. Tickets are $10 and $20 for preferred seating.
The short film “My Fear” will screen on Sunday, November 11, at 2:30 p.m., followed by “Coco,” at the Greenport High School auditorium, located at 720 Front Street in Greenport. Admission is free. An art exhibit by Greenport students, inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead tradition, will be on view.
The festival concludes with “Before I Forget” on Sunday, November 11, at 6 p.m. at Bay Street Theater, located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $10 and $20 for preferred seating.
For more information, call 631-899-3441 or visit olalatinofilmfest2018.eventbrite.com