First Latino Film Festival Brings Iowans New Aspects Of Culture

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The local band Son Peruches playing onstage at the Des Moines Latino Film Festival Kick-off Party. Photo by Nixson Benitez / Hola Iowa
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By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio

A local band, Son Peruchos, kicked off the state’s first Latino film festival in Des Moines Friday night. Their relatively large audience spread out at the new Riverview Park amphitheater to listen.

The following nights featured movies from local Iowa filmmakers and six international films from South America and Spain. The Latino Center of Iowa hosted the event in partnership with the Chicago Latino Film Festival.

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Board member Karin Stein is Colombian by nationality and has now lived in Iowa for more than 40 years. She said this festival allows Iowans to be introduced to different aspects of Latino communities.

“We hope that this festival enriches people’s understanding of Latino cultures, bring some people up to date on what Latino cultures have to offer, and what their interests are, how they’re portrayed in movies,” Stein listed. “And finally to hopefully engage community members who would not be drawn to anything having to do with Latin America.”

Stein had followed the success of the Chicago Latino Film Festival for years. On one of her trips to Chicago, she met with one of the organizers who agreed to her idea about the possibility of hosting a “satellite location” in Iowa. She then presented the partnership opportunity to the rest of the board of the Latino Center of Iowa.

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After three years of collaborations and planning, Iowa’s Latino Film Festival came to fruition.

Luis Leon, the board president for the Latino Center of Iowa, said he quickly agreed to Stein’s idea.

“It presented to us as an opportunity to connect with the community here in Des Moines, in central Iowa, a way to just kind of build some name recognition for the Latino Center,” Leon said. “So we looked at as an opportunity to just get our name out there and kind of gain some trust and name recognition with the community

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Photos by Tar Macias and Nixson Benitez / Hola Iowa

The festival was free for anyone to attend and available both in-person and virtually over Zoom. It was the first event at the newly opened Riverview Park Amphitheater.

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“And I think public events like this, that are fun for the community, are one of the wonderful bridge builders that we can use to build community,” Stein said.

There’s also a more personal impact for some of Iowa’s Latinos. Leon said he wanted Iowans to get a glimpse of what his family is like.

“My personal relationship to this event, and just the Latino Center, is to kind of provide that opportunity that I have, with my family, in the family reunions, being able to celebrate our culture and our family history, and make that more accessible to the community,” Leon said.

Adriana Hernandez sat with her family on a blanket one night of the festival. She brought her husband Dustin Sorensen and her stepchildren Kane, 12 and Elena, 10.

When Hernandez asked her to go, Elena said “It seemed fun to me, so I kind of just said yes.”

Hernandez is from Colombia, but her family is white. So she said she wanted to introduce them to some of the music and films that showcase her heritage.

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“I think it’s important that they get a taste of it, and that they learn to appreciate it. And they learn to appreciate the differences that we all Hispanic people have between one another, but also the one thing that brings us together,” Hernandez said.

Her stepdaughter Elena said she has already learned a lot about different Latino foods, music and dances. Local Latin American restaurants hosted booths at the festival along with other vendors.

“I think this is a different perspective of Hispanic culture that a lot of people are not familiar with. And I think it’ll be very beneficial for them to see,” Hernandez said. “I think it’s something that the city needed.”

Multiple sponsors contributed to the event. The Latino Center of Iowa plans to continue hosting Latino film festivals in the coming years. The films were presented in their original Spanish with English subtitles.

  • Broche De Oro: Comienzos (“The Gold Brooch: Beginnings,” Puerto Rico)
  • Ice Raid On Mt. Pleasant (Des Moines)
  • Heroes Around The Corner (West Des Moines)
  • Aturdir (“To Deafen,” Dubuque)
  • El Jugador De Ajedrez (“The Chess Player,” Spain)
  • Ojos De Arena (“Sand Eyes,” Argentina)
  • Buen Día, Ramón (“Good morning, Ramón,” Mexico and Germany)
  • Sembradoras De Vida (“Mothers Of The Land,” Peru)

Se Busca Novio…Para Mi Mujer (“Looking For A Boyfriend…For My Wife,” Chile)

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