El Centro Hosts First Ever Spanish Film Festival

Junior%2C+played+by+Samuel+Lange+Zambrano%2C+in+%22Pelo+Malo.%22

Courtesy of Cinema Tropical/FiGa Film

Junior, played by Samuel Lange Zambrano, in “Pelo Malo.”

Kristen Reyes

NEIU was selected out of 100 participating schools to receive a grant to screen some of the best contemporary Spanish and Latin American films of the last few years.

For the first time, the Spanish Film Club (SFC), an initiative by PRAGDA (a film distribution company), will be airing five films from Central America, Latin America and Spain at the El Centro campus every Wednesday for the next month. The goal is to encourage universities to “provide professors and educators from every department access to materials rarely or never seen within North America and other territories, [because] knowledge and cultural exchange are keys in a country where Hispanics are the largest minority,” according to PRAGDA’s website.

NEIU students, faculty and the public were invited on Feb. 11 to the first Spanish Film Festival screening sponsored by the Department of World Languages and Cultures, the Office of Cultural Events and the Latino Resource Center.

I went in alone and ended up sitting next to a young man in the process of applying to NEIU who found out about the event while filling out applications on NEIU’s website. There were around 15 to 20 people filling the lecture styled classroom to see the Venezuelan film “Pelo Malo,” in English, “Bad Hair”.

People of all ages and diverse backgrounds, provided with free popcorn, were first introduced to Paul Schroeder-Rodriguez, head of the Department of World Languages and Cultures at NEIU, who said: “The films are all very recent, five from Latin America and one from Spain, and all speak to contemporary issues ranging from sexual and ethnic identity (“Bad Hair”), to transnational migration (“Here and There” and “Who is Dayani Cristal?”), adult education (“Illiterate”) and aging (“Wrinkles”), through thoughtful and oftentimes suspenseful dramas.”

Once the room was silent, the lights were turned off and the film began.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a huge movie fan. My family and I have a collection with all types of genres from sci-fi to romance, but lately I have been really into documentaries. “Pelo Malo” in some aspects it reminded me of a documentary.

The director, Mariana Rondón, brilliantly used the storyline of a fictional young boy to project the various aspects of human life that can be found in a Latin American city like Caracas, Venezuela. On the surface, the story was about a young boy who grew up hating his hair because it was very unmanageable. He hated his hair so much that he did everything in his power to tame his curls. He used oil and mayonnaise and even asked his grandmother to blow-dry it behind his mothers back. This boy lived in a subsidized housing unit with his mother and baby brother and was constantly taking care of his mother who could not seem to keep a job.

Through political chaos arising, and gangs and sex offenders walking the same streets as the boy, the director subtly dropped images into the life of a person living in Caracas. However, no matter what he experienced in the day, when he returned home and looked in the mirror, all he worried about was his hair, which I believe is why this very emotional story kept its viewers from crying.

This film focused mainly on two very “taboo” topics in many Latin American countries, racism and sexuality. The boy’s mother could never understand why her son was so obsessed with having straight hair that it would drive her crazy with rage. The movie also constantly questions gender roles and the difficulty of accepting Afrocentrism in Latin America.

If you can handle a kind of dense and heart-cutting type of film, I wholly recommend going to the next screening! Screenings will be held every Wednesday at the El Centro Campus in Room 201 from Feb. 11. to March 11. Tell your friends and family, pack some snacks and be prepared to get a glimpse at another part of our world from a different and fresh perspective.