Cinematic Roots
By Chelsea Saldanha

The Toronto Hispano-American Film Festival (THAFF) may not have huge line-ups or gatecrashers when it kicks off its 11th edition at the Bloor Cinema on May 25, but it will serve as a platform for potential Oscar-calibre films and documentaries.

It will also pride itself once again on delivering a cinematographic experience to Canadian film buffs, says director of programming Alejandro Pereira, sitting in his basement/recording studio/designing space.

Courtesy shot, Illustration by Dila Velazquez

He began as a volunteer, and has been running the festival for the last eight years. Pereira selects the best films to be showcased and recalls one in particular. "I remember when we showed Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside) which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004. It was a surreal moment for me."

The festival attracts a crowd of around 10,000, but thoughts of closure loom in the organizer’s mind. "While the experience has been rewarding, we may end it because of changing situations," says Pereira. He is looking five or 10 years ahead and sees his audience in the comfort of a home theatre watching films via satellite or through the Internet.

Many directors and producers from around the world send him their work. They also scout through different festivals and production companies to see if they can get Latin-American films screened at the Bloor Cinema.

“Our cinema talks more about our relations with people and the human conflict that our community faces as opposed to Hollywood-styled movies which are based more on action, explosions and flying cars," says Pereira.

Directors vie for the coveted THAFF awards which are presented on the last day. The winner of the fourth category, the People's Choice Award, is chosen by viewers who cast votes as they exit the theatre. "When people leave the cinema they express honestly what they feel about the movie. You can see the energy and passion when they vote for a film," he says.

Pereira’s home, decorated with mementoes from Cuba, Argentina and other Latin-American countries, voices the culture he showcases in his festival. "One of the best ways to understand civilizations is through their culture. No language can put us in a box," says Pereira’s wife Rita.

With a budget of more than $100,000 every year and rates for promoting films and film equipment going up, balancing costs is a growing problem for this Class B festival. They've had to increase the cost of tickets from $10 to $12. Their funding largely comes from paid advertisements from the Latin community, with the provincial government providing roughly $10,000, Pereira says. Chuckling, he says that amount just about covers the cost for printing their magazines.

On a serious note, he says the government has its own agenda. "They want to be multicultural in their approach because that's how people view Canada, as a multicultural country. But at the same time the government isn't really interested in subsidizing something that has nothing to do with Canada," says Pereira.

Mercedes Rowinsky-Geurts, an associate professor in the department of languages and literature at Wilfrid Laurier University, says that awareness is the key point that each film promotes. "The important message that they ask is what our roles are as human beings. Are we going to be quiet or do we do our duty and try reaching out to them?"Pereira plans on continuing with the festival and hopes audiences will be enthralled with cinematic gems. "THAFF is an open door to show Latin American culture in a bright and positive way for all those who want to know about us. It's an important way for us to show our children our roots."

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