What does it mean to be Southern, and how can one go about interrogating and reclaiming this identity? That’s what Columbia, South Carolina’s annual indie film festival, Indie Grits, set out to answer in 2007. What started as a two-day DIY fest has since grown into a sprawling four-day, multi-disciplinary affair hosted by the only non-profit arthouse cinema in the state, Nickelodeon Theater. While Indie Grits continues to explore key questions of identity, fluidity and migration, the festival introduced yearly themes in 2015 aimed at revealing the many dimensions of life in southeastern United States.
Indie Grits’s 2017 theme, Visiones, invites visual artists to explore ideas centered about Latinx identity in the context of the South, and, as co-curators Amada Torruella and Pedro Lopez De Victoria say, was aimed at inspiring both visibility and a heightened sense of community. “We were aware of how fast the Latinx population is growing in South Carolina. But at the same time, being in the downtown area, where are they? Why are businesses here not calling to them? How do we show them that there’s a space for them here where they can just convene and hang out and be themselves?” say Torruella and De Victoria. “It’s really important for us to show that this is a safe space for conversation, and everybody should come and see the films that we’re showing because it’s all these films that expose the audience to new ideas.”
In their film lineup, those new ideas vary from tales about a woman wrongfully imprisoned in Mexico to revealing ventures in the Amazon rainforest. Visiones is hardly limited to the silver screen, though. The outdoor Food Truck Parranda will treat festival-goers to the best of Latinx music and the tastiest Southern and Latin cuisines, with a focus on local Latinx-owned businesses. There’s even an arm of the festival, Indie Bits, dedicated to showcasing interactive board games, video games, virtual reality projects, card games and more. A call to visual artists to create works around the festival’s theme will result in several art exhibitions being displayed during the festival’s run. “It’s about storytelling and amplifying these stories of Latinx in the south, and it’s a chance for the community to come together and reclaim something that has been taken away from them, especially in the current climate that we’re in,” Torruella and De Victoria say.
Visiones isn’t just about investigating the present, though: The theme is intended for people to look forward, as well as behind them. “The way that I explained it to our local artists so that they could make their art was, ‘you should see it as past, present, and future,’” Torruella says. “That’s why I like the word ‘visiones,’ because it depends on how you want to explore the theme through your art. Either you’re thinking about it from the past, so that means your roots and your heritage and ancestors and where you come from and that lineage. Or either you’re exploring it from the present to more about a community and your current identity, or you can explore it from the future, which is where it gets fun and you can get really surreal, abstract and think about all these hallucinations and apparitions…where the whole magic realism of Latin America really comes into play.”
Check out six Latinx films we can’t wait to catch at the festival in the list below.
Indie Grits runs April 20-23, 2017 at The Nickelodeon Theater in Columbia, South Carolina.
Focused on the violence and impunity that afflicts Mexico, the film is driven by the voices of two women, Miriam and Adela. As we listen to their stories, director Tatiana Huezo offers us beautiful images of the cross-country journey that Miriam took after being released from a cartel-run prison, where she’d been held for her alleged involvement in human trafficking. After no evidence of her participation in trafficking was found, Miriam was eventually let go, becoming instead a public scapegoat for an increasingly common problem in Mexico. Interwoven with the harrowing tale of Miriam’s stay in this torturous environment is the story of Adela, a circus clown, who’s been searching for her abducted daughter who went missing over 10 years ago. Evocative of Terrence Malick, but infused with a staunchly politicized message, Tempestad is both lyrical and political.
El cuarto de los huesos
From the Institute of Legal Medicine, El cuarto de los huesos (The Room of Bones) follows several mothers from El Salvador who search for the remains of their children, who disappeared amidst violence in their country. The film is a look at the 20 or more bodies that are received at the morgue on a monthly basis and remain unclaimed – the story of DNA with no name, of bodies that became cadavers for belonging to a rival gang.
Director Martin Rieznik makes a radical stylistic choice in his narrative debut, Selva, choosing to forgo sleek studio lighting in favor of natural light. It’s hard to imagine Selva being any other way, though, given the subject matter: In it, Lucas goes searching for a group of indigenous tribes in the Amazon rainforest. Just as he’s starting to lose his grip on reality, he meets the elusive Selva, a woman who causes him to reconsider his journey at all.
Hearts of Palm
Monica Peña’s experimental debut feature is a woozy, insular story that gazes outward at the world. In the film, El y Ella, the film’s two nameless main characters, drift away from their native Miami, instead sinking further and further into each other, guided by the third eye of superstition and ritual. But they’re shaken when the enigmatic Niño Bueno tumbles into their world, threatening everything they thought they knew about each other and themselves.
The Modern Jungle
This documentary tour de force traces the imprint of globalization in Chiapas, Mexico, through two very different pairs of eyes, all the while implicating the viewer and their inherent voyeurism. The film follows Juan, a shaman who becomes entranced by the cult of nutritional supplements when his chants fail to assuage a medical issue and Carmen, who lives on the land that both earns her a living and took her late husband.
Instantes de campaña
In his frank and minimalistic documentary, director Tomás Astudillo follows populist politician Rafael Correa on the campaign trail in 2013, when he successfully ran for reelection as the President of Ecuador. What’s astonishing about Astudillo’s black-and-white documentary, aside from its universality, is how it demystifies the campaign process, capturing not just what’s seen in the public eye but what also lies behind it.