A decade ago, there was a void in the vibrant East End arts scene. And it was only when Isabel Sepulveda sat down for a classic Dominican meal with a group of her friends that she realize what it was.
A Latino film festival.
What once began as a casual suggestion around the dinner table has since turned into a cultural staple—the OLA Film Festival, hosted by the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island. The continuing success of the cultural event marks a shift in the traditional Hamptons arts scene. The festival turnout has grown from a modest 10 people in the audience during its first year to approximately 200 at its peak. Additionally, the number of films has increased—this year, one a day from Friday, September 13, through Sunday, September 15. And most recently, the location has moved from Southampton Village to the Parrish Art Museum’s new space in Water Mill.
“I knew when we came to a new place, it would be a whole different thing because the Latino community needs to get used to a place, know the place, feel comfortable in the place, that they connect with the building,” Ms. Sepulveda said last week during a telephone interview. “It took them eight years to really get comfortable. With a lot of the Latinos, there is no connection at all. We have to start planting the seed.”
But only half of the audience is Latino, she said, which is exactly how the founder first imagined the festival: as a bridge into this slice of the community, which hails from more than 20 countries, she reported, each with different foods, different accents and even different weather.
“I didn’t want it to be a Latino festival for the Latino. That, to me, doesn’t make sense,” the native of Chile said. “I wanted the films for people to know more about our countries and about us, the cultures. They’re movies, it’s not like going to the place, but it’s learning something about our culture.”
The festival will kick off on Friday, September 13, with “Inocente,” a coming-of-age documentary that follows a 15-year-old undocumented immigrant who refuses to give up her dream of becoming an artist, despite nine years of weaving through San Diego’s maze of overcrowded homeless shelters. Directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine tell the entire story in Inocente’s words as she takes control of her destiny. During the film, her talent as a painter becomes noticed and if she can create a body of work in time, she has a shot at her first art show.
Unfortunately, Inocente’s story is not unique.
“From the first time we met Inocente, we knew that her courage and story could give a face to the 1.7 million homeless children in America,” the Fines said in a written statement. “Her honesty and incredible talent show all of us a very personal side to this usually hidden story.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agreed. This past February, the 40-minute film won the Oscar for Best Short Documentary. That same night, the documentary that was the first film funded by Kickstarter to win an Oscar caught Ms. Sepulveda’s attention.
“When they won, I said, ‘Oh my God, I have to contact these people,’” she recalled. “I started Googling and got a phone number. That same night, I contacted them and by the next day, they said yes. I knew it had to be shown.”
Following the screening of “Inocente,” Mambo Loco will perform Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican music during a reception.
“Mambo Loco is great because everyone likes Mambo Loco,” Ms. Sepulveda said. “And not even just the Latino community. There are a bunch of Anglos that follow them.”
The festival’s second film is “Tanta Agua,” a 102-minute feature by writer-director team Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge of Uruguay. It also has the potential to unite Latinos and Anglos with its common themes, which focus on divorce and estrangement.
The festival’s finale, “Salvador Allende,” is a documentary by director Patricio Guzmán. The film gives audiences a Latin look at one of the 20th century’s most controversial leaders—Salvador Guillermo Allende Gossens, a Chilean physician and politician who was the first Marxist to become president of a Latin American country through open elections.
On November 4, 1970, he was elected president of Chile and pledged himself to the socialist transformation of his country. Three years later, the president was deposed by a right-wing coup led by Augusto Pinochet with the backing of the American military. The leader committed suicide before being taken prisoner.
“Whatever you saw in the news here, you can see the other side,” said Ms. Sepulveda, who first moved from her homeland to the United States in 1980. “Everybody has seen about Allende, but here we only have one side. It’s a political film. Very interesting, but really political.”
At least the first 15 minutes are, she said, adding that during the screening process she and her committee watch only the beginning of each film. If it doesn’t catch their attention, they move on. The OLA Film Festival founder said that’s the way she likes it.
“They have to get me or they don’t. There has to be that click. It has to be something you say, ‘I want to see the rest. I want to see what happens,’” she said. “I never watch the whole thing. I never do, I never do. I want to watch it for the first time there. That way, I’m as surprised with the rest of the film as everybody else.”
The 10th annual OLA Film Festival will be held from Friday, September 13, through Sunday, September 15, at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill. Day one begins at 5 p.m. with “Inocente” and is followed by a reception and live music by Mambo Loco from 6 to 8 p.m. Day two starts at 3 p.m. with “Tanta Agua.” The festival concludes on day three with “Salvador Allende” at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 per film, or free for members, children and students. For more information, call 283-2118 or visit parrishart.org.