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Women's Lifestyle Magazine

Festival Celebrates 10 Years of Bringing the Best and Brightest of Latin American Cinema to Grand Rapids

Mar 02, 2020 02:00PM ● By WLMagazine

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN – When April comes, you might still have a scarf around your neck, or you might need sunglasses to protect your eyes from the unfamiliar sun. No matter the weather, the Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival (GRLAFF) offers a springtime opportunity to gather for cinematic stories from near and far. Drape your light jacket (fingers crossed!) over the back of your seat in the Peter Wege Auditorium at the Wealthy Theatre and allow yourself to be transported during GRLAFF’s 10th season of “Cinema Without Borders,” which will take place April 3-5, 2020.

In a year when thoughtful dialogue appears to be in short supply, attendees of the 10th annual GRLAFF will not only be able to choose from eight feature-length films and a series of five short films, they will also be able to participate in Q&As and discussions following several of the screenings. In past years, over 1,000 people have attended the festival, founded in 2010 by Dr. Zulema Moret, a professor of Spanish at Grand Valley State University, and Daniel García, who was a professor of film at Calvin University at the time. Moret and García aspired to bring independent films by Latin American and Latino directors to West Michigan and to make it possible to engage with these directors in person.

Their vision still guides GRLAFF, which is organized by a committee of volunteers from five area universities. Stéphane Bédère, a professor of French and Spanish at Aquinas College, has been on the GRLAFF committee since the first festival in 2010. “Establishing a bridge between different communities and being a meeting point is more and more important in today’s context,” said Bédère. He added that this is why the committee chose “Cinema Without Borders” as the festival slogan, as well as the reason the committee organized a pre-festival series of social justice documentaries focused on the Latinx community, shown at the Wealthy Theatre from January to March (see for details).

For the festival’s 10th anniversary, the committee has selected award-winning films from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru to be shown over three days. (All the films will be shown in Spanish or Portuguese with English subtitles.) Six of the eight feature-length films were directed by women. This year’s selections touch on a broad range of themes, from the era of slavery in Brazil (Vazante, Brazil) to the challenges faced by service workers (La camarista [The Chambermaid], Mexico). One of the films is a documentary whose protagonists are two stray dogs living near a skate park in Santiago, Chile, and it has been a hit with viewers and critics alike (Los Reyes [The Kings], Chile). Also, among the films to be shown is Temblores (Tremors), by Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante, who visited GRLAFF in 2017 for the screening of his acclaimed debut film, Ixcanul.

This year, GRLAFF is celebrating its milestone anniversary with three special guests: directors Melina León from Peru, Maura Delpero from Argentina, and Rubén Mendoza from Colombia will attend the festival to present their films. León’s Canción sin nombre (Song Without a Name), which will be shown on Friday evening, is inspired by real events. The film takes place in the 1980s during Peru’s political crisis and follows a mother’s search for her newborn daughter who was stolen from her after she gave birth at a fake health clinic. Delpero’s Maternal (Hogar) to be screened on Saturday evening,takes place in a convent in Buenos Aires that provides shelter to teenage mothers and explores the complicated relationship between the nuns and the young women who live with them. The festival will close on Sunday with Mendoza’s Niña errante (Wandering Girl), a road trip film where four sisters explore their relationships following the death of their father. Audience members will have a chance to meet all three directors and ask them questions following the screenings of their respective films.

The feature films are not all that the Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival has to offer. Each day there will be refreshments prepared by local restaurants and a chance to mingle with directors, speakers, and fellow audience members. Don’t have time to see more than one of the main films? Then you won’t want to miss the five short films from Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela that will be shown together as a series on Saturday afternoon. Three of the shorts were directed or co-directed by women.

The festival will also have family-friendly programming on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons starting at 1:00 pm, with a series of live puppet shows in English and Spanish in the Koning Micro-Cinema. On Saturday at 2:00 pm, little ones can participate in an original, interactive shadow puppet play, Taverna dinamita (Dynamite Tavern) by Dr. Jason Yancey, professor of Spanish at Grand Valley State University, followed by a workshop where kids will be able to build their own shadow puppets.

As always, the Festival is free for everyone in the community. This is made possible by the generous support of GRLAFF partners and sponsors, as well as donations from the public. You can make a suggested $5.00 donation in person at the Festival or online at

WHAT: Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival

WHEN: April 3-5, 2020

WHERE: Wealthy Theatre, 1130 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

ADMISSION: Free to the public; donations appreciated


Be sure to visit the Festival website to plan your visit and follow the Festival on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for updates, using the handle @GRLAFF and the hashtag #GRLAFF2020.


The mission of the Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival (GRLAFF) is to foster a nuanced understanding of Latin American and Latino experiences through the art of film, to provide opportunities for constructive dialogue across cultures, and to enrich the social fabric of our community. GRLAFF is organized by a coalition of area universities (Grand Valley State University, Aquinas College, Calvin University, Davenport University, and Ferris State University), and the 2020 Festival is sponsored by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Burton Meat Farm Carnicería Latina, El Granjero, Hancock, Martha’s Vineyard, The Pita House, Tertulia, and anonymous donors. Learn more