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11.19.08

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PROCESSIONAL: A scene from Gregory Nava's 'El Norte,' showing at the Latino Film Festival

Journey's End

Gregory Nava's 'El Norte' returns at Latino Fest

By Richard von Busack


ABOUT 25 years ago, if you'd thrown a Latino Film Festival, Gregory Nava's El Norte would have been one of the only films you would have been able to show. The 12th Annual Latino Film Festival finishes with a three-day stand at Camera 12 in San Jose, after playing at a dozen Bay Area venues. It's a festival that exists in some part because of the work of the San Diego–bred filmmaker Nava. He will introduce a silver-anniversary screening of El Norte on Nov. 21 at 6pm, with an afterparty at Azucar. Nava's career has continued apace with his latest film Bordertown about the Juarez killings, but it is El Norte, his second feature, that is best remembered.

Decades before Babel visited the lethal border and glommed an Oscar for it, Nava was there. El Norte was an ambitious work for a mid-1980s indie filmmaker, especially with its scope, as the film travels from "Guatemala" (actually Mexico) to Los Angeles. The story traces the illegal journey of Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando, playing a pair of siblings who smuggle themselves into the pipeline heading to America. It's a literal pipeline during the famously scary scenes in the sewer pipes. What persists especially in the memory are two things. One is an often-quoted bit about how a Central American can try to pass as a Mexican—just drop a familiar Mexican word into your speech; perhaps an obscene word, yet so important a word that Octavio Paz dedicated two pages to it in his book-length essay on the Mexican soul, The Labyrinth of Solitude. The other is the film's visual contrast between the old agricultural world and the new one: the twinkling lights of a vast city rising up out of the two travelers' darkness, as breathtaking and fearful a moment as the rise of the spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Also on tap at the festival are screenings of Maldeamores (Nov. 21, 9:15pm), a 2007 Puerto Rican relay romance. The comedy/drama Alondra Smiles (Nov. 22, 1pm) is by Conchita Nora Villa, out of the L.A. suburb of Alhambra. A girl's long-awaited quinceanera is almost ruined by her scheming cousin. Actually, Villa is an associate of Nava's, having worked on Mi Familia and Nava's biopic Selena. Rancho Aparte (Nov. 22, 5:30pm) is in some ways similar to El Norte, except that it is comic: a pair of displaced Argentine rural folk come to the city in Buenos Aires, and quickly become country mice to the local city rats. Ladrones (Nov. 22, 9:30pm) concerns the criminal career of a young Spanish pickpocket.

The documentary The Golden Age (Nov. 23, 1pm) chronicles a league of former soccer champs, now working at blue-collar jobs at the periphery of New York City. The closing-night screening is Another Love Story, (Nov. 23, 5:30pm), Lúcia Marat's Brazilian favella-ized version of Romeo and Juliet. Tapas, music by DJ Otrebor and comedy by Frankie Quinones are on offer at the festival's wrap-up at the Loft Bar and Bistro on Nov. 23 at 7:30pm; it's for those with $40 on hand (or $35 for festival members). Those who don't have that kind of dinero can catch the actual final film, Alex Rivera's Sleep Dealer (Nov. 23, 7:45pm), a Mexico City indie reaching new audiences as part of this fest.


Movie Times THE LATINO FILM FESTIVAL runs through Nov. 23 at Camera 12 in San Jose. See www.latinofilmfest.org for details.


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