By Kara Burnett and Rebekah Sherry
Kevin Johnatan along with about 80 other attendees filed into the dimly lit theater of the Parrish Art Museum in East Hampton as upbeat percussion music played in the background. They rifled through programs and chatted among themselves as they waited for the movie to begin. During the film Johnatan was taken by the spunky 80-year-old Argentine woman with a short neon red bob, raspy voice and cigarette in hand who recounted the details of her life as a tango dancer.
“Certainly it was one of the best films I have ever watched… I’m from Costa Rica that means I’m 100 percent Hispanic. With all these things happening right now about the election, this is a nice contrast about certain facts that define Hispanic people,” Kevin Johnatan, film attendee said.
The film, “Un Tango Más” screened last week Friday at the 13th annual OLA (Organizacion Latino-Americano) Film Festival.
“There really isn’t any place on Long Island dedicated to Spanish language films,” Minerva Perez, Executive Director of OLA said. “That’s why events like this are so important.”
Despite Spanish being the most widely spoken language other than English on Long Island, with over three hundred thousand speakers, the festival is one of the few places where residents can watch Spanish-Language films on the silver screen.
“Movie distribution in the US for non English speaking films is complicated,” Kathleen Vernon, Associate Professor of Hispanic Languages and Literature at Stony Brook University said. “The way it seems to work in the US they’re [spanish-speaking movies] sort of categorized as independent.”
Independent films are generally not as financially successful as mainstream films largely due to their much smaller budgets. These numbers are relative– 22 Jump street, a U.S. comedy released in 2014, cost $84,500,000 to make. Ocho Apellidos Vascos, a comedy released in Spain in the same year cost about $3,000,000.
“There’s nothing homogeneous about Spanish speaking audiences,” Juana Suάrez, an adjunct cinema and media professor at New York University said. “I don’t think that’s impacted by the language, that’s impacted by taste, level of education and aesthetic preference.”
Hispanic actors and directors will often switch between movies made in their native countries and Hollywood movies made in English. As is the case with Penelope Cruz and Chilean director, Pablo Larraín who is currently directing the upcoming movie, Jackie, detailing the life of former first lady Jackie Kennedy.
“It’s how Hollywood works,” Vernon said. “How am I going to reach this broader audience in the U.S.– make a film in English.”
While nowadays English might seem to be a nearly universal language; nearly 650,000 people on Long Island speak a language other than English at home. Events such as OLA’s film festival are windows into the multicultural society Long Islanders are apart of.
“New York is home to very diverse people,” Lucy Presner, a film festival attendee, said. “Why not celebrate all of us?”
“I see a lot of Latinos are afraid to show where they come from, you need to know where you come from to know where you’re going. That’s why we have events like these to bring our community together,” Isabel Sepulveda, founder and president of OLA said.
Sepulveda was a part of the Latino Advisory board for East Hampton before she founded OLA in October of 2002 to promote culture, education and advocate for social rights.
“I came here in 1991, I left Chile on a Monday, arrived here on Tuesday and rested on Wednesday. I looked in the East Hampton Star, I marked all the jobs that I think I could do and one of the jobs was a cashier at the East Hampton Hardware Store,” Sepulveda shared in her opening remarks before the film.
Bernard and Salita who hired Sepulveda for her first job, sat in the crowd cheering for her all these years later.