Margherita Tortora brings Ibero cinema to New Haven

Margherita Tortora co-founded a regional film festival devoted to Ibero American cinema.
Margherita Tortora co-founded a regional film festival devoted to Ibero American cinema. Photo by Maria Zepeda.

The annual week long New England Festival of Ibero American Cinema (NEFIAC) showcases films from Latin America, Spain and Portugal in New Haven and nearby college towns. Margherita Tortora, the festival’s artistic director and New Haven coordinator, helps select films and invites speakers to the festival. NEFIAC, which is now in its third year, also hosts panel discussions about topics such as the promotion of human rights through film and the relationship between graphic advertising art and the film industry. The News interviewed Tortora, a senior lector in the Spanish and Portuguese department, after a screening of the Ecuadorian documentary “Undocumented” to explore her thoughts on planning the festival, which will screen its final films in New Haven today.

Q: What is the reason for having a festival like this in New England?

A: The New England Festival of Ibero American Cinema started as an idea between me and my good friend Annia Bu, who is a Cuban actress; Leonel Limonte, who is the president of NEFIAC; and José Torrealba, from Providence. José Torrealba had the Providence Latin American Film Festival, and Annia was invited there to show her film “Los dioses rotos (Fallen Gods),” and since she is my friend, she invited me to go. I [have been] a cinephile for many years; I go to many film festivals. We were just talking over lunch with José and Leonel, and they said, “Gee, we know so many filmmakers between us, and so many wonderful works that hardly anybody gets to see. We should unite and have a regional film festival.”

Q: How do you find the films?

A: Most of the actors, directors and producers are my friends. I just say I want a Columbian movie, I contact my friends who are Columbian actors, filmmakers and producers, and say, “Hey, what do you recommend from Columbia?” I’m very privileged in that way. I said, “I know all these wonderful people who do all these great creative works. It’s selfish to keep that to myself.” I want to share it with the community … We have several programs of short films, feature films — both comedy and drama — and we have documentaries like the one you are seeing today. We try to get a nice variety of films. None of the films are more than two years old, so they’re all new films, and we try to concentrate on emerging filmmakers.

Q: What are some of the works that you have seen at this film festival that you think really stand out?

A: The one on Saturday called “Aquí Entre Nos (Between Us)” by Patricia Martínez de Velasco. That won the highest audience award in Mexico. It’s her first feature film, and it’s already won many, many prizes. The main actor won the Best Actor Ariel, which is like the Mexican Oscar … Jordi Mariscal’s film, “Canela,” is a beautiful film for the whole family, but especially for young people, and he presented the film in Columbus School in Fair Haven to all the children, who just loved it. In fact, one of the comments of a 10-year-old there was that he wants to grow up to be a filmmaker. We always try to do activities with the city in the schools.… In the audience, we have a wonderful mixture of people from the university and the greater New Haven community. I think that is very important, because there are so many people who have never set foot in Yale, because it’s sort of like this untouchable space, [and there are] a lot of Yale students who really don’t know much about our community here; they live in a little bit of an isolated space. I love getting the greater New Haven community and the Yale community together.

Q: How many countries are represented?

A: Seventeen countries in over 60 films during the whole week here at Yale.

Q: How many films do you look at before narrowing them down?

A: I’d say at least 300 films. I started in March.

Q: On what basis do you decide what panel discussions will be about?

A: [The filmmakers] were here, and I wanted people to hear them speak and see the differences and similarities between making a film in Mexico, making a film in Cuba, making a film in the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Puerto Rico and Ecuador.

Q: What did they have to say?

A: Most countries now are finally passing a “law of cinema” to support making films in their country. Some of them, like Mexico, are starting to pass laws that movie theaters have to dedicate a certain percentage of their screening rooms to national cinema, which never was the case, because everything was always controlled by the distributors and the movie theaters. But in some places, this is starting. Jordi Mariscal was saying, “It’s so frustrating to make a movie in Mexico, and then hardly any of our movies are shown in movie theaters.”

Q: What role do film festivals like this have in supporting the filmmakers?

A: Well, we give them a place to show their films!

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