Newark Museum Showcases Latino Films

Fri Oct 1,10:25 AM ET

By STEVE STRUNSKY, Associated Press Writer

NEWARK, N.J. - Moviegoers are most likely to associate the Newark
Museum with the annual Black Film Festival it has hosted for the past
30 years.

But this weekend the museum will acknowledge the growing influence of
Hispanic culture on New Jersey and film with its first annual Cinema
Latino festival.

The three-day festival begins at 7 p.m. Friday with a screening of
"Bought and Sold," a feature film set in Jersey City, written and
directed by Michael Tolajian.

Saturday's bill, beginning at 5 p.m., includes two features, "Ballad
of a Soldier," directed by Kinan Valdez, and "Manito," written and
directed by Eric Eason. A short film, "White Like the Moon," written
and directed by Marina Gonzalez Palmier, also will be shown.

The festival concludes with a Sunday matinee, a 2:30 p.m. screening of
the documentary "Santo Domingo Blues: Los Tigueres de la Bachata,"
written and directed by Alex Wolfe.

"We are making efforts to reach a Latino population here in New
Jersey, but we also are interested in reaching out to people making
independent film," said Carmen Ramos, the museum's assistant curator
for cultural engagement, and the festival's principal organizer. "It's
also a reflection of trends that are happening nationwide."

Ramos said the museum's annual Black Film Festival is among the oldest
in the country for African-American cinema. The 30th annual festival
in June included a screening of the 2002 Spike Lee documentary, "Jim
Brown (news): All American," with a personal appearance by Brown, the
NFL Hall of Fame running back who became an actor and activist.

"The Black Film Festival had different goals," said Ramos. "When it
started, it was because black actors and directors and writers
couldn't get their stuff in the theaters, with the film festival
business actually being operated as a discovery tool."

"Now," Ramos added, "with growth of the Latino market, especially here
in this state and in other parts of the country, I think the emphasis
is a little different."

Ramos said the goal of the Latino festival is to engage educators,
artists, professionals and the community at large in a creative
discussion that might inspire actors, writers, directors and producers
of Latino cinema. In other words, the festival seeks to be part of the
creative process, rather than simply a distribution aid, she said.

The festival avoids defining Latino cinema, recognizing the complex
nature of Latino culture and identity, said Ramos, who was born in the
Bronx to parents originally from the Dominican Republic.

The opening feature, "Bought and Sold," which premiered at the 2003
Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan, exemplifies the Newark festival's
flexibility. For example, Tolajian, the film's director, is not

"I'm 100 percent Americanized Armenian," said Tolajian, who lives in

But the film's young star, Rafael Sardina, is Puerto Rican, as is his
character, Ray-Ray.

"The story itself takes place in Jersey City. There's an
African-American, an Asian, an Armenian," said Tolajian. "He's the
center point, of course, but it's kind of how all these racial or
ethnic groups interplay in this coming-of-age story."

Tolajian said he would not label "Bought and Sold" a Latino film
himself, but he doesn't mind if others do.

"I think distributors, they need an audience to get it out there, they
need a particular audience," he said. "If they have to target it to an
urban or Latino market, I don't mind it."