In 2003 a total of 18 people attended the first Las Vegas Latin Short Film Festival, which launched with a trio of short films at the Charleston Heights Arts Center.
"It started because I was a teacher, and I found that people's attention spans were diminishing," said festival founder and the director of the Nevada Hispanic Museum Lynette Sawyer, who taught at St. Christopher Catholic School. "I said instead of showing long films, let's show some short films."
The event grew steadily and by 2009 the event had moved to the Springs Preserve theater, where Wolfgang Puck provided appetizers for the more than 200 people at the sold-out event.
The festival has continued to progress, and this year it takes another step forward. Three feature films have been added to the lineup and the festival has officially dropped the "short" from its name.
In all, 22 films representing Mexico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Uruguay, Argentina, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, Peru and the United States will be shown during the marathon movie session 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. The festival is intended for adults, and Sawyer has also organized children's Latino film festivals that have been held at the West Charleston Library.
While the festival has been growing, Sawyer said the number and quality of films coming out of Latin America have climbed.
"The quality of films has increased. There are certain countries that have been making films for many years and that is reflected in the quality and amount they submitted for us to view," said Sawyer, who pointed to Spain, Mexico and Puerto Rico as having stronger film traditions.
"Then there are other countries that are still developing their industries but are constantly improving. The range of topics has also surprised us. There have been films in the past that dealt with autism, and this year numerous films deal with gender issues," she said.
After selling out the Springs Preserve theater three years in a row, Sawyer has moved the festival to the College of Southern Nevada Cheyenne Campus.
One of the feature films is "MADEINUSA," a movie from Peru about a town where the people believe sin does not exist between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. "XXY," a feature film from Argentina and Uruguay, tells the tale of a 15-year-old hermaphrodite. The final feature, "Habana Eva," is a Cuban and Venezuelan film about a young seamstress living in Havana.
The 19 short films, including three from Las Vegas filmmakers -- "Scarlet," "Legacy" and "Eye for an Eye" -- will be shown throughout the day. Audience members will vote, and then the favorites will be shown again in the evening. From 2:45-3:45 p.m. there will be a panel discussion with John Aliano, film professor at College of Southern Nevada, Francisco Menendez, chair of the UNLV Film Department, Aixa Clemente, a Los Angeles based actress, and director Rene Rhi.
There will be an evening VIP reception that, along with festival admission, costs $20, general admission is $10 and seniors, students and members of the military pay $5. The festival is a fundraiser and proceeds go to programs at the Hispanic Museum of Nevada.
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