The late actor Anthony Quinn, who was known for having played characters of almost every ethnicity--except perhaps Nordic--during his 60-year career, surprisingly didn't place too much importance on his own background. "It doesn't make a difference as long as I'm a person in the world," he said. In its third year, Vistas Film Festival, which honors Quinn with a free, daily seven-movie retrospective, follows the same sort of philosophy. That means the four-day celebration of Latino filmmakers, actors and their craft will feature more white faces, a duo of Hollywood films (Spy Kids and All the Pretty Horses) and the return of the well-received indie release Amores Perros. But that doesn't mean there are any fewer of its usual blink-and-you'll miss them Latino-centric independent fiction stories and documentaries.
Vistas, which has shown great range in its first two years, now travels out of its zones of comfort, embracing modern stressed-out madres, Latina lesbians looking for love, Catholics questioning their faith, Pancho Villa stripped of myth and the role of Hispanics in government, politics and American history. This year's films span from the arrival of the conquistadors to a future in which Puerto Rico gains independence, from Dallas students talking about guns in schools to El Vez, the Mexican Elvis impersonator who uses decades-old pop songs to spread the words of Cesar Chavez and Che Guevara. Here are just a few of Vistas' highlights.
Across the Line: The modern Western follows a Mexican immigrant who finds life in the land of the free and home of the brave isn't as idyllic as she expected when corrupt border guards stalk her after she witnesses a bloodbath following a drug deal gone bad. The film makes its local premiere on opening night.
Ballad of a Soldier: El Teatro Campesino's response to the number of Hispanic men drafted and killed in Vietnam becomes a full-length film shot in black and white and jiving to a '60s rock and Latin beat. Johnny Rodriguez wants his final day at home to be worthy of a soldier's goodbye in a Hollywood movie. At first, it is: Johnny finally gets to be the "somebody" he always wanted to be, and his parents are happy he's away from the thug friends they were afraid would lead him astray. But beneath their Sunday best, everyone's afraid Johnny's last night at home before Vietnam is his last night at home ever.
Manuela Saenz: This sepia-toned historic melodrama kicks off with the arrival of Herman Melville, a sailor toying with the idea of writing a book about a whale, in an isolated Peru town home to Saenz, the ex-lover of "The Liberator" Simon Bolivar. Melville finds her confined to the past--memories and Bolivar's letters she swore to protect--and unwittingly brings the plague that will end her tragic love story.
In addition to the films themselves--many of which will not be seen here again unless they gain distribution or are accepted into another festival--Vistas also hosts talks by the Latino filmmakers. Crew from Salsa Caliente, Accordion Dreams and This Town Is Not for Sale will all attend screenings of their respective documentaries, as will three eighth-grade students from Dallas' Raul Quintanilla School, who produced the short films Black Lipstick and Dark Memories.