11th Sydney Latin American Film Festival + interview with founder Mark Taylor

The Sydney Latin American Film Festival is back again this year, kicking off from Thursday, 8th September and continuing until Monday, 12th September.  The opening night’s an absolute gem, with the Australian premiere of Jules and Dolores, and an opening night fiesta that includes 8-piece band, Kriola Collective, playing 70’s Black Rio Samba, Soul and Funk.  DJ Don Juan (who you might have seen around Sydney at various clubs, events and functions) will also be there on Opening Night.

The 5-day festival doesn’t just celebrate Latin film.  The SLAFF is also a not for profit organisation, having raised over $116,000 for 26 organisations since 2006.  These funds have supported  social justice, environmental and community development organisations in Latin America and Australia.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the SLAFF’s Shorts and Sounds Festival, which was an event held in support of the main one this week.   Festival Founder Mark Taylor spoke about the importance of the festival as a whole, as how, from its inception, it came from a love of a culture and “a thirst for Latin American stories in Sydney … we needed some fresh ideas and perspectives to sanitise us from the ultra-conservative times we were living in so I found a passionate crew and started a film festival”.

Road to La Paz screens Sunday, 11th September at 8pm

Road to La Paz screens Sunday, 11th September at 8pm


I think personally we’re still finding remnants of ultra-conservative times.  I feel incredibly uplifted when I hear stories of people breaking through racial barriers or of people successfully sharing stories and cultures.  I’m all for an inclusive, diverse society where we can learn from each other, where one group’s experience is no better or less than another.  I think this is the importance of the Sydney Latin American Film Festival (and other festivals like it) – it’s a way of getting outside the world you live in, and stepping into another culture, if only for the length of a feature film.

About the Sydney Latin American Film Festival

Since 2006, the Sydney Latin American Film Festival has been successfully promoting Latin American cinema and culture, and this year will be no different.  From its opening night’s fiesta at the Dendy Opera Quays to its closing night with legendary harpist Victor Valdes and screening of Mexican comedy El Jeremías, s the festival showcases art and culture from a truly diverse continent.  That the areas of Central and South America is so diverse in its people, language and cultures is another reason why an event like this is so needed.

The festival crew are run by people who represent different geographical regions of Latin America, and they work tirelessly to curate the best of Latin American film and culture.  In fact, each film is from different countries in Latin America.  In their own words: “We live and breathe Latin American film and culture. We live in your community and will bring you the best films and events with the broadest spectrum throughout the year.  But we still have a lot of work to do. Even in a multicultural city like Sydney, stereotypes abound about being Latino/a. The Sydney Latin American Film Festival has a responsibility to represent the diversity of stories, cultures and voices coming from the vast Latin American continent. We aim to achieve this through a deeply considered selection of feature films, documentaries and shorts that further the understanding and appreciation of Latin America”.

Mark Taylor talks more about the festival, how it came about and why it’s an important event.

Mark Taylor, Festival Founder interview

The start of the festival 

The first year was 2005 , it took about a year to get up and running, none of us had any idea but we found a handy guide online published by a film festival in Korea titled How to Start a Film Festival.  I still have it, it was an invaluable resource.

The difference between then and now

The first year we had nothing to lose and there was so much freedom, and the crew had enough collective expertise to pull it off.  We had a beautiful festival with a special guest Cuban filmmaker. We sold out a lot of sessions and raised a lot of money for a couple of organisations in Latin America. We didn’t use traditional cinemas, we had a theatre in Campbelltown Arts Centre and a trade union hall at Central. I don’t think we paid any screening fees as we invited filmmakers directly, at that time distributors were not interested in Australia so we enjoyed a very sweet spot for a while, where filmmakers gave us their films and we were able to direct all the ticket sales to helping grass roots organisations. Our dollar went a long way and had great impact at the time.

Jules and Dolores screens Thursday, 8th September at 7pm

Jules and Dolores screens Thursday, 8th September at 7pm


The diversity of people in the organisation

It is a much larger organisation now and we have a lot more events throughout the year, the Sydney Latin American Film Festival is a very professionally run community organisation with some very passionate and very skilled people at the helm. The organisation now is mostly people from different Latin American backgrounds, from El Salvador, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia.  The Sydney Latin American Film Festival is Simon Bolivar‘s vision for a united Latin America.

It’s challenging, but rewarding with the bonus being that you get to experience working alongside people who are equally as passionate and committed to a common goal. People go far, far beyond the call of duty.

Justifying existence

When we started it was mostly whiteys. The biggest change, though, has been in the past few years, filmmakers rarely will negotiate with us directly and distributors have been asking way too much for film screenings to the point where we are constantly questioning our existence. One of the main reasons that the crew work so incredibly hard on a volunteer basis is that we want to make a difference through fundraising. Why should we work so hard for free just so distributors can generate big incomes? So we need to constantly evolve, and thats how we survive and keep doing what we love.

Paciente screens Sunday, 11th September at 4pm

Paciente screens Sunday, 11th September at 4pm


The business of running a cultural festival based on film and art

We find a whole lot of films that we think audiences here will love, we do this by visiting festivals in Europe and Latin America.  We have a crew member who travels for work a lot and is able to schedule time in for festivals. We also have a correspondent in Argentina who voluntarily gathers new material. Once we have our program we begin negotiating with distributors. It is a very difficult process and the programming team, despite all the challenges of a new era, manage to always produce a compelling and diverse program. We work closely with a number of other festivals around the country as well.

Mark’s favourite film so far

One of my favourite films was MIA from Argentina.It opened the 2012 festival and was a film made with non-actors about a very marginalised community of Transgender carton collectors living on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Between Sea and Land screens Friday 9th September at 9pm

Between Sea and Land screens Friday 9th September at 9pm


The importance of film festivals

Festivals are one of the last true spaces where we can really see humanities potential. Looking at a big festival like Burning Man, these festivals will always thrive because they operate within the space of the heart, with principals that cant be argued with like self reliance, inclusion, communal effort and civic responsibility. When we started the Sydney Latin American Film Festival, we wanted it to be volunteer run to remove the commodification of what we were doing so that we could work in a more pure way.

As an organisation we practise inclusion and we foster new volunteer. We want people to feel like they can own the space and contribute to the events, and they do, the festival provides a platform for people to share their talents and to build community and awareness around things that they feel strongly about. That is why each year is different and it is also why we have so many different projects and events that happen throughout the year. All this comes across to our audience and they can feel the love at our events. At an audience level we want people to realise that they are not just coming to see a film, and rather that they are experiencing something more profound.

Get your tickets for the 2016 Sydney Latin American Film Festival

  • Child ticket is valid for children 3 – 15 years of age
  • Payment using all major credit cards
  • Transaction fee applies to online and phone bookings
  • Dendy Opera Quays is wheelchair accessible
  • Cruise Bar Level 3, Circular Quay West, Sydney is wheelchair accessible
  • Festival tickets are non-refundable and non-exchangeable
  • Lost or stolen tickets cannot be replaced or refunded
  • All seating is unreserved (unless where stated otherwise)
  • Please check the festival website for classification updates. Age restrictions apply.

For more information re: tickets, head to http://www.sydneylatinofilmfestival.org/ticketing-booking-info/

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