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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is  Senior New York Correspondent

New York City based Claus Mueller reviews film festivals and related issues and serves as a  senior editor for Society and Diplomatic Review.

As a professor emeritus he covered at Hunter College / CUNY social and media research and is an accredited member of the US State Department's Foreign Press Center.



New York: The Americas Film Festival of New York




As noted in earlier reviews most new film festivals do not survive in the competitive New York market unless they have institutional support, access to productions, a clear profile and an audience. Even established festivals such as the German KINO!  which has had a successful 35 year run at the Museum of Modern Art faces an uncertain future. Kino! had to relocate this year to the small downtown Quad Cinema venue since MOMA no longer carries country specific film programs. But in the major metropolitan area of New York, new festivals are established constantly. The latest addition is The Americas Film Festival of New York, TAFFNY, which took place from June 2 through 5.

This venture was established by the City College Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Center for Worker Education, in cooperation with the City College Division of Humanities and the Arts, and the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.  Support was also provided by the Manhattan based Instituto Cervantes and the National Museum of the American Indian as well as a few commercial sponsors.  City College, which has a long progressive tradition, is part of the City University of New York, the second largest public university in the United States.  Aimed at students, academics, and the general public, the festival has the objective of presenting the manifold cultures and people of the Americas to encourage a dialogue through the arts. In all of the Americas there are many cultural configurations and as noted by Diana Vargas more than 329 languages spoken. There is an expectation that “TAFFNY will become the event students and the general population of Lower Manhattan will look at to start a summer full of discoveries”, as stated by one of its founders Dean Juan Carlos Mercado.  The program included 9 feature films, documentaries and shorts as well as discussion sessions with many productions originating in Latin America.  As distinct from most New York Film Festivals, TAFFNY is open to the public and does not charge for tickets. The opening and closing sessions were attended by invitation only.

Though the selection presented was small, the variety of themes and approaches surprised.  The opening night film MERCEDES SOSA: THE VOICE OF LATIN AMERICA by Rodrigo Vila is a superbly executed documentary about a radical singer, maintaining against all odds an outspoken opposition to political oppression and injustice. Using extensive archival footage, interviews, and concert recordings, Vila succeeds in giving the viewer great insights into the political and social background of Sosa, giving the context frequently missing from biopics.  The short film THE WAY OF THE WORLD CUP was an appropriate introduction to Mercedes Sosa. Its director Carolina Coffe provides a sobering perspective on the destruction of neighboring poor communities ‘cleansed’ by world cup preparations and the contempt officials have for the underclass. SONGS OF REDEMPTION by Miquel Galofre documents the rarely reported effort to rehabilitate inmates in the central prison of Jamaica and the close working relation they have with the prison staff. Through reggae music and religion they are able to discover and redeem themselves using music as an emotional release. Since 2000, the warden has cooperated fully, trying to change the “Living Hell” that is the prison. LA PLAYA D.C.  by Juan Andres Arango, which premiered in Cannes to great acclaim, details painstakingly a teenager’s coming of age in Columbia’s capital district, underscored with constant hip hop music.   The closing night film WINTER IN THE BLOOD by Andrew and Alex Smith depicts a young alcoholic Indian coping with surviving in a small seemingly hostile environment in the Blackfoot Native American community of central Montana. The lead actor Chaske Spencer brings to his part an extraordinary performance, including portrayals of haunting childhood memories, excursions into drunken states and frequent fights. As a beaten down Indian who rarely works he is an antihero moving between traumatic flashbacks and a present where he lacks any clear idea where he might be going. There seems to be some hope after he learns that he is not a half bred Indian and his community begins to look at him differently. I doubt that this film will go beyond festivals and the art house circuit, yet it is a compelling and disconcerting feature that merits to be seen.

Stephen Follows observed that about 40% of all new film festivals last one year and that only a quarter have a life span of more than six years. What are the prospects for The Americas Film festival of New York?  There is institutional backing from City College and affiliation with well-established CUNY units going beyond the backing of a film department. As a publicly funded fest that does not charge admission it will be easier to secure low cost venues. Further, Latinos, one of the core audience groups for the fest, constitute the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States and account now for about 25% of New York City’s population. One important factor speaking for the future of the fest is the long programming experience of its artistic director Diana Vargas. She has been holding the same position for many years at the Havana Film Festival of New York, and can ensure access to quality productions. I think that The Americas Film Festival of New York has an excellent survival chance and hopefully a bright future.


Claus Mueller



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