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VISIONS OF LATINO CULTURES, “AQUÍ Y ALLÁ”

The acclaimed documentary feature HARVEST OF EMPIRE screens at Two River Theater Sunday night as part of a three-day Vision Latin-American Film Festival at locations around Monmouth County. 

By TOM CHESEK

Its performance spaces may have gone momentarily dark between mainstage productions — but this weekend, Red Bank’s Two River Theater becomes one of the newest participating hosts for an arts event that’s primed to connect with some new audiences: the annual Vision Latin American Film Festival.

A presentation of the Latino Coalition of New Jersey — the nonprofit organization that’s hosted the annual Latino Festival of Monmouth County in Freehold Borough since 2005 — the newly expanded program offers up a slate of seven feature-length dramatic and documentary films selected to increase the understanding and appreciation for the various Latino cultures that thrive in New Jersey.

“Through the eyes of the filmmakers, we will see Latino perspectives on relationships, politics, family, religion and customs that surround their lives,” the coalition says in its press materials for the filmfest, which will feature introductions by guest speakers as well as post-screening Q&A discussions.

The celebration of Latino cinema has forged a separate identity from the summertime festival in Freehold, with a two days/ three nights schedule of recent works from North and South America that screens this weekend in three different Monmouth County locations — including Two River Theater Company’s branded Bridge Avenue artspace.

With seating for 50 and an 80-inch flat screen, the new Victoria J. Mastrobuono Library at Two River Theater will serve as the setting for a trio of screening events.

“This is our first time outside of Freehold, and we already consider this year to be a success,” said spokesman Stan Organek. “Next year it’ll be even better.”

Organek was asked by the Latino Coalition director, Kean University professor and author Frank Argote-Freyre, to succeed Lazaro Cardenas as the film festival’s committee chairman in 2013 — this despite the fact that he “didn’t know a thing about Latin American cinema,” and doesn’t speak Spanish. The self-described “organizer and activist” set about expanding the program’s reach and potential audience, with new sponsors and new host venues in Red Bank and Asbury Park.

“My role involves getting people to agree, getting them motivated — a lot of prodding, a little chutzpah,” says the Freehold Township resident, who played an instrumental part in the headline-making day laborer “muster zone” lawsuit against the borough a decade ago. “Nuts and bolts stuff: hundreds of emails, and a good deal of shoe leather.”

The program keynotes on Friday night at the new ShowRoom Cinema art house in downtown Asbury Park, with an 8 pm showing of The Colors of the Mountain, Carlos Arbeláez’s 2010 story of young children growing up in the war-scarred countryside of Colombia.

The series moves on Saturday to the Center Playhouse in Freehold Borough — the home venue for the Film Festival in each of its three editions — for a trio of screenings, beginning at 1 pm with The Perfect Game and its inspiring underdog story of a Mexican team’s big win in the Little League World Series. At 4 pm, director Chris Weitz (American Pie, New Moon) tells the saga of a struggling East L.A. family in A Better Life — and at 8 pm it’s an encore look at Central Station, the 1998 Golden Globe winner from Brazil (this one presented in Portuguese with English subtitles).

Then on Sunday, the Vision Festival makes its first foray into Red Bank with a slate of screenings inside Two River Theater’s Victoria J. Mastrobuono Library — the recently inaugurated patron lounge (designed by Neil Prince) that will be configured for the occasion with seating for up to 50 audience members. The trio of film events represents an opportunity for the general public to have a look at the new Library, which as of June 1 will be reserved for the use of Two River Theater Company “Backstage Pass” donors.

At 1 pm, Chilean director Andrés Wood’s 2004 Machuca looks at the larger issue of class conflict through the eyes of two young boys from opposite sides of society’s tracks. It’s followed at 4 pm by the 2012 Cannes Festival winner Aquí y Allá, Antonio Méndez Esparza’s portrait of a Mexican immigrant who’s torn between his responsibilities to his rural family, and his dreams of success as a musician. The 2013 festival concludes with an 8 pm showing of Harvest of Empire — the Untold Story of Latinos in America, the 2012 documentary by Daily News journalist and Democracy Now! co-host Juan González that “exposes the direct connection between the long history of U.S. intervention in Latin America and the immigration crisis we face today.”

“Thematically, the films all have some compelling point to make,” says Organek. “They all share a cultural interest or social conscience…we want to attract a diverse audience, and to help people think about some of these issues.”

Tickets for all screenings in the Vision Latin American Film Festival are priced at $5, and are available in person or online from the box offices of the participating venues. Take it here to reserve seating at any of the Two River Theater events.

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