The Daily News Record

September 19 2017                                                                                                    We Unite As One                                                                                                            Shelby Mertens                                                                                                  

The theme of this year’s 20th annual Harrisonburg International Festival, “Out of Many, One,” seeks to show unity in a climate that seems all too divisive.

“[It’s] the idea that within Harrisonburg, there’s so many languages spoken, so many cultures and cuisines, but through it all, there’s a sense of unity that we all coexist together,” said International Festival Director Alan Qambari. “We unite as one.”

The festival highlights food, dance, music and culture from more than 25 countries around the world. This year’s festival will take place on Saturday, Sept. 30, from noon to 6 p.m.

The International Festival attracts 8,000 to 9,000 people to Hillandale Park every year. But Qambari is expecting the festival to have an even bigger turnout this year, judging from the activity on the festival’s social media pages, which he said has tripled. He suspects the growing interest has to do with the current political climate.

About 30 to 40 local nonprofits and organizations will have display booths set up in the Global Village. With around 50 different languages spoken in the city schools, the festival is always reaching out to the community to bring in more organizations, groups and cultures.

“Our goal is to get as much of those groups and languages represented,” Qambari said.

This year’s headliner is La Alma Latina, a ballet dance group from the Washington, D.C. area., and Up With People, an organization of international students who travel the globe to perform live and offer volunteer service. Their performance at the International Festival will incorporate various dances from around the world, Qambari said.

The festival will, of course, still open with the Aztec dance by indigenous tribes, and will end with the traditional Kurdish line dancing.

“That’s the one constant that always exists,” he said. “The type of dance they do is probably the easiest to pick up and the most inclusive.”

The food offered at the festival will represent a palette of ethnic cuisine, with food from local restaurants and food trucks such as El Sol, El Milagro, Taste of India, UBON Thai, Mashita, Paella Perfecta and Al-Barakah Restaurant and Pastry.

The Harrisonburg International Festival is free to attend and is held rain or shine.

Diversity Through Art

For more cultural immersion, four award-winning Spanish language films will be shown at Court Square Theater Sept. 27-Oct. 1 for the Hispanic Film Festival in Harrisonburg.

Now in its 14th year, the festival changed its name from “Latino” to “Hispanic” Film Festival in an effort to encompass more Spanish-speaking cultures, said Karina Kline-Gabel, a Spanish language professor at James Madison University and founder of the festival.

“We changed it to ‘Hispanic’ this year so that it would be inclusive of movies from Spain as well,” she said. “The word ‘Latino’ has changed a little bit, too. Sometimes it means more of Spanish speakers from the U.S. versus just the adjective of being from a Spanish-speaking country, so we felt like ‘Hispanic’ just kept us more into the category that we wanted to be in.”

Each year, the festival tends to have a focus. This time, the Hispanic Film Festival is showing movies from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

“Due to this climate that we’re in, it felt really necessary to try to highlight some cultures that perhaps we don’t see in film a lot, so our focus has been on representing the Caribbean Spanish-speaking countries,” Kline-Gabel said.

The stories all emphasize the human connection, she said.

The first film, “La Granja” is a 2015 Puerto Rican drama directed by Angel Manuel Soto. The title translates to “The Farm” in Spanish. “La Granja” tells the stories of, “a promising young boxer, a barren midwife and a fat kid with a bike: three intersecting stories about the pursuit of happiness and it’s unanticipated consequences during the economic collapse of the island of Puerto Rico,” according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). The film won Best Narrative Feature at the Urbanworld Film Festival and Best Opera Prima at the Guadalajara Film Festival.

“There’s a lot more around these stories: sadness and poverty — realism,” Kline-Gabel said.

“La Granja” will be showing Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. and Sept. 28 at 9:30 p.m.

The 2017 drama “Carpinteros,” or “Woodpeckers,” will be showing on Sept. 27 at 9:30 p.m. and Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. The film, directed by Jose Maria Cabral, is about a man incarcerated in a prison in the Dominican Republic who uses sign language to communicate to his imprisoned girlfriend.

“Santa y Andres” is the third film to be shown at the film festival on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. and Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. Directed by Carlos Lechuga, the 2016 political drama is set in Cuba in 1983, when the Cuban government bans a gay novelist from writing. Under house arrest, a peasant woman is ordered to watch him, and the two form an “unlikely” friendship.

Another Cuban film will be shown at the festival: “Esteban,” directed by Jonal Cosculluela. The 2016 drama is about a 9-year-old boy named Esteban who is an aspiring pianist. “Esteban” won the Audience Choice Award at the Chicago Latino Film Festival. The film is showing at Court Square Theater on Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 1 at 4 p.m.

“Each of the characters are very unique in each film,” Kline-Gabel said. “We have two films where the main characters are young boys, for instance, and I think that’s very relevant because we can all kind of identify a little bit with being a child that wants a better life.”

The Hispanic Film Festival, sponsored by the Arts Council of the Valley, dates back to 2003. Kline-Gabel started the film festival to create an event to celebrate Harrisonburg’s growing Spanish-speaking community.

“It’s become just one of the events in Harrisonburg that people look forward to every year,” she said.

All the films are subtitled. None of the films are rated, but Kline-Gabel said the films are intended for mature audiences.

For the last two years, Kline-Gabel has also started a program for students at Harrisonburg High School called Cine Mas, which brings an ageappropriate Spanish language film to the high school. The event will be held in October this year.

Tickets for each film are $5 for students, $8.50 for seniors, $9.50 for adults and $8 for matinee showtimes.