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Downtown Champaign: Perfect for Micro Festivals

Downtown Champaign, with its two movie theatres and its many bars, restaurants and cafés seems to be a perfect locale for small film festivals: movie buffs can watch a film and then talk about it over espresso at Café Aroma or chocolate martinis at Kofusion or burgers at the Esquire.

Ebertfest may be the best example of how well suited downtown Champaign is to the small festival. Each year at the end of April, the area from Westside Park to the train tracks is filled with film industry types, movie fans and Roger Ebert groupies (they’re the wildest bunch), wandering about, wearing oversized laminated passes and talking about whether the film they’ve just watched is justifiably “overlooked.”

Yet if Ebertfest is a small festival (which surely it is compared to Cannes, Sundance or even Chicago), the upcoming Latin American Film Festival, celebrating its second year, might best be described as a micro-festival. There are only five films total, showing twice an evening (three on Saturday) from April 4–10.

But the intimate and accessible quality of this festival, hosted by Boardman’s Art Theatre, only adds to the charm. At what other festival could you find easy parking, go to see some of the best new films out of Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, and be able to walk down to Radio Maria for some tapas (and getting 15% off with your movie stub)?

The Latin American Film Festival could have easily taken place on campus, but Angelina Colter, associate director for Latin American Caribbean Studies at the University of Illinois and founder of the festival, thought downtown Champaign would be a better fit. “I chose the art theatre because I wanted it to be a community event, not a university event,” she says.

While Colter can’t say which she would recommend to somebody who could only see one film — she claims it’s like asking her “to pick a favorite child” — she does point to the opening night’s The Violin (Mexico 2006) as one of the most acclaimed of the bunch. While each film will be introduced by an expert from the respective country, the most exciting screening may be Saturday at 8 p.m., when local Samba band Desafinado plays before Alice’s House (Brazil 2007).

If this year’s Latin American Film Festival is like last year’s event, then it should get quite a turnout. And if the community catches the festival buzz, the Latin American Film Festival and other micro festivals taking place in downtown Champaign (the Tournées French Film Festival and the Asian Film Festival are two that come to mind) may grow and be able to show more films and hopefully establish this area as one well known not just for its nightlife, but also its film festivals.

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