By Priscilla Blossom, Special to Denverite
Film brings people closer together, and for some of greater Denver’s Latino population, that can mean seeking out the places that screen films in Spanish, or ones that are dubbed or subtitled.
Given that 30 percent of Denver identifies as Hispanic and 1 in 10 of Colorado residents are immigrants themselves, popularizing Spanish language and Latino film here just makes sense. That said, the struggle to find such films is real. Occasionally, a theater (like the Sie Film Center) might show a popular, Spanish-language film. Something by Pedro Almodovar, perhaps. But sometimes people just want to watch what everyone else is watching. Like “Despicable Me 3” … but en español.
In a quiet corner of Aurora, just off Peoria Street, people trickle in and out of a movie theater where such a thing is possible. A group of young men wait just outside the theater smoking cigarettes before showtime, while inside, children excitedly run amok in the lobby. The lines for tickets and palomitas (popcorn) move quickly here at Cinema Latino — the only theater in town dedicated to providing a true Latin American-style movie theater experience. It’s here that the audience for American Assassin might equal that of “Hazlo Como Hombre,” where Takis and taquitos can be purchased with a box of Reese’s Pieces.
Aurora resident Patricia Guzman is a regular fixture at the cinema, watching at least one movie here a month.
“It has the subtitles in Spanish, so if I bring my boyfriend, he speaks Spanish and I speak English. We can watch it together,” says Guzman.
“I like the games,” adds Guzman’s 8-year-old daughter, Lecet, referring to the lobby arcade. Guzman and her children were on their way to watch “Planet of the Apes.”
Fifteen-year-old Anahi Estrada and 17-year-old Stacey Zepeda also enjoy visiting Cinema Latino. They recently watched a dubbed version of the horror remake, “It.” For the girls, there’s no difference in watching movies here versus someplace else.
“We really don’t care because we’re bilingual,” they tell Denverite. More than anything, it’s just another place to go out with friends that’s close to home. What they may not realize, though, is that attending a primarily Spanish-language theater inherently helps them stay connected to their bilingual and Latino roots.
The theater, run by the Sonora Entertainment Group, first opened in 2001 in Aurora. Cesar Sanchez, marketing and media manager for Sonora, explains how Cinema Latino is also dedicated to their community, by way of raffles for their guests, and rewarding academic excellence by giving freebies to students presenting high marks on their report cards.
Additionally, Cinema Latino partners with other local organizations in order to give back — most recently with the Libre Institute, an organization whose mission statement is to empower “Latinos to achieve the American Dream” by way of things like education and economic prosperity.
“We donated the theater as a venue this past August for their Back-to-School (event), where they gave hundreds of backpacks free for students and also provided different kinds of information on the programs available for the parents to pick and choose the right school for the students.”
Sanchez also notes that Cinema Latino gets involved helping to promote voter registration and voting in general.
“We like to get involved and help out anywhere we can,” says Sanchez.
Additionally, Cinema Latino puts on a yearly film festival as well, in conjunction with the Hola Mexico Film Festival. This year’s fest is slated for the last week of October.
Across town, a somewhat different experience can be had on the first Thursday of every month: XicanIndie First Thursdays at Su Teatro. The colorful performing arts center in the vibrant Santa Fe Arts District is well-known for putting on productions based around the Chicano experience. They also host the yearly XicanIndie Film Festival, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next April. But XicanIndie First Thursdays is still a relatively young event, heading into its third year of operations.
Daniel Salazar is a local Chicano artist as well as the curator of film at XicanIndie. Salazar is enthusiastic about sharing Spanish-language cinema with Denver’s film lovers, Latino or otherwise. XicanIndie Thursdays is how Su Teatro keeps up the excitement for Latin American cinema year-round, with occasional special events like outdoor movies in the summertime.
“We just have so much great material built up,” says Salazar about how the idea for the Thursday night event even came about. Salazar personally chooses every film that plays on XicanIndie nights.
“I think we try and show pieces that will resonate with our community, but will also provide… a Latino perspective that we generally don’t see, that we don’t have a lot of access to.” says Salazar.
Gisselle Rovira attended XicanIndie Thursdays for the first time earlier this month after a friend heard about it through a Meetup group. The movie of the evening was “Sleep Dealer,” a 2008 sci-fi thriller from Mexico about a dystopian future that connects technology with the migrant experience.
“I’m new to the city, but I love knowing we have these types of events here,” Rovira tells Denverite.
Rovira says she enjoys films in both English and Spanish, but mainly prefers to watch films in whichever language they were originally shot.
“When you have subtitles in another language, you make the film that much more inclusive. So if someone doesn’t speak the language, they’ll get interested because now they’ll be able to understand it.”
Rovira brings up an excellent point. Not only does having Spanish language films here in Denver help Latin American immigrants and their loved ones feel more connected to their roots, it also opens the world of Latin American cinema to a much wider audience. At XicanIndie Thursdays, you’ll frequently find not just Latinos, but others who simply wish to enjoy films in their original language.
Overall, the main concern moviegoers have about Spanish-language film events in the city is the same across the board: They say there needs to be more advertising.
“In libraries, train stations, truck stops, museums, schools, restaurants —and not just in the Latino community, but everywhere,” Rovira says.
“We need to target more segments of the population who might not know about these types of films and theaters…It’s a manifestation of our culture. The more folks who find out about it, the better.”
For those interested: Cinema Latino screens Spanish-language films every day and night of the week. XicanIndie’s next event will happen Thursday, October 5th. Salazar is still working on which film he’ll be showing, though he hints it will likely help put folks in the Halloween mood.
Priscilla Blossom writes about travel, parenting, and (pop) culture. She’s a staff writer for Romper.com, and a contributor to USA Today’s 10Best, Miami.com, and MommyNearest. Her days are spent practicing yoga, binge-watching teen dramas, adventuring with her toddler, and running a feminist lifestyle blog at prisblossom.com. Reach her on Twitter/Instagram at @prisblossom.