The diverse culture of Latin America

Two Latin American films recently screened at UCLA explored the experiences of German immigrants to Chile and race and class prejudice in the Dominican Republic, respectively.

The diverse culture of Latin America

Promotional stills from the films "Cielo de agua" (left) and "Miriam miente."

By Maria Amaya Morfin

UCLA International Institute, May 7, 2019 — On April 16, 2019, the 7th Annual Latin American, Latinx and Iberian Film Festival showcased two films, followed by discussions with their directors: "Cielo de agua "(Heaven) and "Miriam miente" (Miriam Lies). The annual film festival was organized by the department of Spanish & Portuguese and cosponsored by the Latin American Institute, together with a host of other campus units.

“Cielo de agua” (2018)

The screening of “Cielo de agua” was cosponsored by the Center for Southern Cone Studies, with center director Verónica Cortínez leading a discussion with the directors following the film.

Narrated in German from beyond the grave by the main character, Bastien, the film describes her family’s life on their estate, situated on a small island near Valdivia, Chile. The island is surrounded by tall trees and crystal-clear water. Bastien is part of a German settler family that has been living in those lands for generations; as a result, she feels a special connection to this place. Sometimes she appears as a child, and at others, as a grown woman, while she narrates her family dynamics involving her mother Ingrid, two of her loyal maids and her only love, Juan — the son of one of the maids.


Discussion with the Poseck sisters led by UCLA Professor Verónica Cortínez.

“Cielo de Agua” was written, directed and produced by the Chilean twin sisters Margarita Poseck, who lives in Valdivia, and Eugenia Poseck, who has lived in Madrid for over forty years. The movie explores the social dynamics created by the German migration to Chile in 1848, which inspired the use of the German language in the film. The directors cast mostly non-professional actors from the German community in Valdivia, many of whom still speak German at home.

“Germans have influenced traditions and architecture in Valdivia and its surrounding areas,” Eugenia Poseck said during the discussion. However, she said, “with the passage of time, the German population has been dying out. When I returned to Valdivia, I noticed that things were changing and then the idea of rescuing some of their traditions occurred to me,” she added.

 
From left: Eugenia and Margarita Poseck..

The Poseck siblings shared their experience producing the film, including their decision to make “Cielo de agua” as a medium-length film due to funding obstacles. They remarked that these financial constraints also yielded positive outcomes. “You do not have money, but if you win freedom, you can do the things you want… without responding to a production team that is telling you that something is very expensive and cannot be done,” explained Margarita. 

The film also explores the tension between economic growth and preserving the environment. When the family’s estate becomes threatened by deforestation, Ingrid fights to protect her land. Similarly, the Poseck sisters make it their mission to incorporate natural landscapes in poetic films that reflect how social and political dynamics change these places.

“Miriam miente” (2018)

“Miriam miente” tells the story of Miriam, a 14-year-old biracial girl who engages in a clandestine online relationship with a black boy. This film takes place in the Dominican Republic where Miriam lives with her mestiza mother Teresa, who has a strong sense of anxiety about her family’s social status.

As Miriam prepares to celebrate her 15th birthday party with her best friend Jennifer, she finds herself lying to her family and friends about her boyfriend’s background. She allows them to believe that her boyfriend is the son of the French ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Every time the protagonist is questioned about his absence during dance rehearsals for her quinceañera, she comes up with new excuses. She believes that her boyfriend’s racial background will bring disappointment to her mother and family.

Written and directed by filmmakers Natalia Cabral (Dominican Republic) and Oriol Estrada (Spain), the story brings attention to the entrenched racism, class distinctions and discrimination in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean and Latin American countries. Parts of the story were inspired by Cabral’s own past.


Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada (with baby).

“When I was about 14 or 15 years old, I also met a guy online and we fell in love,” she explained. “We liked many of the same things and we thought that physical characteristics were not important, so we decided not to send photos — until the day we met and I realized that he was black and from a lower socioeconomic status. So I decided to leave and erase him from my life.”
 
The film has received positive feedback from marginalized communities in Latin America because it illustrates the types of racism faced by black and biracial women in the region. “There are many people who identified with the film, especially teenage girls who, like Miriam, are black, have curly hair and have always felt discriminated against. [They] have always wanted society to accept them the way they are,” said Cabral.

Stars Dulce Rodriguez and Carolina Rohana bring their real-life friendship to the screen. “There are many scenes that were improvised — these were the ideas of the young,” said Estrada. “This helped the scenes to turn out more naturally because [the actresses] did not feel like they were acting, but were very comfortable doing the scenes,” she added.

All event photos by Maria Amaya Morfin/ UCLA.