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Latin Americans celebrate their golden years in London

5 May

Amada Silva, 69, is the founder and co-ordinator of the Latin American Golden Years Day Centre in Lambeth, south London. Having fled Pinochet’s Chile in 1976 before coming to the UK and eventually setting up the centre, Amada’s life story is fascinating.

Amada at the day centre

In Chile, she worked as an MP for the Communist Party, and her husband, Fernando Vergara, was a bodyguard for Salvador Allende’s opposition to Pinochet before Allende was assassinated in 1973; both were dangerous careers under Pinochet’s military dictatorship. But just how dangerous was proved to Amada one morning in 1976, when her family received a tip that the military was coming for them that afternoon. “We had been worried for some months that the military would come but I didn’t believe it at first. I kept saying ‘no, I will stay where my people are’ but then someone more senior approached me saying it was true, and we had no choice. We didn’t have time to get many of our belongings. We had to just jump in the car and go. It was a close get away; I saw the military arrive at the house. It was a horrible moment but we got out of it.Continue reading

Serving up some Mexican spirit: Eric Partaker, co-founder of Chilango

7 Mar

Eric Partaker, 35, seems like one of those people that just takes everything in their stride. Half-American, half-Norwegian, it was during his childhood in Chicago that Partaker became hooked on Mexican cuisine. When he came to work in London in 2004 and met a like-minded colleague in the form of Dan Houghton it was almost like fate. Three years later the duo had travelled round Mexico and the USA, and carried out enough research to leave their desk jobs and set up Mucho Más.

Eric Partaker (L) with his Chilango co-founder, Dan Houghton (R)

“I suppose it might seem daring but that depends on how you perceive the risk,” reasons Partaker. “Even if it screwed up I knew we’d have something else to do. I just thought gees; it wouldn’t be the end of the world.” Continue reading

Gateway to Latin America: LAB chair, Sue Branford

21 Feb

For the past 34 years, the London-based research organisation, Latin America Bureau, has published groundbreaking books on Latin American issues and spread awareness through events such as lectures and workshops. Speaking to me from her home in Clun, Shropshire, chair of LAB, Sue Branford, tells me more about the organisation.

Sue Branford, Chair of LAB since 2003

Having been a member of LAB almost since its inception, and led the organisation since 2003, no-one knows LAB, or indeed the continent it represents, better than Branford. She has visited every Latin American country and most of the Caribbean islands. While working freelance for the Guardian and the Financial Times, she lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil throughout the 1970s, and returned for brief spells in later decades. She is fluent in Portuguese and speaks good Spanish.

She tells me how LAB was created, in 1977, by a group of writers, journalists and activists shocked by the military dictatorships of the likes of Pinochet, Videla in Argentina and Stroessner in Paraguay. During Videla’s ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina from 1976 to 1983 it is estimated some 20,000 people disappeared; human rights groups claim the figure is closer to 30,000.

Pinochet with his henchmen in the 1970s

“There was very much a feeling that we ought to show solidarity here in Britain with those suffering repression and disappearances in Latin America”, Branford enthuses. “There was a real surge of interest in Latin America after Pinochet’s military coup in Chile in 1973. Many refugees came over from Chile to escape the repression. Many countries in Latin America were under military dictatorships around that time, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia. Stories were beginning to be told of the horrors of these military dictatorships and the work being done in Latin America to mobilise against them was starting to echo around the world. We thought that needed more publicity. That’s where it all started from.” Continue reading

Argentine director Teresa Costantini on her latest film, Felicitas

22 Nov

Teresa Costantini

As the director and actress Teresa Costantini leans towards me, asking my opinion of her latest film Felicitas, which received its European debut in the London Latin American Film Festival last week, I almost feel like I’ve become the interviewee. Her warmth, the type you find in so many Latin American people, makes her friendly and inquisitive and when we part I’m quickly aware that a good old British handshake does not suffice.

Brought up in Buenos Aires, Costantini has appeared in numerous popular Latin American films since her career took off in the early 1970s. Among the films she has directed, she won an Argentinean Film Critics Association Award for El Amor y La Ciudad in 2006.

Felicitas is an exquisite, emotionally harrowing film which portrays the story of Felicitas Guerrero de Álzaga who lived among the land-owning classes of Buenos Aires in the mid nineteenth century. The pattern of tragic events in her short life tells us a great deal about women’s position in the early Argentine Republic. Continue reading

Eva Tarr-Kirkhope: Fixated by film

17 Nov

She claims she is tired, and that’s to be expected after her months of hard work as director of the twentieth London Latin American Film Festival, which launches tonight. But despite her supposed fatigue, Eva Tarr-Kirkhope chatters away happily, driven by an infectious passion for Latin American cinema and clearly excited about what she hopes will be her best festival yet.

In Eva’s words, this year’s festival will be “really, really, really big”, celebrating both LLAFF’s 20th anniversary and the bicentenary of Latin American independence. Over 40 films are showing at various venues and Eva hopes to pull in a crowd of up to 20,000 people, twice the number who attended last year’s event.

Eva Tarr-Kirkhope

But the festival has not always enjoyed such success since Eva and her husband first launched it in 1990 when Latin American film was barely known in London. “Back then the festival only lasted one week. We didn’t really know how to approach it then but it grew bit by bit. The audiences and the amount of films we have now is amazing.”

Originally from Cuba, Eva met her film-maker husband Tony Kirkhope in Havana and moved to the UK in 1979. Studying History of Art at Havana University, she had been influenced by the Cuban revolution’s push for social change and saw the lower classes empowered by education. After the revolution, she worked in Cuban cinema during its Golden Age when filmmakers such as Tomas Piard and Sara Gómez were creating new genres. Continue reading