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Director of Latino film festival hopes to break down barriers in Chicago

The Chicago Latino Film Festival kicked off Friday afternoon with an award-winning documentary by María Fernanda Restrepo about the kidnapping and murder of her brothers by Ecuadorian police, called With my Heart in Yambo.

Jose “Pepe” Vargas, director of the festival and founder of the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago, said he thinks the festival has uplifted the Latino community in Chicago.

The success is reflected in the sheer size of the audience – growing from 500 to 40,000 people since it began, he said.

Vargas said the festival is the most peaceful way to break down stereotypes and barriers that separate the Latino community in Chicago. He said the festival illustrates how much Latinos have to contribute to the community.

“You can go to Argentina, Brazil or Spain without leaving Chicago,” Vargas said. 

Ulises Silva of the Pilsen nonprofit The Resurrection Project said one of the biggest benefits of the festival is it demonstrates that filmmaking is accessible to anyone with a vision and a desire to tell a story, including Latinos.

He said he hopes the festival inspires local Latinos to express themselves through film.

“We don't have to hope someone else tells our stories - we can do it ourselves,” he said.  

The festival runs through April 25, with 10 to 16 screenings each day at AMC Lowes Theatres at 600 N. Michigan Ave.

Katie Kather is a WBEZ arts and culture reporting intern. Follow her @ktkather.

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