Ask Steve Torres why Cinemateca, the annual Spanish-language film series hosted by Film Streams, is important, and the words tumble out in a torrent.
There's the matter of community engagement, establishing links with the local populace, inviting the Hispanic community to take part in a celebration of their rich cultural heritage.
There's the allure of weekly academic speakers, panel discussions, audience talkbacks and ethnic food to get people who aren't familiar with Spanish-language film to venture out of their comfort zones.
There are stereotypes that need piercing and assumptions that need challenging, which film can do in a unique and effective way. So can the lively Cinemateca discussions that include a cross section of Omaha's diverse population.
And there's the importance of the festival to young people, particularly young Latinos who live here. It validates their culture when they see academics and community members paying attention and taking it seriously.
“There had never been a Latino film series here before Cinemateca,” said Torres. “That's particularly striking when you consider the number of Spanish speakers who live in Omaha.”
Torres is an associate professor of Spanish literature and culture at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a member of its Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS), which co-sponsors Cinemateca.
The festival begins Friday with a week of Luis Bunuel's 1950 masterpiece “Los olvidados” (The Forgotten Ones), about a group of street kids in Mexico City's slums.
“We've wanted to include it since the very first Cinemateca (in 2008),” Torres said. But U.S. screening rights were caught up in a court case, and it wasn't available until now. Torres called Bunuel one of the top film auteurs of the 20th century. “Los olvidados” mixes the influence of Italian neorealism (the gritty urban reality of disenfranchised children) with the surrealist techniques and dreamlike sequences Bunuel is known for.
“So you have two opposite extremes in the same film,” he said. “This is a classic, a must-have at some point.”
One thing that makes this year's format different, Torres said, is that it includes two first-run movies, a suggestion made by Film Streams' director Rachel Jacobson.
“Pelotero” (Ballplayer), running Sept. 7-13, is about the dark side of major-league baseball recruiting practices in the Dominican Republic. The movie's co-director, Jonathan Paley, will appear for a post-screening talk Sept. 13 along with Rob Ruck, a University of Pittsburgh history professor who wrote a book about the topic.
“Mosquita y Mari,” Sept. 14-20, is a coming-of-age tale about two teenage girls with very different personalities. The film hints that their relationship may be more than friendship, though that is never spelled out explicitly.
Another recent film, “Una vida mejor” (A Better Life) highlights the issue of U.S. immigration in a different way. “The director (Chris Weitz, ‘American Pie') had made some very commercial movies, and my expectations weren't high,” Torres said. “But this is a totally different film, with a small, independent feel to it. It humanizes the dilemma in a way that doesn't sentimentalize and yet elicits empathy. It gives the issue a human face without ever condescending or patronizing, and it lends itself to interesting discussion. This film addresses deportation, and what everyday existence is like for people who come here to work.”
DemiŠn Bichir snagged a best-actor Oscar nomination for “A Better Life” last year. It screens one night only, Sept. 25.
Also for one night, Oct. 2: “Tambiťn la lluvia” (Even the Rain), from Spanish director IcŪar Bollain and screenwriter Paul Laverty (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”). It's a film within a film, as an idealistic director (Gael Garcia Bernal) goes to Bolivia to make an epic about the conquest of Latin America. But during the film shoot, an indigenous revolt breaks out over affordable access to water and a shady international cartel. The actor leading the movie revolt against the conquistadors is also the leader of the real-life indigenous revolt.
Torres said Bolivian history is reflected in this aspect of the movie — history that resulted in the election of Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia in more than 500 years of colonial presence.
A Forever Young family and children's series title, “Spy Kids” (Mini espias) completes the festival, playing Sept. 1, 2, 6, 8, 9 and 13. It reunites actor Antonio Banderas with director Robert Rodriguez in an adventure story about kids who rescue their superspy parents.
For information on nights that include ethnic food, post-show discussion and other events, go online to filmstreams.org or call 402-933-0259. Film Streams' Ruth Sokolof Theater is at 14th and Mike Fahey Streets.