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Catching Culture On Film

Published: September 15, 2015

Jose Sanchez H.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSE SANCHEZ H.
Jose Sanchez H.

If you ask Jose Sánchez-H., the best way to preserve Hispanic culture is through film. In fact, he feels it’s the best way to preserve any culture.

Of course, being a long-time filmmaker himself, he might be just a little prejudiced, but there’s plenty of evidence to back up his claim.

“Latin American cinema has a very long history in terms of a tradition of filmmakers being concerned about what was happening in the countries. Often they felt that history was being suppressed because there was a lot of censorship,” said Sánchez-H., a professor in CSULB’s Department of Film and Electronic Arts now in his 27th year on campus. “In great part because of that censorship, they felt the need to tell their stories and to preserve those stories as part of history.

“I think every culture has wonderful stories to tell and film is perhaps the best way to reach people, and it’s one of the best ways to introduce a culture to an audience because people relate to stories,” he added, noting that because the international market is controlled by the Hollywood movie industry, it is sometimes difficult to see such films. “There are many wonderful Latin American films, but unfortunately many of these films don’t have a distribution and the only places to see these films are at film festivals, such as in New York, L.A. and San Francisco.”

To be sure, Sánchez-H. feels film plays an important role in cultures throughout the world, but maybe even more so as it relates to the Latin American countries, where filmmakers make a concerted effort to preserve their country’s rich cultural history. In many instances, he says, it’s a filmmakers’ main purpose.

“They basically just wanted to tell their stories,” said Sánchez-H. of filmmakers from decades past. “They wanted to let the rest of the world know what was happening in their country back in the 1960s and 70s. Some of those films have influenced Hollywood directors like Martin Scorsese, who acknowledges the influence of Brazilian director Glauber Rocha in his work. They are stories about the common man and not about heroes. They’re about everyday people struggling just to survive. Latin American cinema today is different. I think today the films are even more personal and based on personal experiences. They are very good films, but a different type of story.”

According to Sánchez-H., even though there are obviously many Latin American nations, quite often when individuals think of Hispanic culture they think of places more familiar to them, specifically neighboring Mexico. He compares it to the United States, where the culture in New York is quite different than that of Texas. The same holds true for Latin American countries.

“Latin America is very unique,” said Sánchez-H. “The countries are very different with different music, different cultures and different ways of doing things. It really all depends on what country you are talking about.”

Since his arrival on campus in the 1980s, Sánchez-H. has done more than his part to promote Latin American film, introducing an annual Latin American Film Series on campus, which provides a venue for many films that may otherwise may never be experienced by students, as well as the general community. Though it’s been on hiatus the past couple of years, he is seeking funding for its return in Fall 2016.
“For students a film series like the one we have on campus is really about the stories,” said Sanchez H., “but it also creates a connection with the community and our university. When people see and experience the story that is presented in a film about other countries, it creates a connection to that story and to that country. It can be very moving. Because of what they see on film, many students want to go to that country and learn more about it.

“There’s nothing like watching a movie in a theater setting,” he added. “It’s not like watching it in your home or on your iPhone. That experience is very different. When you are in a theater there are no distractions, which is how films are meant to be seen.”

Along with being a filmmaker since the 1980s—mostly documentaries and shorts—the Bolivian-born Sánchez-H. authored the book The Art and Politics of Bolivian Cinema, which was nominated for a Theatre Library Association Award. His on-going research on Latin American cinema includes his collaboration on film preservation with the Academy Film Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

He says that CSULB has been a wonderful place to follow his creative passion.

“The university is a great place to be because it allows you to express your creativity without any limits, and it gives you the opportunity to collaborate with other people from different fields like the art and music departments,” he said. “We do this because we enjoy it, and we don’t have any restrictions because we can express ourselves any way we want.”