Block Museum’s ‘Araya’ showing kicks off Latin American women filmmaker cinema series


Micah Sandy/The Daily Northwestern

The five 35mm reels that make up “Araya.” They are stored in the cabinet shown in order to ensure protection.

Micah Sandy, Copy Chief

Moviegoers gathered Friday to watch “Araya,” the first of six films in the Block Museum of Art’s newest four-event Latin American women filmmaker series, “Working Images.

The evening event was held at Block’s in-house cinema. The showing of “Araya” marked the first 35 mm film showing and the second film event of the new year.

Filmmaker Margot Benacerraf’s 1959 documentary depicts the life of the “salineros,” or salt workers, of the Araya Peninsula in Venezuela before the start of its industrialization.

Michael Metzger, Pick-Laudati curator of media arts at Block, directs the Block Cinema program. He said when discussing options for the series with event organizer and Associate Film Programmer Malia Haines-Stewart, “Araya” was the ideal choice from the start.

“We’re hoping to put forward a new vision of that film history and to demonstrate the importance of both historical and contemporary Latin American women filmmakers and create awareness,” Metzger said.

He pointed out that the 2022 Sight and Sound “Greatest Films of All Time,” a yearly list of the top 100 films of all time, did not include any Latin American films. He said it demonstrated a “blind spot” among North American and European critics given the extensive history of Latin America.

Haines-Stewart said the series was more akin to a “sampling” than a showcase due to the smaller selection of films, focusing on three countries: Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico.

“(‘Araya’) is the first film in (the series),” Haines-Stewart said. “It’s a foundational film for looking at nonfiction work that women were making in Latin America and were doing so creatively and experimentally.”

While 35 mm film is small in comparison to different film formats, it offers viewers the opportunity to view a film with an old-fashioned, yet still high-quality, look. “Araya” specifically consisted of five reels, meaning its film was split into five different segments despite having no written breaks in its script.

Tristen Ives, Block Cinema’s head of projection, said every Block screening is special because unlike commercial films, Block films involve partnerships, individual curating and instruction.

“Being a projectionist is super engaging,” they said. “It brings out the most talent in a projectionist whenever they’re running a print. It’s a challenge and fun at the same time.”

Event attendee and University of Chicago graduate Victoria Bonilla said she was “shocked” by the authenticity of the film.

They said they felt motivated to attend the event because their family is from Ecuador.

“I definitely want my parents to watch it,” Bonilla said.

University of Chicago student Maya Holt said the film was very beautiful.

She enjoyed how the film looked at Araya’s community from different angles.

“I loved how they showed the different specializations of people in the community, but also different pieces of (Araya) as a whole,” Holt said.

The film series’ screenings will take place through March 10. The next film, “Our Voice of Earth, Memory & Future,” is set to hit the Block screen Feb. 17.

Metzger said the diversity of the audience shows that Block’s programs are reaching a variety of people.

“To see … people from Northwestern, people from a larger community, people from other art schools ― it says to me that our programs are speaking to specific interests here at Northwestern and also the curiosity of the larger community of Evanston and Chicago,” Metzger said.

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