Artsweek: What is your job at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival?
Cristina Venegas: I am the Artistic Director of the Latino CineMedia Festival. I am also an assistant professor of film studies at UCSB, and my courses focus on Latin American and Latino media. I’m a Latin American film scholar and I’ve been intimately involved with Latin American cinema most of my adult life. I have also programmed a variety of film programs in the past decade. I first was involved with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) in 2004 when I invited Artistic Director Roger Durling to co-present one film in our inaugural Latino CineMedia Festival. SBIFF was also supportive in helping us promote the first edition of CineMedia.
This year, Roger Durling invited me to present CineMedia during the 20th anniversary of the SBIFF. It’s a great idea that allows us to grow our own festival and to work closely with SBIFF, and its wonderful staff. Roger Durling has been extremely supportive in highlighting this section of the festival not only by featuring the Latino films in prime time slots, but also in promoting a strong Latino presence in a festival where this was rare.
And, it’s been really fun to work with Roger.

What changes are you making to the film fest? What is your goal with the
My goal with the film festival is to continue to present the most important films produced by Latino talent both here in the U.S. and in Latin America. There is an explosion of women filmmakers, of first time filmmakers, of video production – and yet distribution of these films is still difficult. So the festival portends to not only promote the existence of these films by giving them an exhibition platform, but also their inclusion in our cultural imagery. My goal with the program for CineMedia this year, which is comprised of 20 films, has been to feature the sophistication of directors, writers, actors and cinematographers who repeatedly dazzle us with their talent. I believe this is representative of the impressive diversity of styles, boldness and reflexive nature of today’s Latin filmmakers.

Explain a little about CineMedia and its importance.
The importance of CineMedia is its vision of not only foregrounding the audiovisual work that is produced, but also in nurturing and mentoring the youth of our community and media makers of tomorrow. In order to do that, we have sought to create the CineMedia Arts Center and to use this organization to continue to foment this type of ongoing work with the community, which was begun last year in our Youth CineMedia Project. I invited independent producer Margarita del Valle to work with me in developing the CineMedia Arts Center.

What is planned for this year that is particularly exciting? What films are you looking forward to?
Although the entire program is exiting, I am particularly thrilled to include in our lineup Marcos Bernstein’s “The Other Side of the Street,” Paulo Sacramento’s “Prisoner of the Iron Bars,” Ana Poliak’s “Parapalos” and Elia Schneider’s “Punto y raya.” It’s always hard to say which are my favorites because they are all powerful in some way. We are also co-sponsoring a panel on campus with the Center for Chicano Studies following the screening of “Prisoner of Iron Bars” with professors Paul Amar, Carlos Morton, Anna Everett and myself (Jan. 31, 6 p.m. – I.V. Theater) and co-sponsoring a screening with the MultiCultural Center of the award-winning Mexican documentary titled “Recuerdos” (Wednesday, Feb. 2, 6 p.m. – MCC Theater).

I am also thrilled about the celebration of Latin American and Spanish cinema honoring Javier Bardem, co-sponsored with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. This celebration will take place at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art on February, Feb. 3, 7:30-9:30 p.m. The fantastic Javier Bardem will participate in the “Conversations with…” portion of the festival.

How is CineMedia reaching out to students and the SB community?
The CineMedia Arts Center is planning to have a visiting screenwriter from Luis Mandoki’s “Voces Inocentes” meet with students in the community. Oscar Torres, a native of El Salvador, wrote the screenplay based on his experiences in El Salvador during the war in the 1980s. We hope to continue bringing interesting programs to the Santa Barbara community and to work more closely with the youth in our area.