The 23rd annual Latin American Film Festival starting Thursday at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring is different from last year’s event in a major way.
In the lineup of 50-plus movies, there are more than half a dozen about music.
Subjects range from Latin hip-hop in Los Angeles to the chanchona bands in El Salvador filmed by Washington-area filmmaker Tomás Guevara to the Tropicália movement that fused music styles in Brazil in the 1960s.
There also are three documentaries about visual artists, also unusual for the festival that will run for three weeks to Oct. 10.
One of them, the documentary “Bel Borba Aqui,” tells the story of a Brazilian multimedia folk artist known as “the people’s Picasso.”
“It’s a bumper crop,” says festival program director Todd Hitchcock about this year’s music and arts subjects being part of a broad mix of films that also feature well-known actresses such as Salma Hayek.
A native of Mexico, Hayek stars with Spanish TV star José Mota in the hilarious satire “As Luck Would Have It,” about the media frenzy that ensues when Mota’s character, who is married to Hayek, accidently impales himself on an iron rod in an excavated Roman amphitheater.
Australian actress Abbie Cornish stars with American actor Will Patton in “The Girl” about a young Texas woman who gets involved in smuggling Mexican people across the border.
Hitchcock says attendance has doubled since the festival moved from the Kennedy Center to downtown Silver Spring in 2003. Ten thousand tickets were sold last year, he says.
“Based on the size of the slate we put on and the word I get back from people, we’re among the biggest [of the country’s Latin American movie festivals],” says Hitchcock, who believes the diversity of the Latino communities in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have contributed to the event’s growing success.
Bolivians who live in McLean, Va., routinely attend, as do Colombians from Montgomery and Howard counties, along with Brazilians in the D.C. area, as well as a host of other moviegoers with ties to other Central and Latin America countries.
“People say, ‘Let’s get together and go see that one,’” he says about fans interested in seeing films about their home countries.
The festival kicks off Thursday night with “Filly Brown,” a movie about a Latina hip-hop artist in Los Angeles who sets out to make it big in the music business.
Although the film is American made, it is about a Latino American community, says Hitchcock, who says Gina Rodriguez does an impressive turn as the singer, and so does Lou Diamond Phillips as her father.
The movie cast also includes East Los Angeles native Edward James Olmos, who also is executive producer of the film.
Olmos’ son Michael D. Olmos is one of the co-directors along with Yousseff Delara, and both are expected at the screening Thursday.
Other music movies include “Violeta Went to Heaven” from Chile about a female folk singer, composer, visual artist and activist, Violeta Parra, who died in 1967.
Also on the list is a documentary about Latin Grammy winners Los Amigos Invisibles, an acid jazz/disco-funk group from Venezuela.
The film “El Medico: the Cubaton Story” tells the story of a man caught between rising in the Cubaton urban music scene as a rapper or remaining a doctor.
Then there’s “The Last Elvis” about a man in Argentina whose obsession with impersonating Elvis Presley interferes with his family life.
“There’s also a selection of family films that we’ve always wanted [to showcase], and this year we’ve got three solid ones,” says Hitchcock.
There are two from Spain, “Who Needs Bears?” and “Ivan’s Dream,” and “Coliseum: The Champions” from Peru.
Another movie about the arts is “Esperanza,” a documentary from Paraguay about creative artists who persisted in their work during the 1954-1989 dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner.
And for the late-night crowd, there even is a comedy about zombies in Cuba called “Juan of the Dead.”
“There’s all sorts of variety in the festival that we haven’t had before,” says Hitchcock.