Museum of Fine Arts Present Queer Mexican Film Series

September 2017, The Daily Free Press

©Tony Rinaldo

LGBTQ culture can be translated into many different forms across many different countries. Certain organizations have taken strides in introducing the Boston community to this world-wide culture, including the Museum of Fine Arts and Wicked Queer.


This past weekend, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Wicked Queer, an organization in charge of the Boston LGBT Film Festival, screened a series of films with a rather specific focus in the spotlight series, “Una lengua muy poderosa: Contemporary Queer Films of Mexico.” Each of the four films came from Mexico, and each film dealt specifically with struggles and stories from the LGBTQ community in their native country.


Wicked Queer’s film festival takes place annually in early April. The festival began in 1984, but since 1992, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has been the host of the event. The 2017 festival stretched across 11 days and was presented across five theaters in the greater Boston area. Even though Wicked Queer now shows nearly 150 films each year at the festival, many still slip through the cracks. This spotlight series on contemporary queer films of Mexico is an attempt to present films that were not available for viewing at the festival. Wicked Queer focuses on screening independent, international queer films as opposed to LGBTQ films made in America.


“We don’t have to play the West Hollywood gay comedy,” said James Nadeau, executive director of Wicked Queer. “There’s a spot for those films, and everybody needs a date night. But we tend to be more forward in thinking about the stories that aren’t being told. What are places whose stories we’ve never seen?” He added, “There’s quite a lot of queer cinema that’s being made in Mexico at the moment, but not a lot of it comes into the United States.”


Ernesto Contreras’ film “Sueño en otro idioma (I Dream in Another Language)” was the first film in the series and screened at the MFA last Thursday. The film exemplified the type of new and untold stories that Wicked Queer attempts to highlight. 


The film revolves around two elderly men living in a remote village in Mexico. The men, Don Evaristo and Don Isauro, are the last speakers of the ancient Zikril language, which was made up for creative purposes in the film. Martín, a linguist played by Fernando Álvarez Rebeil, arrives in the village in an attempt to record and catalog the language, but there’s one slight problem: Isauro and Evaristo refuse to talk to one another. The film, which, after its premiere at Sundance Film Festival won the Sundance Institute Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award, asks poignant questions about language, culture and love.


“I think the value of this film is the same as the value of world cinema,” said attendee Rijul Kochhar, 28, of Cambridge. “[It’s] an investigation into the hearts and desires and minds of those separated from us by geography and language but conjoined by passions.”


In their attempt to reconcile, Isauro and Evaristo bring with them years of baggage and unresolved issues, and the film doesn’t ignore this. Despite containing its fair share of mystical and fantastical elements, “I Dream in Another Language” grounds itself in real, tangible issues. These are the issues that the staff at Wicked Queer feel are important to highlight.


Nadeau said he believes these foreign films can serve as a “wakeup call” to remind American watchers that not everybody has it so lucky. “You might live with your husband and your kids in Newton in the suburbs and have a very lovely life, but that’s not everybody,” he said.


Andrea Caceres, 33, of Roxbury, expressed a similar sentiment.


“This film remarkably explores queerness outside of the dominant and ever-present Western, Urban, White, and Eurocentric narratives,” Caceres said.


The MFA and Wicked Queer screened three more contemporary queer films from Mexican filmmakers over the rest of the weekend, including the crime-filled “I Promise You Anarchy” and “Casa Roshell,” which was featured at the Berlin Film Festival.


Molly Monet-Viera, a Spanish lecturer in BU’s College of Arts and Sciences, emphasized the importance of fresh and foreign stories. In her class on Spanish-language films, Monet-Viera said she encourages her students to expose themselves to these non-American narratives.


“It’s sort of the same reason why I’m a language teacher,” Monet-Viera said. “Americans need exposure to more cultures and more languages.” Because English is such a widely-used language, it’s easy for many people in the United States to get by without learning any new languages, she said. But, she added, that has to change.


“I think we lose out if we just focus on our own cultural production,” Monet-Viera said. “Hollywood is huge, and our films are everywhere. They are shown in all countries. But it’s important for the opposite to happen as well and for us to see cultural production from other countries.” Nadeau recounted how, after the election of President Donald Trump, Wicked Queer made a calculated decision to become more political with their choices. He said it’s why films from Mexico were chosen in the first place.


“I think it’s important to remind people that there are queer people of color,” Nadeau said. “There are queer people from Mexico. There are queer people who are undocumented. I think [foreign queer films] are an important reminder that the struggles never really end.”

Boston Pops Charm Audiences with Holiday Tunes

December 2017, The Daily Free Press

©Robert Torres

As far as the Boston Pops Orchestra is concerned, the holiday season has begun in Beantown. The group held its first “Holiday Pops” show of the year on Wednesday, starting the season at Symphony Hall with a festive opening.


The Boston Pops Orchestra was formed as a popular music contemporary to the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1885. The group, which has seen the likes of John Williams and Adolf Neuendorff among its conductors, has performed Holiday Pops concerts since 1973.


The environment at a Holiday Pops concert is unlike anything else held at Symphony Hall through the whole year. The audience sits around cabaret-style tables, ordering drinks and finger foods with their family and friends gathered around. The balconies and stage are decorated with garland and lights. The atmosphere is an almost perfect mix of sophisticated and casual.


The Boston Pops are joined for their holiday shows by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, bringing the total number of people on stage for the busy show to at least 100. The first half of Wednesday night’s show was somewhat similar to a normal night at the symphony, albeit with a rather festive theme. After opening with the classic Christmas hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” the Pops went on to perform the “Hallelujah Chorus” from “Messiah” and excerpts from “The Nutcracker.”


The orchestra played these more traditional pieces with the beauty and precision that has made them famous across the world. The strings expertly captured the playfulness and of these festive works. The basses sounded like a single instrument, the tubas and cellos playing together as one. The Tanglewood Chorus, in the portions that they were included in, served as an excellent and equally talented counterpart to the orchestra. During the sections in which they were not needed, more than a few hilarious choreographed reactions to the different songs could be seen.


There was not a note is out of place. It’s nearly impossible to criticize the Boston Pops, not only because everything is performed to the highest level of excellence, but because the show is so much fun that even if it wasn’t, it would be hard to notice any flaws. The last piece before the intermission was a half-hour rendition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Actor Will Le Bow narrated a condensed version of the 1843 novel while illustrations from Irish artist P.J. Lynch were displayed on a screen. The Pops provided the scoring underneath. “A Christmas Carol” was one of many high points in the show. Le Bow was simply magnificent, performing each character and spirit of the story with a different voice, gesturing and moving about as he read. The orchestra’s music was dramatic and emotional when brought to the forefront and subdued when it needed to be.


Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart has conducted the group since 1995, conducting more than 1,800 Boston Pops concerts. It doesn’t appear as if his enthusiasm for the art has faltered at all. Complete with a seemingly irremovable smile and a distinctive, humble bow, Lockhart exudes the aura of a man who loves his job.

Lockhart conducted with the ease and joy that only a concert of this nature could call for. During the second half of the show, when the group let loose a bit more and performed their famous rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” Lockhart could be seen mimicking a kickline performer from the podium or directing the musicians while pretending to swim.


While the first half of the concert might have traditional and festive, the second half was nothing but fun. The Pop’s rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” arranged by David Chase, had the crowd clapping, laughing and singing along as the Tanglewood Chorus sang each verse of the repetitive carol to the tune of a different famous classical or holiday piece.


“If someone ever asks you what the definition of showstopper is,” Lockhart said in reference to the hilarious and unconventional arrangement, “that’s it.”


Then came the man of the hour: Santa Claus. Entering through the back door, St. Nick made his way to the stage to greet Lockhart before heading back into the audience to lead them in “A Merry Little Sing-Along” and take pictures.


The Pops closed with a stirring performance of “White Christmas” before receiving their third standing ovation of the night.


While introducing one of the earlier pieces, Lockhart turned to Dickens. He was puzzled and struck by the author’s use of the phrase “Keep Christmas all the year” while describing Scrooge’s transformation. 


“What does it mean to keep the Christmas spirit more than just one day a year? … What happens after the wrapping paper’s thrown away?” Lockhart asked the audience. “How do we move past the holidays?” He didn’t have that answer, but he certainly knew a good way to start. “You can’t keep it alone. And that’s why we’re here tonight.”